Flavoured whiskey: Honey to the Bee?

6th August, 2012 by Becky Paskin
Bushmill's Irish Honey

Bushmill’s Irish Honey plays strongly on its heritage and core ‘handcrafted’ values

But while American, Irish and even Canadian whisk(e)y producers are taking the opportunity to tap into a wave of new whisky drinkers, Scottish distillers have so far shown no interest in the category.

Notoriously tight regulations governing the ingredients of Scotch (only water, malted barley, whole grains of other cereals, yeast and caramel colouring are allowed) and prohibiting the production, blending or distilling of any other whisky in the country, may be partly to blame, but there is no restriction on using Scotch whisky to produce other beverages.

“Scotch whisky-based liqueurs, such as Drambuie and Bruadar, have been made for many years, and can refer to the Scotch whisky constituent on their labels, as long as all the alcohol used is Scotch whisky and as long as they are clearly identified as liqueurs,” explains a spokesperson for the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

Scotch undoubtedly has a potential place in the flavoured whisky arena alongside Ireland, the US and Canada and, with the correct branding and labelling that adheres to EU and US regulations, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t see a couple of the major Scottish players releasing a flavoured expression over the next couple of years.

European revival?

Branching into the category could even help revive Scotch growth in the flagging western European markets, where the eurozone crisis has stifled demand, creating renewed interest in the category and attracting new young and female drinkers.

But although the ability and market is there for Scotch producers to diversify with whisky based liqueurs, concerns have been raised as to whether the move could be damaging to the quality perception of the category as a whole.

“We have to be careful that this is not [just] a trend as a lot of the category is built on heritage,” says Kevin Abrook, marketing manager for innovation at William Grant, which is eyeing up the flavoured whisky category with cautious interest. “I’m sure other companies are looking at it as well; everyone sees how well Jack Daniel’s Honey and Red Stag are doing and that they are capitalising on a strong brand name.

“The problem with ourselves and other Scotch companies is that you can’t add flavour and trade off the name. I’m sure all of us are thinking how we can get into this market without denigrating the brand name on one hand, but on the other finding a way around not calling it Scotch whisky.

“It’s not that we don’t want to get involved, but we have to make best use of the trademarks we’ve got and carve out an opportunity in that area.”

With the US, Canada and now Ireland taking advantage of consumer demand for innovation in the global whisky category, the question remains whether honey could be the medicine Scotch needs to revive western European growth – or if it can afford to ignore the opportunity.

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