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Bacardi shuns NAS with new single malt Scotch range

Bacardi has backed age statements’ future in Scotch whisky by ensuring its new single malt portfolio is NAS-free. Stephen Marshall, the man who pioneered the project, explains why.

Bacardi’s greatest Scotch malt whisky project has been spearheaded by Stephen Marshall

Bacardi has never given much thought to single malt Scotch. Since acquiring John Dewar & Sons from the newly-formed Diageo in 1998, the Bermuda-based rum specialist has done little more than grow Aberfeldy to around 20,000 cases.

A few limited edition and small-scale bottlings from its five malt distilleries: Royal Brackla, Aultmore, Craigellachie, Aberfeldy and Macduff (under the Glen Deveron brand), barely scratched the surface of the 10.5 million-case single malt Scotch whisky export market. Noting the colossal value of blended whisky exports – £3.3bn in 2013 (SWA) – Bacardi reserved the majority of liquid for its flagship blends Dewar’s and William Lawson’s, both of which shift around three million cases annually, placing them among the world’s 10 largest Scotch whisky brands.

Blended Scotch is evidently an extremely lucrative arena for Bacardi, but with single malt now accounting for a fifth of Scotch exports worldwide (SWA), it’s about time the behemoth turned its attention to one of the fastest-growing spirits categories in the world. After six years of development, Bacardi has taken the bold decision to launch a total of 16 new and permanent single malt whiskies over the next six months, with more releases due in the coming years. It’s a move that has the ability to catapult the group into the realm of the serious single malt players.

None of this would have happened if it weren’t for Stephen Marshall, Bacardi’s global marketing manager for single malts, who noticed a glimmer of potential in the group’s underutilised stock while working as global brand ambassador for Dewar’s six years ago. “We weren’t maximising our assets,” says Marshall, who having latched onto the high quality of malt whisky resting in the group’s warehouses, tentatively tested the water with a few high-end single cask releases “to see what we could do”.

“We were a blended and white spirits company so we weren’t used to selling 200 bottles of a single malt,” he explains. In the end he says it was the liquid itself that convinced the family-owned company to let him create Bacardi’s first single malt Scotch whisky programme. “It’s easier to convince someone when you can show them a case of single malt and say ‘this is the value for money you get if you sell it as a malt than if you sell as a blended whisky’. It’s an easy argument to make.”

Aultmore 35 Year Old: The whisky is described as the “easy drinker” of the collection

After some pretty extensive consumer typology research and a lengthy but meticulous packaging design process with Stranger and Stranger, Marshall is on the cusp of seeing his long-awaited line of single malts released. Most NPDs take two years to come to fruition; does he think six years is a bit much in this instance, particularly as the Scotch whisky boom is already in full flow? “We could have launched them a bit earlier, but we’re doing it at the right time for us,” he upholds.

“We’re not under the same types of pressures as other whisky companies. For instance, we can do age statements, which is a pretty unique position to be in.”

Anyone who has met Marshall will be aware of his fierce advocacy for age statements in Scotch whisky, which has become a characteristic imprinted on every product in Bacardi’s new series. “No-age-statement whiskies are very profitable but we’re not just driven by that kind of need,” he explains, defending his decision as simply delivering what the majority of retailers and consumers want. “I have my own opinions, but I had to prove age statements were the right way to go for the business, so I consulted whisky experts and retailers for their advice. It was fine, because most of them agreed with me, although there was some pressure from retailers to produce NAS whiskies.”

The other element every whisky in the series will have in common is their lack of caramel, another trait Marshall vehemently condemns. Otherwise, the product of each distillery will have its own individual Stranger and Stranger design and flavour profile, its own set of age statements and pricing structures and ultimately, its own identity.

From the “most accessible” Aberfeldy, which will continue to be the flagship brand, and “easy drinking” Aultmore to the “big, powerful” Craigellachie and the “problem child” that is Royal Brackla, Bacardi’s new line of malts has all its bases covered, although Marshall clearly has his favourites. “Craigellachie will be the one that gets people really excited,” he says. “As a marketer my instinct is to back the one that has the most commercial viability, which is Aberfeldy, but with my love of whisky it has to be Craigellachie. But then I also get really excited by Macduff as it’s such an underutilised, amazing resource as well – it’s underdog-style whisky, and everybody loves an underdog.”

Aberfeldy 21 Year Old: The most well-known of the malts has been given a packaging update courtesy of Stranger and Stranger

While there is currently no firm pricing structure, Marshall doesn’t expect the entry-level bottling from each distillery to exceed £45, while the top-end is limitless. He has a dream to create a special 50-year-old “super extravagant” limited edition for £50,000 because “you may as well do that once in a lifetime”. But the luxury expressions are all reserved for phase two of Bacardi’s roll-out plan.

Aberfeldy’s new packaging design was introduced in April 2014, while Craigellachie is being launched in global markets right now. Aultmore will follow in October, Deveron (from Macduff Distillery) in January 2015 and Royal Brackla next spring. The range will be gradually rolled out to 10 markets worldwide, including the US, Russia, Taiwan, Japan, France, Sweden, Canada, Germany and the UK, with a select few releases launched as exclusives in the travel retail market.

The project itself is immense, even for a global spirits group like Bacardi, but especially so because of its relatively low experience in the single malt market. “To list five new single malts is quite a challenge, but hopefully we will have them all out by March next year,” Marshall says positively. “These are going to launch at different times in different places in a market by market approach; it’s not like we have millions of people working for us that know about our single malts.”

Bacardi has just three other bodies working alongside him on the project: Brand manager Suzy Clark, and brand ambassadors Lomand “Ziggy” Campbell and Fergus Luckyn-Malone. The group’s existing infrastructure and routes-to-market in over 152 countries gives its new single malt Scotch portfolio a strong start, although continued investment (and interest) in the category is key if it really is to compete alongside the major players.

Read more about the five Bacardi single malt Scotch whiskies, and which expressions are to be released, here.

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