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Diageo creates ‘experimental’ craft whisky arm

Diageo has unveiled an “experimental craft whisky” arm within its business that “pushes the boundaries of blending”, called Whiskey Union.

Smoky Goat is one of the first launches under Diageo’s “weird” Whiskey Union project

The project forms part of Diageo’s newly unveiled strategy to target growth in the Scotch whisky segment and combat the challenge posed by innovative American and New World whiskies.

Bottlings launched within the range are described as “unorthodox, weird and wonderful”. While some will be labeled as Scotch whisky when they adhere to industry regulations, others will not be.

“It’s worth stating here that we think the SWA regulations are a good thing,” David Gates, head of premium core spirits at Diageo, said during an investors’ conference next week.

“They give consumers complete reassurance that when they buy a product labelled Scotch whisky, they know exactly what they are getting and that it is of the very highest standard.

“But there is room to play. When our innovations comply completely to the SWA regulations we shall call then Scotch whiskies and when they don’t we won’t.”

Diageo has so-far launched two new brands under the Whiskey Union label, Smoky Goat and Boxing Hares, which are now available in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Vienna.

Smoky Goat (€24) is described as a “smoky sweet” blended Scotch whisky, while Boxing Hares (€22) has been labeled as a “spirit drink” made from Scotch whisky infused with hops.

Planned for release is Huxley – a “unique” blend of Scotch, Canadian and American whiskies. All brands will be launched under a “new business model” at Diageo.

“We believe these brands and a new way of bringing them to market will allow us to reach a new group of people who will not have engaged with whiskey before,” added Gates.

The bottlings, which were created in a space of six months “from concept to launch”, are set to roll out globally following the trial launch in in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Vienna.

“[We] know that these Whiskey Union products may well be quite polarising – and that’s just fine. Some of them will fail – and that’s just fine,” said Gates.

“This concept is about experimenting, testing and giving freedom to our ‘makers’ imaginations and giving our consumers a range of completely different styles and personalities of whiskey.”

In early 2014, Diageo launched its Orphan Barrel whiskey programme – described as a “craft” whiskey project that bottled “forgotten” liquid under a new brand identity.

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