The Whisky Exchange’s top spirits trends for 2017By Kristiane Sherry
Insights released by London-based spirits retailer The Whisky Exchange suggest the low-/no- alcohol trend will persist long into 2017, with Brexit also set to shape the sector.
Sukhinder Singh, co-founder of The Whisky Exchange (TWE) and Dawn Davies, head buyer at Speciality Drinks, TWE’s parent company, presented their spirits forecast for 2017 at a media event held last night (15 September).
In addition to health-related trends, Singh and Davies also predict a greater acceptance and understanding of low- and no-age statements in whisky, in addition to a growing consumer interest in the country of Iceland.
The impact of Brexit and subsequent currency fluctuations could also provide a boost for domestic spirits producers, they said.
While all the trends are relevant to the UK, the pair forecast the wider European and global spirits industry is likely to be shaped by the identified trends.
Read on for TWE’s top spirits trends for 2017.
What do you think? Should the sector have it’s eye on other emerging trends? Let us know in the comments below.
1. T without the G
Tonic waters is the fastest-growing soft drink category in the UK right now, Davies said, with Fever-Tree sales alone up 77% for the year.
At TWE alone – which is not known as a soft drink supplier – tonic sales more than doubled in the past year.
Davies highlighted two areas to look out for: consumers embracing the T without the G, in line with the growing trend for no alcohol drinks; and the move to pair tonic with spirits other than gin.
She cited tonic pairings with whisky, Sherry, Cognac, rum, and even Tequila and mezcal as serves to watch, also giving the rise of alcohol-free spirit Seedlip a mention.
“It’s about taking classic tonic serves and mixing it up,” she stated.
2. Age ain’t nothing but a number
“I do not care about age… it’s about whether I like a whisky, then price, then how quality versus price compares,” Singh opened, weighing in on the great age statement debate.
He predicts age statements will become less important to consumers, but also that younger Scotches will come to market to just as warm a reception as their older counterparts.
He cited the recently launched Lagavulin 8 Year Old anniversary bottling and Bowmore 9 Year Old as examples of top selling younger expressions – in fact, the Lagavulin release has become TWE’s top selling single malt of the year to date.
The popularity of the flavour profile associated with younger whiskies “is not just a trend, it’s going to last,” he predicts, adding that it due to better wood management programmes in the industry that top quality drams are able to be bottled at a younger age – and sell well.
With the consumer interest in all things Scandinavian perhaps stating to wane, Davies predicts Iceland will be the next country to capture the collective imagination. And with both Rough Guides and Lonely Planet naming the country the top destination of 2016, it makes sense that interest in its produce will follow.
“They might have beaten Britain in the Euros, but the Brits love someone who can beat the favourite, even if it’s us,” she quipped.
As such, she’s backing Icelandic Mountain Vodka, part-owned and fronted by Game of Thrones actor Hafthor, as one of the Icelandic spirits products to make waves in 2017. “20 pallets have already been shipped to Vegas,” she details. “It’s probably one of my top products for Christmas.”
Whichever way you voted on 23rd June, there’s no denying that the UK’s exit from the European Union – coined ‘Brexit’ – will have a seismic impact on the UK’s spirit landscape.
According to Davies, TWE is already seeing 7% price increases now from overseas suppliers, which in most cases will be passed on to the customer.
But it’s far from all doom-and-gloom: “who needs Europe when we have it so good here?” she said, predicting a domestic product “revolution” could be on the cards – if producers here don’t follow suit and keep their prices stable.
56 distilleries opened in the UK in 2015, she continued, with English producers now creating all kinds of spirits from Cognac-style brandies, Calvados-type spirits, rye whiskies and even cassis.
“We’re seeing more people buy British – this is only going to increase.”
5. Sweet enough
As the UK government considers the detail of the impending sugar tax, the alcoholic drinks sector is taking notice. This is initially apparent in the world of sparkling wines, with non-dosage Champagnes, Proseccos and Cavas all coming onto the market.
How will this translate in spirits? Some rum producers are already looking at reducing the amount of sugar added post-distillation – “I think we’re going to see it got gin, too,” Davies concluded.
6. The next Japan?
With Japanese whisky producers battling stock shortages and soaring prices, “the door has opened” for other world whisky producers to take centre stage, Singh said.
At the forefront of the global distilling charge is Taiwan, a producer set for big things in 2017, he predicts.
Kavalan is a distillery in the ascendant. Not only is it growing in terms of brand awareness, but its reputation as a quality producer is soaring too. TWE’s Kavalan sales soared “by 600% or 700% this year, albeit from a small base,” according to Singh.
While Kavalan is relatively well known, a second distillery, state-owned Nantou, has just secured a UK distributor – expect spirit to flow to these shores soon.
7. Mr Black Coffee Liqueur
“This is my Christmas product of the year,” Davies enthused over Mr. Black Coffee liqueur. Made in Australia from Arabica coffee beans from Ethiopia, Brazil and Papua New Guinea at a small distillery, the product is the brainchild of designer Tom Baker and distiller Philip Moore.
A cold extraction process creates a “full-flavoured” coffee, which is then blended with grain spirit to allow the coffee to shine through. Bottled in batches of 300 700ml bottles at a time, the 25% abv product is free from additional flavourings, caramels or vanillas.
Davies is convinced this is a product poised to hit the big-time on the UK market.