SB Voices: Give grain whisky a chance

22nd June, 2018 by Melita Kiely

It’s surely only a matter of time before consumers catch on to the greatness of grain whisky – and when they do, they’re in for a treat, writes Melita Kiely.

Girvan-Grain-Distillery

Girvan Distillery’s colossal continuous column stills

“Grain whisky is hugely overlooked,” laments Brian Kinsman, master blender at William Grant & Sons, as we’re chatting all things whisky during a brief visit to the Girvan Distillery in Scotland this week.

Those clued-up on the whisky industry know the significance of grain whisky – the blended category wouldn’t be the global phenomenon it is today were it not for its grain whisky backbone.

And while grain does appear to have been gaining greater traction in recent years, sadly it still sits in the shadows compared to blends and malts. There are some extremely successful grain whisky bottlings already available and leading the category: Hedonism from Compass Box, William Grant’s Girvan Patent Still, Diageo’s Haig Club – and even Irish whiskey is showing a thirst for grain expressions, with the likes of Pernod Ricard’s Method and Madness Single Grain and Teeling’s Single Grain whiskeys.

So what exactly is stopping grain whisky from enjoying similar popularity enjoyed by blends and malts?

“Flavour-wise, it ticks all the boxes; I think as an interesting drink it ticks all the boxes,” explains Kinsman. But like so many categories within the spirits industry, grain whisky’s success will be heavily reliant on consumer education – something Kinsman is not entirely sure they’re ready for. After all, confusion still abounds regarding the differences between malts and blends.

“As a drink I’m absolutely confident grain whisky could be a genuinely mass drink,” Kinsman adds. “It’s about education – it’s another thing to know and it’s just going to be a slow burn. But I genuinely believe by the time I retire, single grain, or grain, will be significantly bigger than it is today. It’s almost a no-brainer because the flavour absolutely works and it’s just about letting people know what it is.”

How grain whisky is marketed to appeal to this mass-market audience will take time for producers to figure out. How do you position it on a back bar, in a liquor store? How do you entice consumers to take a chance on a category they know very little about? Success doesn’t happen overnight, but with so much potential locked in the grain whisky category it’s great to see brands taking tentative steps towards figuring this all out with the new launches we’re seeing come to market.

“If you get it into people’s hands, it will sell,” asserts Kinsman. And if endeavours pay off, grain whisky will undoubtedly be an enthralling whisky sub-category to watch.

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