Scotch whisky brands to watch in 2020
While Brexit and trade wars threaten Scotch whisky, the category could benefit from updated rules that allow greater cask experimentation. We predict the brands to watch in 2020.
Scotch whisky’s 2019 is a tale of two halves: one is full of hope and excitement, with updated regulations to broaden the remits of category experimentation; the other is plagued by tariffs and political uncertainty.
Let’s start with the new Scotch regulations, which came into effect in June this year. The Scotch Whisky Technical File was updated to allow producers to mature Scotch in oak casks that have been used to age wine, beer, ale and spirits – with the exception of casks used to mature wine, beer, ale or spirits made from stone fruits, or those that have had fruit, flavouring or sweeteners added after fermentation or distillation.
“We welcome the changes to the SWA [Scotch Whisky Association] regulations as it brings a lot of exciting opportunities,” says Zeenah Vilcassim, global brand director, Dewar’s. “At Dewar’s we champion the progression of the category, pushing out boundaries to reach new consumers with innovative cask blends. These new regulations give Dewar’s an opportunity to expand beyond the traditional Scotch territories.”
However, the optimism surrounding Scotch whisky’s new experimental freedom was offset in October, as the US introduced a 25% tariff on single malts, along with other EU goods, due to an ongoing feud between the States and the World Trade Organization (WTO) over aircraft subsidies.
It’s a grave concern for the industry, which exported more than £1bn (US$1.3bn) worth of Scotch whisky to the US in 2018 – a third of which was single malt.“The tariff will put our competitiveness and Scotch whisky’s market share at risk,” warns Graeme Littlejohn, director of strategy and communications at the SWA. “We are also concerned that it will disproportionately affect smaller distillers, as for many, single malt is the only Scotch they produce and the US is a vital market for their products.”
Further political woes could impact the Scotch whisky sector in 2020, most notably Brexit. Though the UK is scheduled to depart the EU on 31 January, a looming UK general election on 12 December – with manifestos promising everything from ‘get Brexit done’ to second referendums – means the national state of affairs remains uncertain.
But there is hope for the category. “While Brexit and tariffs in the US present challenges, there are a number of developing markets where exports of Scotch whisky have the potential to grow,” Littlejohn says. “China has seen 22% value growth in the first nine months of this year, and India is up by 25%. Consumers in these major global economies and other developing markets are expanding their knowledge of Scotland’s national drink.”
Click through the following pages to see which brands we believe are ones to watch in the year ahead.
Speyside distillery Glen Moray has a new head of whisky creation after Dr Kirstie McCallum stepped into the role in October. The Scotch brand, owned by La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet, has had a year full of creative releases, such as an expression finished in agricole rum casks and a 21‐year‐old single malt finished in Port casks.
With Dr McCallum sure to bring a fresh approach to the brand – combined with the extended Scotch whisky regulations regarding cask types – Glen Moray’s innovation could take an interesting turn in 2020.
The independent whisky bottler moved into distilling this year with the acquisition of Strathearn Distillery. The family‐owned firm is positively thriving and has reported double‐digit growth for five consecutive years.
Strathearn started production in 2013, so it is still young. It will be worth paying attention to what Douglas Laing does with its stock and how it will enhance its frequent whisky releases.
The world’s biggest‐selling Scotch whisky brand will celebrate its 200th anniversary next year. Diageo‐owned Johnnie Walker is also building a Johnnie Walker visitor experience in Edinburgh as part of its £150m (US$215m) investment in Scotch whisky tourism.
The site is set to open by the end of 2020 – the cherry on the cake of what is sure to be a milestone year for the brand.