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Playful brands appeal to young whisky drinkers

Atom Brands-owned That Boutique-y Whisky Company has unveiled its latest series of ‘playful’ releases, which celebrate the diverse styles of American whiskey.

That Boutique-y Whisky Company
The USA Series celebrates whiskeys from across America

That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s USA Series is a limited edition collection that offers liquids from secret distillers, closed distilleries, and those at the forefront of the ‘evolution’ of American whiskey.

The independent bottler has turned to the ‘rich history and diverse styles’ of US distillers to curate a ‘robust’ selection of craft whiskies, all of which have been bottled in the UK.

Sam Simmons, head of whisky at Atom Brands, said: “It’s clear that the American whiskey story is only in its early chapters and is still being written. These distillers are flag-bearers for styles long lost along the Monongahela (river in Pennsylvania), and lobbyists for the soon-to-be-ratified American single malt official designation. These are simultaneously traditional and pioneering whiskeys.”

The series includes Bourbons from Texas, Kentucky and New York; rye whiskeys from Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Colorado; and American single malts from Washington and New Mexico.

Highlights include a six-year-old rye whiskey from Pennsylvania-based distillery Dad’s Hat, bottled at a cask strength of 64% ABV and available for RRP £99.95 (US$123.88); as well as Bourbon Whiskey #2 Batch 1, a three-year-old Kentucky Bourbon from an undisclosed distillery made with a high rye mash bill. It is bottled at a cask strength of 59.8% ABV and retails for RRP £59.95 (US$74.31).

The series also features a selection of Scotch, rum and US brandy, including Copper & Kings Batch 3, a four-year-old blend of grape and apple spirits called ‘Grapple’, which sits at 45% ABV and is priced at RRP £49.95 (US$61.91).

That Boutique-y Whisky Company
The USA Series labels resemble vintage collectable baseball cards and feature each distillery’s ‘star player’

Each of the bottlings feature custom labels designed to resemble vintage collectable baseball cards. Dave Worthington, That Boutique-y Whisky Company global brand ambassador, explained how the label concept came to life: “We looked at baseball card collections, and loved some of the vintage-style cards. We spoke to our whiskey distilleries, they sent us photos of their ‘player’, and we spoke to artist Emily Chappell who completed the brief.”

The series launch has been timed to coincide with World Whisky Day tomorrow (20 May).

Youth appeal

As the global whisky category continues to boom, Simmons told The Spirits Business he believes playful brands like That Boutique-y Whisky Company are helping to recruit younger drinkers to the category.

“We seek out cool, interesting casks from around the world, Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada – where I’m from – and bottle things that are a bit outside the norm, labelling them up with funky, hand-illustrated labels. We don’t have tonnes of factual data on whether our branding directly appeals to a younger consumer base, but my feeling from what I see when we do whisky shows or trade shows, and in the context of all these mahogany old-school gentlemen club whiskies, is we really stand out, it looks totally different.

“I think having these fun labels shows that we take the whisky really seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. I think you definitely will see younger people being attracted to that. It definitely gets people saying that whisky doesn’t have to be stuffy.”

He continued: “Ten years ago, there was nothing that looked like us. Now there’s much more and I love that. I don’t take it as a rip-off or insulting, it’s flattering. It means that there is something new and different about it.”

Simmons noted that online retailer Master of Malt, which is part of Atom Group, has a predominantly male customer base (60%) aged between 25 to 34-years-old.

“I don’t know if that means that more younger people are coming to whisky, or if younger people are more into discovery and into trying new things,” he said.

“In online retail, where we can get better data than we can in real in bricks-and-mortar shops, the average sale is to a younger consumer, and that younger consumer’s average basket value is going up,” he said. “We are living in a challenging time for bills and everything else, but I do still think that people want to treat themselves and young people more than ever have access to information that allows them to make purchasing choices with more confidence. When I was that age, we had email but we didn’t have Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok helping us make purchasing decisions or letting us know which whisky was cool.”

Sam Simmons is the head of whisky at Atom Brands

Simmons said that without social media platforms, his purchasing decisions at a younger age were made with a lot more caution: “I’d never have spent over £30 [US$37] on a bottle of booze when I moved to Scotland, but once I learned about whisky and knew that my choices were informed, then I became more comfortable with taking those ‘risks’ and spending more. Now, younger people have more risk and reward confidence than maybe a consumer in the past wouldn’t have had, because wisdom is more accessible now.”

Flavoured whisky

Simmons also noted that the rise of flavoured whiskies has also helped to boost sales among the younger demographics. “The flavoured vodka category in the late 90s and early 2000s was crazy, and we’re in the sort of tail end of that, but flavoured whisky has been massive since Fireball, and since Jack Daniel’s launched its flavoured expressions, like Jack Daniel’s Honey, which was massive.

“I think that might have made people more comfortable to try whisky and say, you know what? I’m into whisky now. Now I’ll try Jack Daniel’s regular, I’ll try Johnnie Walker, now I’ll try a single malt my dad has sitting in the corner, you know? So, I think that has probably brought more people to whisky.”

Furthermore, Simmons believes bartenders have helped drive the whisky category forward: “Bartenders are the frontline influencers, and they like shooting Irish whiskey,” he said. “Bartenders are offering Irish whiskey shots to their guests, especially Jameson, which is on fire in the States right now, and so people are now willing to consider whisky for the first time, so I think that’s also going to bring that average demographic of whisky drinkers down.”

More than a quarter of US spirits drinkers are willing to try whisky, according to a recent report by Union’s OnPrem Insights.

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