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Boutique Brands Adding Much-Needed Cachet To Blended Scotch Category

September 20, 2013

The blended Scotch business traditionally has been all about mainstream brands, but lately much of its buzz is about newer boutique players that are adding much-needed cachet to this sleepy category.

William Grant & Sons’ Monkey Shoulder brand ($30 a 750-ml.), billed as a triple malt because it’s a blend of three single malts, has now expanded to a dozen markets since its launch a year ago and is gaining wider media attention. Monkey Shoulder has had virtually no advertising support, and is targeting the on-premise. “We’re seeding the brand by introducing it to key bartender influencers,” says Grant marketing director of innovation Lisa Pfenning, who hopes to have Monkey Shoulder in 50 states within a year.

Meanwhile, Compass Box Whisky Co. is launching limited-edition blends for its top U.S. accounts. The latest expression, made for Delilah’s bar in Chicago, is aged in new American oak barrels and has an almost Bourbon-like sweetness that’s unusual for any Scotch. Compass Box founder and CEO John Glaser suggests that it’s taste, not age statements or marketing slogans, that are shifting blended whisky market shares. Glaser, who owns no distillery, is offering blends such as the Spice Tree ($65), aged in new French oak, and Hedonism ($100), a 100% blend of grains, to supplement his biggest seller, Peat Monster ($60). Most of his labels, he asserts, are so distinctive that they don’t compete against other blends. “Our competitors are single malts like Glenmorangie and The Macallan 15-year-old,” Glaser says.

Tim Master, director of specialty spirits at Frederick Wildman & Sons, believes that consumers are hungry for smaller-batch whiskies like Monkey Shoulder and his own labels, Sheep Dip ($40) and Pig’s Nose ($33). Last year, his brands reached all 50 states for the first time, and in the past year the sales volume for Pig’s Nose has risen by 20% while Sheep Dip is up 10%. Master argues that his price points have been the key to success. “People are very curious right now,” says Master. “They want to try new things—but they don’t necessarily want to spend $80 to do it.”

Elsewhere, Prestige Wine & Spirits introduced its Label 5 Classic Black ($16) last year, along with an upscale 12-year-old version ($24), and both both brands are penetrating major markets. Domaine Select Wine Estates is unveiling new expressions in the Wemyss Malts blended line that include the rare 30-year-old Heathery Smoke, with U.S. pricing still undetermined.

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