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Single Grain Scotch And Irish Whiskies Come Out Of The Shadows

November 24, 2014

While single malt whiskies are enjoying a golden age in the U.S. market, grain whiskies—the main component in most blended offerings from Scotland and Ireland—continue to fly under the radar. As the holiday selling season approaches, however, key players like Diageo, William Grant & Sons and others are giving voice to the fledgling category with new brand propositions, hoping to capitalize on the market’s thirst for innovative whisky creations.

“Grain whisky is the one no one ever seems to mention,” says Andrew Nash, category marketing director, Scotch & North American whiskies at William Grant & Sons. “It’s been kind of hidden, much in the way that 50 years ago no one talked about malt whisky, because everyone was drinking blends at the time. Yet grain whiskies account for 70%-80% of any given bottle of blended Scotch whisky.”

This fall, William Grant is launching a new single grain Scotch whisky brand, Girvan, which is made at its grain distillery in Ayrshire and distilled predominantly from wheat, with a small amount of malted barley. The line will include a non-age-stated No. 4 Apps edition ($45), as well as 25-year-old ($400) and 30-year-old ($600) expressions. Nash says the core No. 4 Apps—named for the patented column still from which it’s produced—is a sweet, lighter whisky that’s versatile and amenable to cocktails in addition to drinking straight.

William Grant isn’t alone in eyeing opportunities in the single grain category. Diageo recently placed a high-profile bet on single grain whisky with the global launch of Haig Club ($70 a 750-ml.), developed in partnership with soccer star David Beckham and British entrepreneur Simon Fuller. Rolling out currently in the U.S., China, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore with additional markets upcoming, Haig Club is intended to attract both novice consumers and Scotch whisky cognoscenti. “Historically single grain whisky has been in the shadow of single malts and blended Scotch, but Haig Club represents a new direction, which brings single grain to the forefront,” said Kathy Parker, senior vice president, Haig Club, in announcing the launch.

In a statement to SND, Diageo NA, which is seeding Haig Club in key U.S. markets, added that it expects the brand to “help recruit young adult drinkers into the (whisky) category. The liquid is quite versatile and will allow for multiple ways of enjoyment, be it over ice or mixed in a cocktail.” Meanwhile, Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes recently observed that in China Haig Club is being targeted to “go after the with-meal occasion,” the primary venue for beverage alcohol consumption in the country.

Nor is the move toward single grain whiskies confined to Scotland. Ireland’s Teeling Whiskey Co. is planning to launch a 46%-abv single grain offering—fully matured in California Cabernet Sauvignon wine barrels—in the U.S. next year. Teeling’s newcomer will join another rare Irish single grain whiskey, Greenore, on the market. Greenore, which includes 8-year-old, 15-year-old and 18-year-old variants, is now part of the Beam Suntory portfolio, and is produced at the Cooley Distillery that Beam acquired from the Teeling family in early 2012.

 

 

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