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Whyte & Mackay Looks To Revitalize Blended Scotch Market With John Barr Brand

January 29, 2018

Scotch whisky distiller Whyte & Mackay is best known for upscale single malts The Dalmore ($65-$230) and Jura ($55), in addition to Shackleton ($35), its new blended malt label. Now, in partnership with its U.S. importer and marketer E.&J. Gallo, Whyte & Mackay is looking to crack the standard Scotch segment with a new focus on blended entrant John Barr Reserve Blend.

John Barr ($25) has long been available in the U.S. market, and never had a significant market presence. But in September of 2016, the brand received a makeover, with a new package as well as reworked liquid created by Whyte & Mackay master distiller Richard Paterson and blender Gregg Glass. The new John Barr is matured in ex-Bourbon barrels and finished in Sherry butts for several months. “This whisky is crafted along the lines of the original blend but takes contemporary tastes into account,” says Whyte & Mackay vice president, Americas, Chris Watt. “The Sherry notes emerge to create an accessibly priced Scotch that punches well above its weight.”

Watt sees John Barr as a refresher in a sleepy market for standard blends. “There hasn’t been much innovation within the standard tier, and that’s the access point for most people—particularly entry-level Scotch drinkers,” he says. “We want to create some consumer choice.”

Whyte & Mackay is looking for John Barr to surpass 150,000 cases over the next several years, which would rank it just outside the top five blends in the U.S. market and even higher in the standard segment. By W&M’s calculations, it would place John Barr at number-three among standard brands ($10-$25), behind Johnnie Walker Red and Dewar’s White Label.

Key to achieving those goals will be Whyte & Mackay’s U.S. alliance with E.&J. Gallo. W&M selected Gallo as its importer in 2015, after years of self-importing. “We’ve definitely been broadening our distribution through the partnership with Gallo,” says Watt. “Since September of 2016, John Barr has gone from a standing start to about 30,000 cases, and we feel confident that we can achieve our volume goals in fairly short order.”

John Barr currently is available in all 50 states except New Jersey. California and the Northeast are particularly strong for the brand, along with the southeastern markets of Florida and Georgia. Right now, most of its distribution is with independent retailers. “We haven’t gone aggressively into the California chains quite yet, because we want to build the brand first,” says Watt. “We’re figuring out what works best before moving to the next stage.”

For Gallo, focusing on a standard blend to complement Whyte & Mackay’s higher-end portfolio makes sense. Gallo has a formidable track record in building accessibly priced spirits brands—most notably with New Amsterdam vodka, which rose from 45,000 cases in 2011 to over 5 million cases last year, as well as E.&J. Brandy, the market’s top domestic brandy player, which increased by 6.5% last year to pass the 4-million-case mark. —David Fleming

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