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Interview, Part 2: William Grant & Sons’ Jonathan Yusen

September 16, 2020

In the second part of our interview, William Grant & Sons Americas president and managing director Jonathan Yusen discusses the company’s whisk(e)y portfolio, including how Glenfiddich and The Balvenie are faring amid the U.S. tariffs on single malt Scotch, as well as the opportunity for American whiskies like Hudson and newcomer Fistful of Bourbon.

SND: The single malt Scotch whisky segment continues to be under a 25% tariff in the U.S. What are you seeing on the Glenfiddich and Balvenie brands?

Yusen: While we’ve got some challenges at the lower end of Glenfiddich, the rest of the single malts are fairly resilient. In fact, we’ve seen consumers of Glenfiddich and The Balvenie shift to the higher ages. The variants performing really well are the two 14-year-olds: Glenfiddich Bourbon Barrel Reserve and The Balvenie Caribbean Cask. The other brand that’s benefiting is Monkey Shoulder, which is a blend of malts. It’s priced a little bit lower than most single malts, and really operates at the more premium end of blends. Monkey Shoulder is built around cocktail creation, whether it’s on- or off-trade. While we were pleased that the tariffs haven’t extended to more categories, we’re disappointed that the Treasury hasn’t signaled the desire to deescalate not only tariffs on whisky coming this way, but also on American whiskey being tariffed in the E.U. and U.K. But as a family run company that’s been in the business for five generations and counting, our focus is firmly on the long term, and we view tariffs as a short-term disruption.

SND: William Grant & Sons recently boosted its presence in American whiskey with Fistful of Bourbon. How is the outlook for that brand?

Yusen: We started to launch Fistful of Bourbon right before Covid took off. It forced us to pull back, and we’re evaluating the right time to put more focus on it. In the interim, without much focus at all, we’ve seen quite a bit of organic interest in the brand both from the trade and consumers, which will play heavily in our decision if and when we resume the launch that was planned for earlier this year.

SND: You also have the Hudson whiskey label. What’s the news there?

Yusen: We’ve used the last few months to evaluate our options on Hudson. We think the Hudson brand has a very important role to play, specifically when the hospitality segment in New York comes back. So we’ll double down on the brand’s New York provenance, on its role in hospitality, and on finding ways to amplify what makes New York so special as we look to put additional focus on Hudson throughout the rest of the country.

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