Scotch whisky is a category that is steeped in history and heritage, with family brands helping to shape the landscape. But it is also a category that uses innovation and new techniques to help it stay relevant and attract new consumers.

What this heritage and innovation means is that there are exciting things to discover in the category whether you are a novice whisky drinker entering the category for the first time, or an existing whisky lover who is looking to explore new brands or expressions.

From a retailer or venue perspective there are also great opportunities to be had in developing shopper interest in a high margin, premium category that is still very under-represented in the Australian market.

For instance data shows that while single malts represent 10 per cent share of total whisky in Australia, that figure is closer to  24 per cent in other and mature markets like the UK.  This means there is a great opportunity to effectively double the size of the market locally.

Further, in the off-premise we know that more than 50 per cent of all whisky is purchased for gifting, so there is definitely an opportunity to focus on this high value, high margin category outside of typical gifting periods as well and extend the permissibility of malts to an everyday occasion.

With this in mind it’s useful to look at companies that can engage with consumers on many different levels, with stories and heritage as well as strong brands and innovation that continues to excite and intrigue consumers.

One of these organisations in particular is William Grant & Sons, which as a family-run business with its innovative Glenfiddich and The Balvenie brands ticks all these boxes.

Glenfiddich was the brand which, in 1963 launched Glenfiddich Straight Malt – the whisky which kicked off the whole single malt category as we know it today. Then there is The Balvenie and its pioneering Master Distiller, David Stewart MBE, who is the man credited with creating the wood finished whisky, which is such a key part of today’s industry.

In 1982 Stewart began experimenting with wood finishing as he took whisky that had aged in traditional American oak casks and transferred it Oloroso Sherry casks to see what would happen. Ten years later, after many more such experiments The Balvenie launched its 12 Year Old DoubleWood and the process of ‘finishing’ whisky in different woods is now commonplace in the Scotch industry.

Similarly Brian Kinsman the Malt Master and Master Blender at The Glenfiddich understands the importance of experimentation, of adaptation, as long as it is not to the detriment of a brand’s core products.

“Experimenting is important, but as long as it’s not to the detriment of everything else you do,” Kinsman said. “My own view is that you need to have a really strong core, I think that’s important and you need to look after that very well. Just say ‘this is what we do, this is what we’ve been doing for the last 50 years and this is what we want to do for the next 50 years.’

“Then on top of that it’s good to push boundaries and try new things. Ultimately if you look at different audiences, there’s a lot of people who just want to drink really great tasting single malt and you don’t want to compromise that. But there are others who are genuinely more up for something a bit different, they might be interested in the story and how you do it. I think as long as you do both, then experimenting is a really positive thing to do.”

Another recent innovation in the whisky category has been the introduction of non-age statement whiskies (NAS), which have given blenders, and consumers the opportunity to enjoy different flavours and it’s an innovation which Kinsman has welcomed.

“My view on non-age statement whiskies is that I am a big supporter of them, as long as they taste good,” he said.

“It sounds obvious but if you do a NAS whisky simply to get more volume or to get something out quicker that’s not going to work. So as long as you do it because there’s a really good rational reason it should work. What I really like about NAS is that there is a flavour that you can get, that you simply can’t get in an aged product.

“The combination of a slightly younger whisky with its fruity vibrancy and almost youthfulness, mixed together with a significantly older whisky which has got that really deep intense oak, does give you something that you wouldn’t get simply picking an age in the middle. It’s almost like a counter-point between young and old and sometimes it does work really well, but it’s important to do it properly.”

Kinsman has really shown what can be done with NAS expressions with the launch of the Experimental Series. The first two expressions were The Glenfiddich IPA, the first single malt to be finished in an IPA beer cask. With this Kinsman worked with Speyside brewer Seb Jones to create a new craft IPA, brewed in bespoke craft IPA barrels to help create a unique zesty citrus note in the whisky.

“The idea behind the Glenfiddich IPA experiment was quite unusual, but one we were passionate about – we wanted to really play with the flavours to see what we could create,” Kinsman said.

The Experimental Series also saw the launch of Project XX, a truly unique single malt which came about when 20 of Glenfiddich’s finest whisky experts came together to select barrels from The Glenfiddich warehouse, which were then specially blended by Kinsman, to create a pioneering single malt.

The NAS Project XX highlights everything that non-age statement whiskies can be with the classic characters of a Glenfiddich whisky, but with multiple personalities with a deep, mellow and long lasting finish.

With so much innovation and heritage in whisky, it’s great to have occasions like World Whisky Day which give consumers, retailers, bartenders and venue managers the chance to step outside of their usual dram and try something new. It’s great to be able to bring together story, heritage, experimentation and innovation and brands like Glenfiddich and The Balvenie enable you to do this. As the likes of Stewart and Kinsman are showing whisky rewards those who experiment and this is a truth that extends from the distillery, through retailers and on to consumers.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.