The New Whisky Drinkers: How Millennials Are Changing the Industry
Picture your average whisky drinker.
Is it a middle-aged man in a gentleman’s club? A country sports enthusiast taking a nip from a hip flask to keep out the chill on a foggy grouse moor? Or a young, trendy urbanite at a club with her friends? The misconception that all whisky drinkers fall into the former categories has been well and truly busted as Millennials discover the joys of whisky drinking for themselves. And not only are they breaking down the stereotypes, but they’re changing the way the industry works worldwide.
Forget crackling log fires in echoing Scottish castles. Most of the new generation of whisky drinkers enjoy the nuances of this complex and ever-changing drink in cocktails as an accompaniment to a dinner party or just for its sheer pleasure. Whisky doesn’t just come from north of the border of England. It comes from India, Sweden, South Korea and countless other distilleries around the globe.
Rules are made to be broken, and the new whisky drinkers are doing just that.
Whisky drinkers on the international scene
The new whisky scene isn’t confined to the Scottish Highlands and Islands. It’s an international explosion led by the Far East, particularly Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Here, whisky has transformed from its masculine image into a universal drink to be enjoyed by everyone. Rare and exclusive whisky is prized, but the drink has reached a much wider audience.
The trend for more global whiskies has pushed distillery techniques to new heights. While only whisky distilled and aged in Scotland can call itself ‘Scotch’, whisky drinkers are expanding their horizons and looking at international producers to create new and exciting flavours. For example, the Taiwanese distillery Kavalan is rapidly gaining a reputation for producing exquisitely light and citrusy whisky that’s perfect for mixing.
In Sweden, the Mackmyra distillery is also busy creating new flavours and expanding its range of single malt whiskies. The packaging also appeals to its new demographic, which plays an essential part in any business. There’s not a single picture of a grouse or a clump of heather on these on-trend bottles. Instead, there are brighter, lighter colours that take whisky out of the back of the drink’s cabinet and onto the cocktail bars of Europe.
Knocking G&T off the top spot
Let’s be fair – gin has had a good run over the past few years. The explosion in craft gins has pushed the industry into new directions, which can only be a good thing for consumers. While the classic London dry gin is still the benchmark, we now have everything from passion fruit to rhubarb gin and all points in between. But inevitably, tastes change, and gin is now making way for whisky.
It’s unlikely that we’ll end up with bottles of single malt flavoured with exotic fruit any time soon. But a changing audience is encouraging international distillers to focus on new directions. And, as Mackmyra has already proven, they are successfully changing their marketing to appeal to a new generation of whisky drinkers.
Accessing these new whiskies (and plenty of the older brands) is now easier than ever. You don’t have to travel to Scotland to taste a complex single malt. Today, whisky bars are springing up both in the UK and worldwide, rivalling the craft gin bars that dominated the early part of the 21st century.
A new way of drinking whisky
One of the significant changes in whisky drinking among Millennials is not just what they’re drinking but how. Dinner party hosts now look at whisky and food combinations rather than the usual ‘white-wine-with-fish’ approach to dinner party beverages. A rich chocolate dessert deserves a whisky with rich caramel notes. A light vegetarian meal works well with an Islands’ single malt that’s fresh and spicy. The right whisky combination can bring a whole new culinary experience to the dinner table.
The other way of drinking whisky is the explosion of whisky cocktails. We all know that whisky cocktails are not a 21st-century invention, and tipples like the Whisky Sour and the Manhattan have been around for decades. But in the same way the standard gin and tonic evolved into a plethora of gin-based cocktails, now whisky is doing the same.
Whisky drinker purists may baulk at the thought of anything more complicated than a tiny splash of water or a single cube of ice in their fine single malt. But as we said earlier, rules are made to be broken. The way that Millennials are drinking whisky has done away with conventions and embraced exploration. A vast selection of cocktails is transforming the way we think about whisky drinking, making it a much more sociable drink to enjoy anytime, anywhere.
The rarity value of whisky drinking
One aspect that Millennial whisky drinkers do prize is rarity. Collectors can pay thousands for a single bottle. But unlike many ‘investments’, these bottles are being opened, and the contents savoured and enjoyed by a well-informed and highly appreciative audience of whisky connoisseurs. In Asia in particular, the younger whisky drinker is more affluent and able to afford exclusive bottles not just from Scotland but from around the world.
Whisky has become fashionable, but as with all premium quality products, that fashion will inevitably turn into something much more long-term. For example, craft gin hasn’t gone ‘out of fashion’. It’s merely settled into a segment of the marketplace and is holding steady.
The same will happen with the new whisky scene. After all, it has a solid foundation from which to start – the traditional single malt scotch that has been the benchmark of excellence for generations. The new whisky scene has taken that foundation and built upon it, primarily to cater to an entirely new generation of younger, more affluent and discerning whisky drinkers.
These new whisky drinkers are knowledgeable and passionate about drinking whisky, not for the kudos or as part of any kind of an ‘image’, but for the sheer pleasure of the experience. And in our opinion, that has to be the best way to enjoy any whisky, regardless of its rarity or perceived value.
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