Waldorf Hilton, London, UK. 22 March 2014.
How revealing, how very refreshing! One hundred major players in the world whisky industry under one roof, candidly discussing whisky. Did they all agree? Except that the future looks bright indeed for whisky as a spirits category, not entirely.
Authenticity is critical, keynote speaker, Mike Keyes from Brown-Forman began, explaining why Jack Daniel’s remains the best selling and best-known whisky in the world. Still to stay at the top, brands must change with society. The trick is to spin as the world spins, but no faster.
Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association made that same connection when speaking of flavoured whiskies. This category is so new it’s hard to know where it’s going. However, sales of 3.7 million cases in 2013 speak to its strength and signal longevity. “Not so fast,” Astor Wines and Spirits senior vice-president, Daniel Fisher rejoined. “Flavoured whisky has to be about more than just brand extension or it will hurt whisky. Look at vodka. Every week there are new flavours and every week sales are down.”
Enormous growth experienced by Irish whiskey and bourbon does not reflect fatigue with Scotch, pointing instead to new levers for growth. Canadian whisky is next, Corby’s director of international sales, Ross Hendry, told us. Corby has just launched 5 Canadian brands in 50 US states and is seriously evaluating overseas markets.
Another lever for growth is to take existing brands up market. Not only is growth of premium brands outstripping others, the profit per case is significantly higher.
Education plays a huge role too, according to Frank Coleman, from DISCUS. China, India, South America and other huge new markets are open for business to those who focus on educating distributors and bar staff. So too, is travel retail, a market that has expanded from a single shop in 1947 to a $55 billion (and growing) industry in 2013.
Luncheon speaker, Dr. Nick Morgan of Diageo reminded us that there was whisky before the days of the Internet. Today, i-whisky backwoodsmen, longing for whiskies that no longer exist and probably never did, may curse the big companies for driving prices up, but they carefully ignore that they themselves are driving the on-line secondary markets.
Dave Pickerell, a distilling consultant, and former master distiller from Maker’s Mark was blunt that any spirit produced today is better than every spirit made 40 years ago. Ralph Erenzo, a craft distiller, didn’t quite agree, calling many of today’s spirits, “Swill.” Ah yes, it was a day of lively discussion.
Levity reigned as the day drew to a close with the group nosing and tasting to determine whether they could tell expensive whiskies from inexpensive ones. While half the room loved a $20 Evan Williams 7 Years Old bourbon as much as its $200 sibling, Elijah Craig 23 Years Old, only four preferred the $55 Dalmore 15 Years Old to Dalmore King Alexander III at $250. It was a good-natured ending to a very educational day.
To download the presentations from the day, click here.
Thank you for a great day - very enjoyable.
Learnt so much - thanks for the opportunity.
Elegant, Classy, Special Conference.
I'm Glad I attended - lots of great content . I'll be back next year.
Well done! Love how the conference is in the US.