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Courtesy of Diageo
By John Kell
November 22, 2014

Americans seems to be ignoring claims that the world’s best whisky isn’t Scotch.

A handful of new Scotch whiskies is hitting liquor shelves ahead of the holiday season, with some at exceptionally high prices. The new liquors are coming to market at a time when Americans are consuming more brown spirits — lingo for American bourbon and other whiskeys.

Scotch whisky (spelled differently than American whiskey) in particular is having its moment stateside. Sales of the priciest Scottish whiskies climbed 128% between 2008 and 2013, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. That growth exceeded the gains reported for pricey vodkas, tequilas, and American whiskeys.

And while recent headlines suggest Scotch could be losing some of its luster (not one Scotch made the top five of the influential Whisky Bible 2015), Scotch experts say the whisky has established broad appeal in recent years. The drink is gaining ground with the influential Millennial crowd and Hispanics while courting more women than ever in the U.S.

“There is a whisky for everyone, and I happen to believe that Scotland produces some of the best whisky in the world and has done so for hundreds of years,” said Richard Varga, master of Scotch at Pernod Ricard, a well-known maker of Scotch whiskies.

Still, liquor executives say that Millennials are moving away from vodka-based martinis and cosmopolitans and instead are favoring brown spirits, and much of that trend has favored American whiskeys — bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, in particular. But Scotch is also riding along that wave.

“Five to ten years ago, the Scotch consumer was predominantly male, somewhere between the ages of 35 and 55, and Single Malt was kind of a ‘status’ that meant something in their lives,” said Stephanie Ridgway, a brand manager for Highland Park Scotch. Single Malt, one of five categories of Scotch, is a whisky distilled at a single distillery

While that core consumer — a man that would order a Scotch with a steak dinner, or on a golf course — still exists, there are new customers interesting in premium-priced Scotch. That new Scotch customer — mostly late twenty and early thirty-somethings who crave quality and specific flavors — doesn’t always rely on a drink’s vintage to say which whisky has the best taste.

One of the biggest challenges that Scotch makers and their brand marketers still face is the fact that many Americans remain confused about what Scotch is. For the record, it’s a distilled spirit made in Scotland from cereals, water and yeast, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. Regulations set in 2009 define five Scotch categories, including “Single Malt” and “Blended Scotch.”

“There is still a fair way to go with Scotch [education], but it is going in the right direction,” said Naren Young, a mixologist at New York City eatery Bacchanal. “Cocktails have opened the door for Scotch in a big way. Some great old school cocktails are coming back, and that’s helping the category.”

Here’s a look at six new Scotch whiskies (note: Some are widely available, while others are exceptionally hard to find).


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