Grain whisky is seeing an interesting resurgence at the minute; no longer is it just 'blend fodder', this is really good stuff that is about to have, if not already having its day.
There are a few grain distilleries in Scotland and more around the world releasing interesting bottles but today I want to focus on the different approaches taken by Girvan Patent Still and Haig Club as they each set out to premiumise a traditionally lesser-perceived form of liquid, grain whisky.
“The Beckham Whisky” to many, this is definitely not a drink for the whisky drinkers; its purpose was clear:
“To create a whisky with mass appeal beyond the borders of single malt and traditional blended Scotch in order to recruit new drinkers from categories such as vodka and gin”
My views on the liquid as a Scotch drinker and connoisseur are relatively outspoken in that I did not really enjoy it, but I fully accept that I was not supposed to, this one just was not for me.
One for beginners? Maybe, but I would not expect repeat sales from whisky drinkers, much more likely to appeal to people who don’t like single malt whisky.
I do see it as an interesting opportunity for Haig to tempt gin and vodka drinkers to the category but unless it is used in cocktails I fear that it is too un-whisky-like that it won’t encourage exploration through to other products or brands within whisky unlike Girvan that has produced a gorgeously branded and packaged product that delivers through the experience too.
Although there are perpetual rumours around the imminent release of Haig Club range extensions, I’m at a loss as to why they would release what is surely the lowest common denominator in their soon-to-be range without giving enthusiasts a reason and oportunity to trade up from the start.
Will this make it harder to add to the range and increase traction amongst the explorers and connossieurs of this great liquid? Time will tell.
Now Girvan did something completely different, they built a brand around precision, engineering and pride.
Whilst Haig was undoubtedly a great bottle with great product design, Girvan in its very being has already forged category design codes where previously there was no category.
Launched with confidence in its quality and appeal, the team were not quite as confident in the background.
Interesting marketing story from Girvan Patent Still, they did groups to disaster check and validate the concept of releasing a single grain into the market and to see if it would resonate with the whisky connossieurs, the hardcore whisky geeks and the new to category drinkers.
I spoke to the team at Girvan recently and was told that most of the internal team thought there would be resistance from the connossieurs and hardcore whisky geeks. This ended up being nowhere near what happened, during their focus groups with the ‘hardcore’ whisky geeks and subsequent social media listening research, they found that there was no negativity or perceived second tier status, all of that fear and thinking had been solely in the heads of the internal team as they really did not want it to fail.
Whisky drinkers seemed to love the concept and the single distillery provenance stories attached to that.
Girvan also launched more than one product to kick start the momentum; opting to give mixologists and newbie whisky drinkers an option whilst also using their Girvan 25 Year Old as the marquee product in the range, giving natural appeal to whisky explorersand connoisseurs from the get-go.
I’m looking forward to how this category battle will play out and how each brand will build and thrive in a new world of Single Grain Whisky.
What do you think? Have you tried either brand’s product and what are your thoughts?