The Grocer have recently written an in-depth article about Scotland and its exports and asked us to contribute. I wrote the following thoughts and predictions for them, from which they used a few quotes. I thought it might be enjoyed as a longer piece, so I recycled it as a Purple blog. Hope you enjoy it.
Scotland is a country of invention and reinvention. It has a long and illustrious history of world-defining innovations, from the telephone to the toilet. In food and drink, it has changed culinary attitudes and tastes for generations. Bovril, marmalade, lime cordial, quinine (for malaria, yes, but also in your gin and tonic), Irn-Bru, porridge, whisky (obvs) and chicken tikka masala (for God’s sake) are all Scottish inventions. I refuse to mention deep fried Mars Bars.
This all highlights what I like to call the Scottish ingenious gene. A national can-do attitude that seems to encourage entrepreneurship and free-thinking. This unorthodox and never-say-never mindset is a country-wide characteristic and has led to the flourishing of unexpected craft industries.
Hendrick’s started it all, of course, from the sleepy seaside village of Girvan, but now Edinburgh Gin, Caorunn Gin, The Botanist and Rock Rose have muscled in on the act. They have a reputation for using interesting botanicals and being small batch. I keep saying artisanal gin has had its day, and I keep being proved wrong, so I think gin will sing again – especially in the hands of Scottish entrepreneurs. Export opportunities are huge in the USA, Germany, emerging markets like India and Brazil. China could be the most exciting opportunity though, with the established popularity of rice liquors (China’s second favourite drink after lucky red wine). They seem a spirit very similar to gin, with their subtle aromas, so it wouldn’t take a great shift in taste to take-off.
OK, so the exports might have fallen a bit recently, but let’s not forget they are still massive. Blended whisky is still worth over £3.45 billion. BILLION. Single malt sales, and a global appetite for more premium products, continue to rise.
The single malt category is a relatively new one, surprisingly. Glenfiddich effectively started the single malt category in 1963 (yes, as late as that – everyone was drinking blends before) when they actively started marketing their Straight Malt beyond the UK.
I predict the traditional world of whisky will react to this downturn in a distinctly untraditional way. No Age Statements (NAS) will grow – but the whiskies will compensate for not having a year by telling full and fascinating stories. Expensive, limited edition super-premium aged malts will grow, especially in Asia. Blends will continue to dabble with unusual flavours and finishes to attract a new whisky audience in emerging markets. Following the provenance gin epidemic, there will be a rise of craft whiskies – small batches from small distilleries – to lure the inquisitive consumer moving-up from craft beer.
Waitrose have recently doubled their Scottish craft beer selection, which says a thing or two about the rise of quality beer in the country. Companies like Harviestoun, Innis & Gunn, Windswept Brewery, Eden Mill, Fallen Brewing are all building their reputations. The current king is BrewDog, who are crowdsourcing their way into the global market. Craft beer is big news and is the perfect vehicle for the canny Scot but how will it fare in export? The USA already has a rich tradition of craft brewing, so will it be a case of selling haggis to Scotland? Time will tell.
What’s next? My predictions:
Scotland sells itself on purity. When you think of Scotland you think of heather-clad Highlands and spring water. Bottled water could be big. There are lots already. Highland Spring, Strathmore, Deeside, Speyside Glenlivet, BallyGowan, but I predict the appetite will grow. As global restaurants hire their own Water Sommeliers, water is becoming more than a table staple. Water pairings for food, whisky, cognacs and the right water for the right ice could all be in the pipeline.
Last year I heard about the first Scottish rum distillery opening. For me, this encapsulates the Scottish sense of pluck and luck. Called Dark Matter, they distil rum from sugarcane molasses in Banchory. Genius. Combining Scotland’s history of sugar refining (Tate & Lyle) and well-known expertise in distilling – two things that have made the country great. I raise a tot to them and wish them well.
Apparently Scotland used to be covered in apple orchards, where the colder climate created smaller sweeter fruit. But after refrigeration made transporting apples easier, the trees were cut down. But Scottish apples are having a resurgence – especially for use in cider. In export terms, cider is the fastest-growing drinks sector in the USA (and regarded as the second most popular craft drink after IPA beer). This means there are proper export opportunities for cider houses like Drygate, Thistly Cross, Clyde Cider and Cuddybridge.
Scottish oak matured ales
These are not simply craft beers – but crafted beers. They are beers with a difference and with depth. Innis & Gunn are leading the charge with a range of oak matured ales. Scottish brewer Harviestoun signed a deal with Highland Park Scotch to mature its beer in malt casks. The 40-year-old finish is now sent almost exclusively to New York, where it sells for about $50 for one 330ml bottle. Could this be a niche trend within craft beer?
As I said before, whisky isn’t going away any time soon. But the craft movement has made drinkers more interested in smaller artisanal brands – so expect interesting names, ABVs, stories, batches, limited editions and finishes from smaller distilleries throughout 2016.
Jamie Fleming, Head of Copy