Whisky: the renaissance

Emily Jupp

auchentoshan2 300x239 Whisky: the renaissanceWhisky is having a renaissance. Once the preserve of dusty, old, tweed-cladded men with hunting dogs and a passion for clay pigeon shooting, the drink is being re-discovered by a hipper crowd of ‘young fogies’.

I am in Camden. It’s 4pm on a Sunday, a rock band is playing, I’m surrounded by lots of young people. And we’re all drinking whisky. Lots of whisky.

“Pop a Malteser in your mouth. Nice isn’t it? now take a sip of the 12 year, and that’s how you make a Malteser into a chocolate liqueur!” exclaims our enthusiastic Scottish host, Tom Jones, the brand ambassador, as we slurp a twelve-year-old triple-distilled single malt, matured in Spanish Oloroso barrels, through a malty confection.

The 12-year Auchentoshan whisky (pronounced Och-un-tosh-un, Gaelic for ‘corner of the field’) tastes good with the Maltesers, as does the classic Auchentoshan, and the Auchentoshan with ginger ale, and the denser Three Barrels. Although I need some water with the last one, which is usually considered a sin in traditional whisky-drinking circles, but is encouraged here.

I realised I liked whisky three years ago when I stumbled upon a whisky tasting at my local Waitrose. I got to try about ten different types and it was a revelation that there were so many flavours of whisky, and you could drink them for pleasure, not just as a mixer for your cola when the Malibu had run out.

The chocolates and mixers are definitely helping me and Mr Auchentoshan to get friendly, but whisky hasn’t always found it so easy to convert young crowds to what is often perceived as an old man’s drink.

In 2004, in an attempt to shake off the pipe and slippers image, Glengoyne malt whisky sponsored an art exhibition in Glasgow, entitled “Sex and the Truss”, the exhibits were “highly-charged erotic art” by Glasgow artist, Bill Blackwood, including images of semi-naked women in stilettos, basques and stockings. It did not create a loyal new young following.

In 2003 The Easy Drinking Company, part-funded by the Famous Grouse whisky blend, brought out three whiskies in alcopop bottles, which won them the nickname “maltopops”.  They had names like “The Rich Spicy One” and “The Smokey Peaty One”. The website selling them is now defunct, so we can only assume the no-nonsense labels failed to win over the youth market.

So why is whisky now starting to attract a younger group of drinkers?

Pierre Thiébaut is the co-founder of  Connosr, the online community for whisky lovers and the online whisky magazine, Connosr distilled. Nearly half (43%) of Connosr’s  members are in the 25-34 age range and 74% are aged between 25 and 44. Connosr’s features include a googlemap showing all the distilleries, links to Facebook and Twitter and an A-Z listing of whisky brands, it’s style is sleek and simple and it is clearly aimed at the Twitter generation.

“From what we know,” says Pierre, “young people’s interest in whisky has to do with people in their late 20s and early 30s, they have a good disposable income and they aren’t going out so much as they used to, but want to enjoy the finer things in life.”

This quiet revolution, according to Pierre, is down to a mix of the influence of modern fiction, the slow food movement, and pure romance. “Literary references make whisky drinking sound romantic, Ian Banks’ novels give whisky drinkers stature and sophistication, so it has gone from seeming stuffy to being quite cool.”

“Increasingly, people want to know what goes into their bodies. Whisky has a sense of place and it’s also very simple, it’s just made from barley and water, and it seems more real – it has a sense of craft that people find appealing.”

And finally, there’s something for everyone: “Because it’s produced in hundreds of small distilleries, in different conditions, it’s so diverse in flavour.”

So the  more ‘trendy’ advertising, that whisky companies have, in the past, employed to infiltrate the youth market hasn’t always worked, because according to Pierre, it’s aimed at the wrong section of that youth market.

“That kind of overt advertising probably creates more suspicion,” says Pierre, ” the whisky industry isn’t that good at promoting itself, so whisky is usually something people have discovered for themselves. I think modern-day whisky drinkers like the authenticity of it. Like Talisker, its a functional product; you look at the bottle and you can imagine it sitting in a crofters cottage on the isle of Skye. It has a romantic ruggedness that appeals to its drinkers.”

The new generation of whisky drinkers aren’t uber-cool; rather than being old men in tweed, they are young men (and a few women) in tweed; literate, bookish types who like the old-fashioned gentility of whisky, and who long for a simpler way of life. “It all comes down to authenticity, tradition and craft,” says Pierre, “and feeling they are part of that.”

And if that hasn’t made you a convert – try it with a Malteser.

Kirsteen’s recomendations: Best Auchentochan for…?

A house party The Classic, it’s the entry point to the range and its affordable so you can buy a couple of bottles of it for your guests. Make it into a long drink with tonic and lime.

A Romantic meal Either the 12 year on the rocks or the Three Wood mixed into a sophisticated cocktail, like a Rob Roy or a Martini and it works well straight too.

A lazy Sunday It has to be the Three Wood, slow sips of a dram, cradled in your hand, in front of a open fire.

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  • Oliver Klimek

    I agree that more and more young people are attracted to whisky these days. And I am also quite confident that it is not just another short-lived marketing hype. The whisky world has so much to offer that youn can spend literally all your life to explore it.  Just marketing whisky as a fashionable alternative to vodka or tequila for the hipsters won’t do the trick, though.

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