“Only Scottish people drink whisky.”
“Whisky drinkers are rich middle-aged men in gentlemen’s clubs.”
Do those comments seem familiar? They’re popular myths about whisky drinkers, and today, they couldn’t be further from the truth. Whisky drinkers are no longer exclusively Scottish, middle-aged men, or any of the other stereotypes commonly associated with this fine beverage. In fact, the new generation of whisky drinkers may surprise you because they’re predominantly under 30, Londoners, and female.
Why has whisky drinking become the new fashion?
Gin had a good run, but while craft gins are still popular, it’s whisky that’s taking its rightful position in the number one spot. The average whisky drinker starts enjoying whisky at an earlier age. Research by YouGov in 2019 reported that 84% of whisky drinkers started enjoying the drink before they were 31, dispelling the myth that enjoying a dram is the confines of the middle-aged or older generations.
But why has it become so popular? Well, with celebrities publicly endorsing new whisky brands and the resurgence in the whisky cocktail, it’s seen as a much more accessible drink for everyone. The sheer number of whiskies available and their different ‘personalities’ also means that no matter what your tastes or preferences, there’s bound to be one that you like.
However, if you’re thinking about getting someone you know a bottle of mainstream whisky as a present, don’t. Simply grabbing a bland blend off the supermarket shelf doesn’t cut it with today’s whisky drinker. They have far more sophisticated palates than you might think and appreciate the finer, more unusual whiskies from small distilleries. It’s all about unique experiences and trying something different. This is why the myriad of different flavours you’ll find in the more unusual whiskies tick all the right boxes.
Women whisky drinkers
One of the big shifts in trends has been that more women have been enjoying whisky drinking over the last few years. It’s no longer seen as exclusively a male preserve, and UK women now drink 15% more whisky than they did in 2010. That’s around 40 million glasses a year, according to data from market research company Kantar.
It’s not just the ‘end users’ that are female, either. More women are working as distillers and master blenders within the industry itself. Others have founded their own distilleries, including Allison Parc, head of Brenne Whisky, and Heather Nelson, who has opened the Toulvaddie Distillery. They’re following in illustrious footsteps, though, because women distillery owners are nothing new. During the 1920s, many women played a significant role in developing distilleries that became hugely popular. So even though the press and social media may talk about the new women whisky drinkers, a good single malt has always been enjoyed by both sexes.
Much of the influence in the shift towards women whisky drinkers has been led from the Far East and, in particular, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The image of whisky as a masculine drink (think ‘Mad Men’) isn’t as prevalent in these cultures. Whisky drinking has been universalised, and in Tokyo, you can even get whisky on draft. This accessibility has made it hugely popular, particularly among younger drinkers, who covet rare labels and genuine imported whiskies from small-scale distilleries.
It’s time for cocktails
Whisky cocktails are nothing new – the Manhattan or the classic whisky sour have been around for decades. But what whisky cocktails have done is make whisky more accessible to those who would otherwise shy away from drinking it in the traditional way – neat or with just the merest splash of water.
Cocktails using every kind of whisky you can think of are exploding, challenging those craft gins we mentioned earlier in the popularity stakes. Recipe books create fruity, summery cocktails and winter warmers loaded with ingredients such as cinnamon, nutmeg and orange – all flavours that will easily complement a robust single malt. Go online, and you’ll find a whisky cocktail for every occasion, whether it’s a summer party or an intimate dinner with friends. Bar staff are expanding their cocktail repertoire and offering more whisky combinations that take you away from the old, staid, “Just one lump of ice, please…” norm. Cocktails have increased the demographic and have introduced a whole new sector of the drinking public to the idea of drinking whisky on a night out rather than gin or vodka.
What’s the future for whisky drinkers?
No matter your preference, there’s no disputing that whisky is here to stay. Whisky investments have become big business, allowing ordinary people to purchase a cask as an investment (in the same way you’d buy stocks and shares). With an 8-12%/annum growth prediction, it’s a wise investment.
But when it comes to actually drinking whisky, it seems that the trend continues to be more inclusive, less confined to one sex, and aimed at a younger demographic. Whisky drinkers are discovering that, unlike some other spirits, whisky offers a wealth of possibilities, with hundreds of brands on offer. It’s not just the mainstream whiskies that are finding their way into our homes and our glasses, but the rarer breeds – the small-distillery limited editions and the whiskies with unique flavour profiles.
So who is the modern whisky drinker? Well, it could be anyone, male or female, young or old. The next generation of whisky enthusiasts are more likely to be affluent, young women rather than the classic image of a grey-haired statesman in his exclusive gentlemen’s club. Whisky drinking is for everyone, which is music to the distillery owners’ ears!