Can the Keepers of the Quaich Grow Scotch’s Most Valuable Market?

Can the Keepers of the Quaich Grow Scotch’s Most Valuable Market?

As liquor industry organizations go, the Keepers of the Quaich is the top of the pyramid for Scotch. Its founding partners — multinational giants Pernod Ricard, Diageo, and Edrington — and other member companies represent a huge chunk of the country’s whisky production. Its twice-yearly, decadent galas are FOMO-inducing events, when select professionals “who work, write, or evangelize about the Scotch Whisky Industry” are inducted as “Keepers.”

In recent years, the organization has expanded internationally, with member chapters on all six inhabited continents. Keepers of the Quaich’s U.S. chapter came about in 2019, launching its own series of galas highlighting brands, individuals, and accomplishments across the Scotch category. Drinkhacker was in attendance at the Fall 2023 Gala in midtown New York City, the U.S. chapter’s first large post-pandemic event. The evening’s guest speaker was Laurence Olivier Award-nominated actor Sam Heughan, best known for his leading role on the Starz series Outlander.

Shortly after the gala, Drinkhacker sat down with Frank Coleman, Keepers of the Quaich U.S.’s co-chair. Coleman has had a lengthy career in spirits, including nearly 20 years as Senior Vice President at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Topics included craft versus major distilleries, innovation in flavor, and how the U.S. — Scotch’s most valuable market by revenue — is adapting to changing consumer taste.

Note: The following interview has been edited for readability.

Drinkhacker: Is there room for growth in Scotch among American consumers? If so, in what ways?

Frank Coleman: There’s so much different flavor in Scotch. This is not your grandfather’s Scotch anymore. That’s why the theme of our New York reception was new expressions. Much of what’s coming out today in Scotch is literally world-class spirit.

And Scotch has a long runway to grow in the USA. Scotch has benefited from continued premiumization trends in the USA. One of the factors behind growth of super premium Scotch is consumer’s interest in super premium whiskies in general. Brands will need to continue to deliver elevated experiences for discerning consumers.

Drinkhacker: How might the Scotch market evolve over the next five to 10 years, specifically in the American market?

Frank Coleman: Ultra-premium blended Scotch will continue to grow from a small base. And I think U.S. suppliers and retailers will do well to cater to consumers who make more of their liquor purchases online. The consumer experience will continue to be at the forefront of our minds. Innovation in flavor delivery is also important. Whether that’s derived from ingredients such as barley types, or process driven via aspects like increased fermentation times, or via cask types and cask preparations — those will all play a big part of that.

Drinkhacker: What should Scotch drinkers be looking forward to right now?

Frank Coleman: First is increased variety. The U.S. has been experiencing a surge in interest in Scotch whisky. This has led to a greater variety of expressions in the market.

Second, I’d say cask aging. Producers are experimenting more with cask aging techniques, like using different types of barrels or casks that previously held other spirits like wine or rum.

Sustainability is another. Scotch whisky producers are focusing on sustainability and eco-friendly practices. That includes efforts to reduce environmental impact, sourcing local ingredients, and supporting eco-conscious initiatives. We think that will resonate with consumers who are environmentally conscious.

Craft distilleries are another category. Over the past decade or so, there’s been a notable increase in the number of smaller, independent distilleries in Scotland. They focus on producing whisky in smaller quantities with an emphasis on unique flavors and craftsmanship.

Drinkhacker: How is the organization fostering cross-brand and cross-company collaboration?

Frank Coleman: As Keepers of the Quaich U.S., we’re committed to bringing together all Scotch whisky suppliers, and we mean both leading brands and craft. We want to promote the growth of the world’s finest distilled spirit, Scotch Whisky. We do this by showcasing Scotch as a prestige category. It’s also a future growth driver, and we support through events like the Fall Gala in NYC, to showcase new innovations and expressions.

We’ve named leaders from companies like Diageo, Bacardi, Beam Suntory, William Grant, Edrington, and Moet Hennessy “Keepers of the Quaich,” and in that capacity, we’re able to work together and create a collaborative platform. This is critical for the long-term category health of Scotch whisky, as the organization spans a country with one of the most diverse and dynamic trade and consumer environments in the world.

David Tao is a writer for Drinkhacker.

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