Between 1990 and last year all main Scotch brands lost sales. Even in Scotland, young people are spurning tots of single malt for other forms of alcohol. Such a drastic problem demands a drastic solution. The distillers want the 30-year ban on television liquor advertising removed.
Whisky adverts could be on our screens within a few months. Already Bell's, the market leader which is part of United Distillers (which belongs to Guinness), has submitted an advertising script to the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre for the first time since 1965 when the ban was imposed "by gentleman's agreement".
A BACC spokeswoman confirmed we shall soon see and hear television and radio commercials for "dark spirits" (whiskies, brandies and rums). "Oh yes, definitely," she said. The section of the centre's notes of guidance which relates to the prohibition on spirits advertising "will cease to apply as from 1 June".
"We think what happened in Britain is what happened in America," said Murray Loake, a spokesman for United Distillers. "We lost a generation of drinkers who switched to designer lagers, and other trendy drinks. The missing generation is our problem in both those markets, where we had continued to appeal to mature drinkers with adverts showing the Highlands, tartan kilts and bagpipes. I like a Scotch, but my 22-year-old son probably doesn't."
Whisky's declining popularity was highlighted last week in a report by Mintel, the market research company. Between 1985 and 1994 Scotch consumption fell all over Britain. Even in Scotland it dropped by 5 per cent. The biggest drop was in the north-west (9 per cent), followed by Greater London (8 per cent). It fell by 13 per cent in the 25-34 age group, 12 per cent in the 35-44 age group, 6 per cent in the 45-54 group and 7 per cent in the 55-64 group. The drop was fairly even across the social classes.
Mintel's predictions make even more worrying reading for the distillers. It forecasts that the number of people under 25 drinking whisky will have declined by 20 per cent between 1988 and 1998.
In London pubs, evidence of this is (as one might expect) a bit blurred. At The Globe, on the corner of London Wall and Moorgate, drinkers swarmed on the pavement in the warm, polluted evening air last week. Young men and women flirted over pints of bitter, lager-by-the-neck and vodka-and- Coke. But at the more traditional city watering hole of Dirty Dick's in Bishopsgate, a couple of streets away, whisky consumption was (depending on one's doctor) as healthy as usual. "We do see a lot of wine, mainly spritzers, being drunk in warm weather," the manager said. "But whisky consumption hasn't dropped among City people."
Bill Thomas thinks whisky sales have improved in the two years he has been manager of the Freemason's Arms in Long Acre, Covent Garden. But he sells as much Jack Daniel's Tennessee sour mash whisky as domestic brands put together. "I've noticed this trend in other pubs," he said. At Harvey Floorbangers in Islington, Jack Daniel's is also "trendy with Coke," said the manageress, Fran Terata. Michael Hynes, assistant manager of the Scottish Pound in London Wall, hasn't noticed any falling off in either Scotch brands or in the two Irish brands, Jameson and Bushmills. "Quite a lot of women mix it with Coke or lemonade," he said. At Liam Og's in Wandsworth vodka easily outsells whisky, "but I don't see whisky dropping," said Denis O'Neill, head barman. "The under-25s go for strong beer and we do a lot of cocktails, including sex-on-the-beach (vodka, peach-schnapps, orange-juice and grenadine), which we serve with an umbrella."
With the need to add younger consumers to the drink's ageing aficionados in mind, the Scotch Whisky Association is organising a second "Scotch Whisky Open Day" on 27 May when it will throw open distilleries to the public to encourage non-whisky drinkers to try the tipple.
The first open day, last year, marked the 500th anniversary of recorded distilling in Scotland. The Mintel survey also recommended "opportunities for sampling by the glass" in pubs. But the industry will also have to counter health warnings, such as last week's British Medical Journal report of a Danish study suggesting that three to five drinks of spirits a day can lead to increased rates of death. The study also recommended wine consumption for healthy hearts.
With cranberry juice and Cherry Heering among recommended whisky mixers, inevitably the word "yucky" bellies up to the bar. "The new image is that whisky is not a yucky drink," Murray Loake said. "We have an advertising picture of a very attractive young lady alongside a glass of Scotch and ice with the caption: 'Do you remember when you thought girls were yucky too?' We're going into magazines like GQ that are read by people in their 20s and 30s. We're not going to lose another generation."Reuse content