Entertainment is now more about Netflix and virtual tastings than family meals out and visits to the pub, but whisky could be in a good position to tap into our new ways of socialising.

Many consumers are keen to splash out on occasional treats to have at home, such as nice meals and alcohol, while celebratory occasions also call for generous gifts for loved ones, with Father’s Day now on the horizon for whisky fans.

David Miles, senior whisky specialist at Edrington Beam Suntory UK, says: “Not only are we seeing people everywhere go the extra mile to make those around them feel special, social distancing has meant sons and daughters won’t be able to spoil their father by taking them to dinner or to the theatre, so will be relying on retailers to help them treat their dad instead.”

John McCarthy, head distiller at Adnams, says the company has seen a huge increase in online sales during lockdown. He adds: “Customers are becoming increasingly engaged and we have been running videos on social media on how to make simple cocktails at home and also virtual tasting notes and pairing suggestions.”

Adnams’ Single Malt Whisky, Rye Whisky and Triple Malt Whisky are all available online and are currently on discount. McCarthy says: “Whisky is a perfect gift for Father’s Day and retailers should be promoting their range online and helping to ensure customers order with plenty of time for delivery.”

Jennifer Ghosh, global brand manager for Scotch at Atom Brands, points out that many consumers currently have a little bit more time on their hands but limited choice in how to make the most of it.

She says: “We are all looking to our home environment for work, sleep and play. Play can come in the form of exploration, entertainment and extra-curricular education, and whisky touches all three. Online tastings led by brand ambassadors, whisky club conference calls and virtual whisky festivals are quickly becoming the new way for
brands and drinkers to interact.”

Atom Brands launched the Character of Islay Whisky Co last year with its inaugural expression of Aerolite Lyndsay (an anagram of ten-year-old Islay).

Ghosh says the company has seen a steady increase in sales of this peat-forward single malt in the first quarter of 2020.
Two new “chapters” joined the range in April: Grace Île 25 Year Old and The Legend of Fiona Macleod 33 Year Old, each inspired by stories told of Islay. The company also recently released its first core expression World Whisky Blend from That Boutique-y Whisky Company. The blend is made for mixing.

Other Scotch brands are also exploring new serves. Diageo Reserve’s Haig Club is often promoted by the producer as a brand which encourages people to “consider whisky in new ways, experimenting with flavour combinations to find the one they enjoy the most”.

Colin Dunn, GB whisky brand ambassador, says: “Haig Club has a mellow and versatile spectrum of flavours and can be used as the base of a cocktail, opening up the whisky category to a younger audience who may not usually consider adding the spirit to a mixer.”

Diageo Reserve also says its Johnnie Walker Blue Label is “the perfect choice for gifting occasions”.
Another brand trying to offer something different in Scotch is Pernod Ricard’s The Glenlivet.

Its latest expression is The Glenlivet Spectra, described by master distiller Alan Winchester as “an innovative whisky tasting experience across three single malts”. He adds: “I hope whisky lovers enjoy exploring the wide spectrum of flavours within The Glenlivet Spectra, as much as we enjoyed crafting them.”

And Miles at EBS says its Famous Grouse brand has seen 11% growth over the past 12 weeks, accounting for 38% of all blended Scotch sales.

Laphroaig, which was “already enjoying good growth in the UK pre-lockdown”, has seen value sales rise 24% for the past 12 weeks versus the same period last year, with Laphroaig 10 Year-Old up by 41%, “as we see consumers sticking with the brands they trust most in this category”, Miles says.

And it’s not just Scotch that consumers might be seeking out this Father’s Day. Denise Murphy, alcohol manager at Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, said: “The whiskey category has become increasingly diverse, with liquids from new and emerging markets growing in popularity in the UK.

“Historic, yet forward-thinking, Irish whiskey has seen a renaissance in recent years and is currently the world’s fastest-growing spirits category as a new wave of distillers and blenders are producing innovative expressions.”

She notes that Irish whiskey’s increased presence in popular culture has shifted it away from the “outdated older stereotype” and made it accessible for customers from a variety of different ages, genders and backgrounds.

Murphy highlights a number of Irish distilleries’ whiskeys as ones retailers can add to their ranges, including Teeling, which she says has “enjoyed great success over the past five years since reopening on a new site”.

She also points to Walsh as one of “the leaders in the Irish whiskey renaissance and perfect for the Father’s Day gifting occasion”. Its premium, triple-distilled whiskey, Writers’ Tears, which is aged in American oak bourbon casks, is inspired by the “golden era” of whiskey in Ireland, back in the late 1800s.

And Glendalough Distillery in Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin, is another one to watch.

Murphy recommends retailers consider clear POS with tasting notes and food pairing suggestions. She adds: “It is also worth considering a Father’s Day online drinks guide.”

English whiskies are also working hard to. compete with drams from other nations, with several, including Adnams, reporting an increase in sales.

The Cotswolds Distillery says it continues to grow distribution for its single malt and its cask strengths are also going gaining in stature.

Daniel Szor, chief executive, says: “We know that whisky, and single malt in particular, makes up a significant percentage of Father’s Day gift sales.

Father’s Day is very much a gift-giving occasion and presents a great opportunity for retailers to promote their whisky ranges.

“Our Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky, made with 100% locally grown, floor-malted barley, is a great gift for Father’s Day, being an English whisky – something new and different.”

The distillery has just launched its first release in a series of single malts, inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement:
Hearts & Crafts Single Malt Whisky Sauternes Cask.

And a consumer interest in whiskies from all over the world is growing.

EBS’s Miles says retailers should “remember to celebrate the diversity of world whiskies”.

He adds: “If someone has a sweeter palate, they might prefer a bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark or Jim Beam.”

Ghosh from Atom Brands notes: “Whisky drinkers are exploring the world of whisky now. Outside of Scotch, Irish, American and Japanese, there are exciting malts from distilleries around the world lining up to jump on to the
drinker’s shelf.”

Various brands are now appearing on UK shores to tap into this consumer interest.

Cardrona Distillery released two new single cask expressions of its Just Hatched malt whisky into the UK in May.

The two limited-releases are both drawn from limited 2016 stocks at the distillery, which is located in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

Chief executive Desiree Whitaker, says: “Just Hatched has proven really popular among discerning whisky lovers to date, so we are thrilled to release very limited quantities of these two new expressions into the UK market.”

Sweden’s Mackmyra recently launched a seasonal whisky for spring, Mackmyra Grönt Te (Green Tea), a single malt whisky finished in casks steeped in a blend of Japanese green tea leaves.

The producer’s core range comprises four recurring editions, including Mack by Mackmyra, Brukswhisky, Svensk Ek and Svensk Rök.