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Come on. Go with me here. I’ve always thought American whiskey and bourbon are sexy. For starters, Americans are generally great at self-promotion and publicity, and nowhere more so than when marketing the provenance of their fine spirits. Netflix and Amazon TV stream into our homes, with in-programme product placement in American TV series making us more aware and more comfortable with these big boys, whetting our appetite for a taste.

Bourbon and American whiskies were there at the start of cocktail culture back in the 1800’s, today they are still at the forefront. It makes sense; they are inherently mixable whiskies, without pretence, offering a broad array of flavours for guests and bartenders to tailor to make the perfect cocktail. Increasingly, classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Manhattan etc feature in popular culture, this is helping not only bourbon and American whiskey cocktails but also the wider category achieve the outstanding recognition it is experiencing today.

Bartenders are avid researchers, looking back and learning classic cocktails from the past. It’s like learning to write. They take this knowledge, twist, shake and serve up their own creations. We see the short and strong style drinks like the Old Fashioned getting simple twists; like changing the syrups. Yet more importantly we are seeing Bourbon and American whiskey being used in bright, exciting and citrussy classics like the Smash; lemon, sugar, mint and Bourbon. This opens the whiskies to a much wider audience, engaging those that might enjoy a cocktail like a Mojito and putting them in comfortable territory.

Of course, there will always be the purists that believe whiskey should, at a push, be mixed with water. However, for the more adventurous guests start off with the simple, for example a Whiskey Highball, a balance of whiskey and soda or ginger ale with a fresh citrus zest.

It will be interesting to see how the category plays out in 2019. American export money has provided funding for smaller brands which previously wouldn’t have considered the UK market, meaning the balance between standard global products and smaller, perhaps more interesting brands has begun to shift. Premiumisation will continue to grow as a lot of brands expand their range of expressions and styles to offer more variety.

But, this year will also see the full effect of the so-called “Trump tariff”, which will make American spirits conspicuously more expensive, and the challenge will be to see whether they can still justify their positioning with the consumer once this happens. No-one knows the answer to that until the consumer talks.

We’re out on the road a lot, meeting with the trailblazers on the front line, whether that’s on or off trade, so we’re often asked to recommend what American whiskeys and bourbons bars should be stocking. As always that really depends on the venue and what your customer profile looks like.

You do need a product that’s mixable either as a simple long serve or as a cocktail, and whilst there is space for well known global brands, you can differentiate your offering by having the ability to upgrade to more interesting premium brands for customers: think sipping or drinking over ice, with the flavour being the overwhelming contributor the drink. If you’ve got a younger crowd, offer some of the flavours with perhaps three or four expressions to get people experiencing new tastes. For our on-trade clients we recommend Early Times Bourbon as a mixable house rail product suitable for all styles of venue from a suburban wet-led pub to a city centre cocktail bar. If you’re after a more sophisticated, a more powerful product such as Old Forester should come under consideration with its rich heritage and range of expressions.

We’re so confident in the future performance of this category that we’ve just recruited Nate Booker, a Bourbon specialist as Brand Development Manager for Old Forester and Early Times. As well as offering specialist training on the category for our clients, this allows us to make sure that Old Forester can become a focus brand and expand the buy a barrel campaign.

Want to know more about American whiskey and bourbon? As you can see, it’s a topic close to our heart so why not pop in for a chat, and maybe a glass or two? Watch out though, you may end up buying your own barrel.