Emerging markets are ready for more than your run of the mill whiskey

No bottom shelf for Beijing.
No bottom shelf for Beijing.
Image: REUTERS/David Gray
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This week, Distiller became the first online portal for whiskey discovery. It’s been described as a sort of “Booze Google” where users can get recommendations for whiskies after selecting an experience level (novice to connoisseur) and a price range. It’s a good portal for newcomers looking to expand off of the beaten path, but it might take some work to fully capitalize on the burgeoning world market of savvy connoisseurs who drink premium whiskies. Worldwide, the high-end premium and super premium categories were responsible for the lion’s share of growth last year.

Presently, there’s no way to use the site to ask for a specific taste profile: a peaty, toasty, Scotch with honey notes, or a big oaky bourbon with molasses notes, which is how premium connoisseurs find new whiskies. To accomplish something similar, users would first have to pick a favorite whiskey, then scroll down to the recommendations with similar taste profiles. The application currently lists some 150 varieties, and plan to add 50-100 weekly, many of them premium. Also, for the time being, the portal can only be used by English speakers on the web. But, Co-founder Mikael Mossberg told Quartz that the full-fledged iOS app is nearing completion and he has future plans for Android-native and foreign language versions.

Some addition of functionality for whiskey connoisseurs will be crucial in providing the application an expanding user base, in the future. That’s something its backers at media VC firm Votiv are interested in, since the future of the whiskey business is both premium and international. UK exports of Scotch have been edging upwards for years, as demand in the US has grown steadily as producers and distributors look abroad for expansion opportunities.

The cultured and experienced premium whiskey drinkers of Japan, South Africa, and Brazil will also need some way to discover new whiskies. Demand in the rapidly developing world for premium whiskey has increased, while mid-level vodkas like Smirnoff haven’t fared so well. This is leading spirit industry leaders like Diageo—where 40% of its sales already come from Asia, Africa, and South America—to stake their futures on premium sales in such markets. The company expects  that half of its future sales will come from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

But’s not just Diageo. Singapore is the number three export market for all Scotch whiskies—behind only the US and France. Japanese whiskey connoisseurship has reached the level that Japanese distilleries now win international awards and small Scottish distilleries like Laphroaig boast that it is the company’s number four export market.

Hopefully, in addition to the whiskey experts, professional tasters, and bulk spirit buyers serve as its tasters, Distiller plans to recruit a few international connoisseurs, as well.