Cheer for blended whiskies as drinkers move away from single malts

GLENFIDDICH, Macallan and Glenmorangie are among the big names that have prospered as single malt Scotch whiskies enjoyed a boom in sales.

But they could soon be usurped by the growing popularity of imported whiskies as British consumers develop a growing taste for US and Irish blends such as Jack Daniel's, Jameson and Bushmills.

After decades of growth, which has helped breathe new life into the industry, evidence suggests sales of malt may finally have peaked.

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Discounting, more educated consumers and changes in people's tastes have all been blamed for the trend that has seen an increase in the level of demand for blended whisky.

Figures from the Scotch Whisky Association show that the volume of blends in the UK rose by 1% last year, the first volume increase for the category in the UK since 2001. But Nielsen figures for the UK show that the malt whisky category has fallen 3% and looks likely to be overtaken by imported whiskey, which is growing at 9%.

Alex Nicol, managing director of Spencerfield Spirits Company, which owns Pig's Nose and Sheep Dip, says the perception that malt is a superior product to blended whisky is wrong. He said: "Last year at consumer shows, I ran tastes to about 20,00 people, and nearly everyone said they preferred malts because they thought it was the correct thing to say. In reality, every malt is a blend anyway. So a 10-year-old Glenmorangie will have a bit of 12-year-old in it. If it is produced from grain it doesn't mean it is bad. If it has been aged in good wood it is often a fantastic product."

Globally, blended Scotch whisky enjoyed a record year in 2007, with shipments up 14% in value to more than 2.3 billion. Provisional export figures for the first six months of 2008 recorded a 13% growth in value for blended Scotch whisky when compared to the same period in 2007.

Ian Bankier, owner of the Whisky Shop retail chain, said: "The fashion for the big Islay taste may have peaked a little, and people are prepared to drink more readily a sweeter, lighter Speyside whisky."

David Williamson, a spokesman for the SWA, said: "2007 was a record year for blended Scotch whisky, with the category enjoying strong international growth.

"Whilst distillers are watching the impact of the financial crisis on the real economy at home and abroad closely, the growing popularity of blended Scotch whisky is one of the key reasons for the optimism across the whisky industry at the moment, optimism which has resulted in major new investments in production capacity."

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