Scotch whisky distillers follow Silicon Valley’s lead with Hackadram

The Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, Moray, which produces the biggest selling single malt in the world. Picture: SWNS
The Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, Moray, which produces the biggest selling single malt in the world. Picture: SWNS
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The art of making whisky is famously steeped in ­tradition, but one of ­Scotland’s leading distillers is now taking inspiration from the disruptive world of digital technology as it looks for new ways of promoting its products and engaging customers in the 21st century.

William Grant and Sons, a family-owned drinks giant which produces some of the best-known brands in the country, has invited industry specialists from fields ranging from tech to retailers to attend a two-day brainstorming session called Hackadram– a nod to the hackathon events made famous by Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook, in which experts collaborate intensively on software projects.

Guests will be invited to work alongside specialists to help “solve the future challenges of one of the world’s most respected and innovative ­premium spirits companies”.

While such events are now increasingly common among big firms, the world of premium Scotch whisky – where some malts can take a decade or more to reach the market – is not readily associated with the fast-paced nature of start-ups.

“The Hackadram distills the best practices from the tech startup world, where problems are solved quickly, in novel ways through hacks,” a statement on the company’s registration page said.

“Intensive, open minded, loose ­format sessions with a challenge to solve and a specific output at the end – but no fixed way to reach the ­conclusion. This removes the shackles of forced innovation and keeps fun and creativity at the heart of the process.”

READ MORE: The new whisky distilleries opening in Scotland in 2018

The event, which takes place in ­London on 25-26 January, will ­feature four challenges open to either ­individuals or teams. They include ecommerce, bartender engagement and the overall drinking experience. Final designs will then be presented to a panel of judges.

The first challenge centres on ­Glenfiddich, the celebrated Speyside whisky. Despite being the world’s biggest selling single malt, its makers admit that “the brand is still sometimes perceived as being traditional or not particularly disruptive by consumers”.

Entrants will be asked how the brand can “genuinely push boundaries” and “inspire people who like to write their own rules in life”.

A more technical challenge will centre on how Grant’s can improve its performance in ecommerce and “build expertise through acquisition, minority stakes or strategic partnerships”. The statement added: “Your ideas remain your intellectual ­property and any that are judged to meet the challenge could be commissioned by William Grant and Sons, who will be investing in the best ideas generated.”

Founded in 1886 in Dufftown, Moray, Grant’s has grown to become the third largest producer of Scotch whisky behind multinational giants Diageo and Pernod Ricard. It also produces Hendrick’s gin, Sailor ­Jerry spiced rum and Milagro tequila among others.

The company reported soaring turnover and profits in 2016 in its most recent accounts.

Pre-tax profits rose nearly 50 per cent to £260.2m, while turnover was up from £882.5m in 2015 to just over £1bn.

“Our growth continues to be driven by our talented team’s passion for building brands the right way for the long term,” said chief executive Simon Hunt in September last year.

“The consistent investment in our brands, in markets and in future proofing our operational infrastructure, provides a solid platform to ­continue our growth.”

Last year Grant’s bought New York state-based craft distillery Tuthilltown Spirits.

The deal was the Scottish firm’s first move into America’s booming craft distilling sector.