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Old Scotch Bottler Douglas Laing is selling Whisky Highballs Now

What you need to know:

  • OG Scotch bottler Douglas Laing would be releasing a whisky & tonic ready-to-drink cocktail.
  • The new Rock Island Whisky & Tonic comes in 250ml cans with a blend of single malts from Island distilleries, mixed with Scottish tonic water that would deliver a refreshing “citric kick”. Each can comes in at only 5% ABV and 100 calories.
  • Now available exclusively in the UK, priced at £1.99 (US$2.60) per can.
  • Douglas Laing was established in 1948 and built its reputation by picking good quality casks of Scotch single malts that appealed to serious connoisseurs. Its entry into the mass market sector can be interpreted as a tentative toe-dipping step taken by the established Scotch industry.
  • All brands are trying to increase their total addressable market. And since many new drinkers still find whiskies a little too harsh or oaky for their liking, it isn’t surprising to see more and more try to introduce whisky to these audiences via an accessible easy-to-drink format and in convenient ready-to-drink servings.

 

 

They’re refreshingly spritzy, lightly boozy and not overly saccharine. They aren’t packed with too much calories which is concern for some of us. Who doesn’t like an occasional whisky highball? 

Glaswegian independent bottler Douglas Laing is one of the few “OG” Scotch bottlers that have joined the recent highball party. They have just launched the Rock Island Whisky and Tonic ready-to-drink product. 

Each can consists of a mixture of single malts from Island distilleries, mixed with Scottish tonic water that would deliver as refreshing “citric kick”. Each can comes in at 250ml, 5% ABV and sits at only 100 calories. 

You may already be familiar with Douglas Laing’s Rock Island blended malt Scotch. This is a relatively popular blend of single malt whiskies from a plethora of Island distilleries (Isles of Islay, Jura, Orkey and Arran). 

 

 

True to the Island character of these single malts, the Rock Island blend exudes strong maritime character, with a nose of wind-swept beaches and light coastal peat. The palate is lightly sweet, often with light whiffs of peat and a mild maritime salinity. 

This delicate sweetness and saltiness is reminiscent for some drinkers of Fine de Claire oysters 🦪 - which was why this blend was previously dubbed Rock Oyster instead.  

 

 

The rebranding only came later than the brand managers at Douglas Laing realised that the thought of oysters wasn’t exactly mouth-watering to some people. Alas, what a shame.

This new line of Whisky and Tonic from Douglas Laing follows a growing trend of spirits-makers moving into the ready-to-drink product market. Since 2018, sales of these sort of RTD spirit-based products have been growing very fast. According to Douglas Laing’s Head of Marketing, this category is predicted to far surpass sales of the rest of the alcohol market by 2025: –

 “In line with ever-increasing consumer demand for light, refreshing, low-calorie and low-alcohol, ready-to-drink products, our new offering is premium, relevant and compelling.

We’re excited to bring to market this refreshingly light, subtly smoky serve for our fastest-growing Remarkable Regional Malt Whisky brand.”

 

For now, Rock Island Whisky and Tonic is available exclusively in the UK, priced at £1.99 (US$2.60) per can.

 

 

Who else are already selling Highballs?

As alluded earlier, Douglas Laing isn’t the first to the highball party. 

The Japanese market is already chock-full of premium ready-to-drink products for the longest time, with the likes of Suntory Highball, Jim Beam’s Bourbon High Ball and Asahi’s Nikka Highball. Just last year, Taiwanese malt distillery Kavalan cited promising trends in the ready-to-drink sector in Asia, and launched its own ready-to-drink cocktails such as Kavalan’s Highball Whisky Soda and a Gin & Tonic.

 

 

Over in Scotland and Ireland, there are also many first movers - notable ones being Jameson’s Smooth Dry and Lime soda, Johnnie Walker’s Black Label Highballs, and Monkey Shoulder’s pandemic-working-arrangement-inspired Zoomtails.

 

 

 

Our Take

Given how quickly the ready-to-drink sector has been growing the past few years, one might ask why the wider Scotch industry remains hesitant to capitalise on the trend. Sure, we have seen brands like Jameson and Johnnie Walker enter the fray, but there is an understanding that not every brand can play in this ring. 

There is a fear that entering the mass market RTD sector would be inconsistent with certain brands’ reputation for craftsmanship that has taken centuries to achieve. So old Scotch brands do not enter this mass market sector lightly. Once they do, there is no turning back. Long-established brands like Glenlivet and Macallan have something extremely valuable to protect, so it’s hard to imagine them throwing out a “Macallan Scotch and Ginger Ale” type product to reach out to the mass market. 

Douglas Laing’s entry can be interpreted as a tentative toe-dipping step taken by the established Scotch industry. Lest we forget, Douglas Laing was established in 1948 and built its reputation by picking good quality casks of Scotch single malts that appealed to serious connoisseurs.

That said, Douglas Laing isn’t the only one adjusting its strategy. Last year saw established Scotch distillery Glenmorangie step into the same market in a slightly different way by releasing the “Glenmorangie X”, an expression explicitly designed for mixing cocktails.

All brands are trying to increase their total addressable market. And since many new drinkers still find whiskies a little too harsh or oaky for their liking, it isn’t surprising to see more and more try to introduce whisky to these audiences via an accessible easy-to-drink format and in convenient ready-to-drink servings.

 

@charsiucharlie