2013 Reviewed

What a quick year 2013 has been. In the last issue of the year, I always take a look back at the stories that made the news and the brands and people that stood out. Here are the ones that stood out for me.

On the company front, the two biggest news stories came in the shape of C&C taking a 50% equity stake in Wallaces Express back in March and Inverarity Morton buying Forth Wines in October. At the time of the Tennents/Wallaces deal licensees didn’t see any downsides, and to date it seems that the buy-in has gone smoothly. In fact so smoothly that hardly anyone mentions it anymore except fellow wholesalers. It’s too early to know what the impact on the trade on the Inverarity Morton/Forth deal will be, but certainly IM has now leaped into pole position as Scotland’s No 1 wine supplier. Like any other industry the licensed trade is seeing consolidation, and next year I would imagine there will be further mergers and acquisitons.

On the drinks front it won’t surprise you to hear that craft beer gets my vote this year. Just about every bar that has opened recently has a very firm craft beer offering. It is a trend that has come over from the US of A, but it certainly gives consumers lots of choice at the bar. All the ancedote evidence suggests that consumers are willing to pay more for a good beer. Has that yet been translated into sales, it should have, but I have yet to see stellar volume increases for any particular craft beer. Perhaps that is because of the huge variety on offer, which means everyone gets to share a bit of the love! It’s not just craft beer, but craft beer pubs that have also sprung up. Blackfriars may have started the trend some 25 years ago but it seems that the rest of the licensed trade has caught up. BrewDog certainly started the revolution of late – but now everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. This could be because craft ale lends itself to a food offering. Indigo Yard’s craft make-over is certainly one of the best I have seen. But bars that have opened from the Hanging Bat in Edinburgh to Munro’s in Glasgow are all embracing the concept.

Burgers another massive trend, particularly in the West. We’ve always had a good reputation for turning out good burgers but this year speciality burger bars have been the order of the day. It kicked off a couple of years ago with the Butchershop Bar and Grill (now better known for its steaks) then Colin Barr brought us Cocktail & Burger followed by Graham Swankie’s Meat Bar then Burger Meats Bun, and the most recent addition is Bread Meats Bread and there’s another one on the way, so I hear. In Edinburgh, the burger title probably goes to FullerThomson who pride themselves on their gourmet burgers. Here’s hoping the health gestapo don’t tell us a burger a month is overdoing it!

My WOW moment came this year when I drove up to Si! in Irvine – the new build bar and restaurant from SimpsInns. From the moment I saw it, I literally thought WOW and most people I have spoken to say exactly the same. Talk about stand out. Inside doesn’t disappoint either. The design is definitely not what you would expect to see in Irvine. Hats off to Malcolm Simpson – I think The Waterside, another one of his venues, may have been my WOW moment of 2011… keep it up! The good news is that licensees are continuing to invest in their businesses by refurbishing and there have been some spectacular refurbishments this year. I’ve already mentioned Indigo Yard – it was only closed for six days! Montpeliers have also just refurbished Lulu and the Opal Lounge (see design). Amicus Apple and The Huxley both got excellent make-overs, while Billy Lowe refurbished and renamed The Hudson – Angels’ Share, another massive improvement. Maclays refurbishment of The Tullie was outstanding, while the Fonab Castle refurbishment was certainly one of the most luxurious. Quirky and fun – Carlo Citti and Juan Chihuahua – he handpicked the crockery! I just love the name! There are many more, too many to mention. The investment has been massive and the quality of the refurbishments are a real testament to the fact that the licensed trade is moving forward at a good pace, which bodes well for 2014.

New brand launches… I am struggling here. There was Fosters Radler, McEwan’s Red, Hornsby’s and recently Smirnoff Gold. At this point no doubt you will be reeling off a list of other new launches, but these are the ones which spring to mind. Of course when it comes to brand extensions in the shape of new flavours then the list is endless. Sourz have one every time I turn around, while the cider brands are now flavour experts. Cider certainly is still flavour of the year – just this month Magners rebranded, and there have been umpteen new flavours over the year, again far too many to mention. There is, however, only so much space in the fridge, and on the back bar.

Whisky marketeers have been busy. I get more information from whisky brands than any other category. New expressions, new packaging, news about what they are doing. It’s not surprising that malt sales have been holding steady. And the interest in whisky generally seems to be growing. When we carry out our speed tasting events they are always over subscribed and all ages attend. Bartenders too seem to be switched on and its interesting to see that go getters such as Stuart McCluskey are putting more of an emphasis on whisky in their bars lately. Is that a sign of things to come? A recent Mintel report suggests that in 2014 “Scottish products and provenance will enjoy a heightened profile.” So there is everything to play for next year. Already brands like Cutty Sark and Johnnie Walker are putting more of an emphasis into the UK market – its the first time for many years we are seeing international blends marketed here, and that can only be good news for whisky sales particularly in pubs and bars where consumers tend to try before they go out and buy a bottle.

Two of the trade’s real characters died this year. John Waterson, the man behind the Burns Howff, one of the best known faces in the trade. His stories used to keep me very entertained, and he is certainly missed. Son Paul Waterson and son-in-law Michele Pagliocca are also well known, and its lovely to see his grandson, Gianni, making his own mark too. Brian McDade also died. Brian spent years with Stakis before going into business on his own and I knew him as mine host at The Lansdowne (which he sold to Maclays). He too was a big character. The trade is certainly a bit quieter without these two.

My stand out interview this year was definitely Peter Lederer. Not just because he was absolutely charming, but he sees the bigger picture when it comes, not just to tourism, but the hospitality industry in its entirety. He wants what we all want to see, a thriving licensed trade which encompasses all areas of the industry from pubs to hotels, and a trade which communicates and works together. The hotel side of the hospitality industry certainly does it better than the pub side. They are all still in competition with each other but it doesn’t stop them working together to improve marketing and other issues. I know that some pub companies are beginning to work together, but certainly I think there could be much more communication than there currently is. People like Peter can help facilitate this, and he is already doing that.

Next issue I will look at the trends for 2014 and give out my annual gongs. Next year will be a significant year for Scotland. We are going to be seen on the world’s platform and not just because of the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. There’s the referendum too. This gives the licensed trade a real chance to grow their businesses. I am a firm believer in you get out what you put in. Perhaps the slogan on Tamdhu’s advertising best sums it up for me ‘Dhu It!”