Everyone has their favorite whiskies, but which are the most loved Scotch whisky brands across the globe? You’d expect that the global top 10 contains several household names, but there are also lesser-known brands – and there isn’t one single malt to be found. Richard Woodard reports.
If ever you need to be reminded that blends constitute the engine room of Scotch whisky production Just take an overview of the top 10 most-sellers brands in the world.
Each of them is not one malt at all – in fact, none make the top 20 either which is why the list is heavily dominated by well-known brands mixed with a couple of less heralded brands.
There are certain things that remain the same However, some things don’t change. The biggest behemoth of of them all Johnnie Walker, continues to rise above the pack, beating its nearest three competitors combined. The top five spots have not changed in the past couple of years.
It’s a bit more competitive further down the rankings – there’s close to a three-way tie in the sixth spot, which is shared by Famous Grouse, William Lawson’s and William Peel – while Diageo’s price-fighting Black & White blend has surged into the top 10 following its smashing the two million-case mark in 2017.
Our list is based on the volume of sales, which have been supplied by the most reputable drinks industry information provider and commentator, the IWSR Magazine, and which is measured by the sales of cases that weigh nine litres.
It’s a dynamic picture that shifts notably if you compile the top 10 on the basis of quantity, not value; according to that the higher prices of single malts bring Macallan and Glenfiddich into the top 10, with The Glenlivet lurking on the margins, whereas William Lawson’s William Peel and Black & White are omitted from the list.
As they say, is a different story…
1: Johnnie Walker
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
2017 sales: 18.1m cases
Versus 2016: +2%
Ranking in 2016: 1.
Popular in …: Duty free, US, Mexico, Brazil
The world’s most loved Scotch whisky dwarfs the opposition with sales of more than 2.5 times the amount of its nearest competitor. It’s come a long way from the Kilmarnock grocery store that was founded in 1820 by John Walker back in 1820.
Johnnie Walker has occupied the global top spot since the mid-1950s. It is still in the top spot because of its distinctive square bottle with its slanting label, striding man logo, first designed by the artist Tom Browne in 1908.
Since that time since then, The Walker family has expanded considerably to include many colour variations, including Double Black to Green and Blue. And 2017 saw greater innovation, with Blenders’ Batch and Ghost & Rare launches and the rechristening of Platinum Label in the name of Johnnie Walker Aged 18 Years.
In 2017, sales: 6.7m cases
Versus 2016: +3.8%
The 2016 ranking: 2
Popular in …: France, Poland, Spain, Germany
Owner: Chivas Brothers/Pernod Ricard
Although blended Scotch has faced an up and down time in several markets over the past couple of years, Ballantine’s has been on growing, adding almost 1 million cases of sales every year starting in 2013.
As Johnnie Walker, its story begins in a shop – George Ballantine’s store in Edinburgh precisely and opened in 1827. Since then, the history of the company has been shaped through the launch in 1910 of the flagship blend, Ballantine’s Finest and also by the decision made in the 60s of its former Canadian owner to focus on selling its whiskies across Europe.
The philosophy has been around for a long time in both good and bad times and Ballantine’s was hurt by the decline from the Spanish Scotch market after the millennium, but has been a huge success in Poland as more people trade vodka in exchange for Scotch.
What remains constant are the three main single malts that make up the blend, Glenburgie, Glentauchers and Miltonduff as well as the delicate blend of smoothness and sophistication found in classic expressions like Ballantine’s 17, Year Old.
The 2017 sales figures: 4.5m cases
Versus 2016: +1.1%
Ranking in 2016: 3
Affluent in …: France, UK, Poland
Owner: William Grant & Sons
Similar to many of its competitors mixes, Grant’s has found some markets more challenging in the recent past However, a strong increase in sales in the last year has helped it achieve the third place in the world spot over Chivas Regal.
Unusually, the story begins with a single malt. William Grant only started selling blended whiskies in 1898. This was more than a decade since he established the Glenfiddich distillery near Dufftown. After a few brand-new beginnings, the Grant’s Standfast is the brand that gained popularity – and ‘Standfast’ is printed on every bottle to this day.
The year before the company announced an overhaul of the Grant’s line, renaming the main expression Family Reserve as Triple Wood, and introducing new peated, Sherry- and rum-finished variations.
4: Chivas Regal
Chivas Regal 12 year old
Sales in 2017: 4.4m cases
Versus 2016: +1.1%
Ranking in 2016: 4
Popular Internationally …: Duty free China, US, Japan
Chivas Brothers/Pernod R. Ricard, the owners.
The past 10 years have been a rollercoaster for the ‘original luxury Scotch’, but it’s perfect for its turbulent past.
The Chivas Regal brand was initially launched as an (then unheard of) blend that was 25 years old and aimed at the high society of early 20th-century America, Chivas Regal has seen multiple rebirths through various owners, settling on a core 12-year-old version in before the Second World War onwards.
In the period of post-millennium boom in luxury in China, it was the nation’s top imported spirit before sales fell in the wake of the Chinese government’s anti-extravagance crackdown. Since then, it has struggled to recover before seeing some modest growth this year.
Recent developments have included blended malt, Cognac-finished Chivas Regal XV and a tie-in with Manchester United FC. Today, sales in China are finally recovering, and Chivas Regal is back (again).
In 2017, sales: 3.3m cases
Versus 2016: -3.3%
The 2016 ranking: 5
Popular in …: Spain, France, South Africa
It may seem odd to think that a product with roots deep in the genteel environs of London’s clubland has been transformed into the party whisky of the Mediterranean However, that’s actually the bizarre story of J&B.
A wine retailer in Pall Mall, Justerini & Brooks started blending whisky in 1880, however, the business took off during the 1930s when they announced J&B Rare, which was introduced in the 1930s. J&B Rare, a light-coloured and light-bodied blend aimed at the American taste.
It was successful It was a success, however Stateside successes were later eclipsed by J&B’s leading role in Spain’s Scotch boom, which was exemplified by party bars offering generous glasses of ‘Jota B’ together with Coke.
Spain’s decline, however, has slammed J&B severely, the sales of which have been dropping in a year-to-year basis for several years now. Fresh, light and sour and refreshing, with Knockando along with Auchroisk single malts in the center, J&B is now waiting for the right moment to start the party again.
6=: Famous Grouse
The Famous Grouse Bourbon Cask
The 2017 sales report: 3.04m cases
Versus 2016: +0.5%
2016 Ranking: 6
Very popular …: UK and duty free, US
The most loved Scotch from Scotland is still popular in the UK generally with more than 50% of its sales occurring there. Brits may be losing their love for blends, but Grouse is still hugely popular with its market share increasing to over 25%.
The brand’s roots lie in another grocer’s shop, this time in Perth, as well as Matthew Gloag. in 1897, 2 different blends such as The Grouse Brand and, with a cheaper price, The Famous Grouse – were launched; the latter was the one that took on.
The current Grouse collection has gone through many changes and tinkerings, with the main lineup now consisting of the flagship eponymous expression, flanked with The Famous Grouse Smoky Black and The Famous Grouse Mellow Gold.
The Naked Grouse, now blended malt, has officially been removed from the family, while this year saw the launch of a new Cask Series exploring maturation character.
6 7: William Lawson’s
Sales in 2017: 3.04m cases
Versus 2016: +4.7%
Ranking in 2016: 8
Popular in …: France, Russia, Mexico
Owner Name: Bacardi
A sweet blend with Macduff’s single malt at its base, William Lawson’s is controlled by the rum giant Bacardi since 1993, when it acquired the Martini & Rossi sparkling wine and vermouth business (which was itself acquired Lawson’s 30 years earlier).
Since that time, William Lawson’s been the leader in a few of the most rapidly growing markets in Scotch which include Russia and Mexico, and won popularity in the biggest destination of to date, France.
William Lawson himself was a Scot who moved to Ireland where he joined the whiskey business there. Lawson was dismissed as a company director in 1903, but the whisky he chose to use in his name to endured.
8: William Peel
2017 sales: 3.03m cases
Versus 2016: +2.9%
2017: 7th place in the rankings.
The most sought-after across …: France
Owner: Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits
“Who is William?” a few might be asking. But it’s the most popular whisky in the world that consumes more Scotch than other whiskies on the globe: France. With the exception of a tiny presence on the market in Poland, William Peel sells the majority of its whiskies at French stores and in hypermarches, and the sales have been growing ahead of the market for several years since.
There’s no romantic history here; William Peel was created by drinks entrepreneurs Bernard Magrez in 1964, initially as a brand umbrella for single malts, and then as a mass-market blend.
Magrez is now in an area of high-end wines (owning a number of top-notch Bordeaux estates and Chateau Pape-Clement). Chateau Pape-Clement), and William Peel is now with Marie Brizard – a company that was in a bit of trouble when we last wrote following numerous profit warnings.
Dewar’s 12 Year Old
The 2017 sales report: 2.5m cases
Versus 2016: -5.2%
Ranking in 2016: 9
Popular in the …: US, Spain, duty free
Owner Name: Bacardi
A few years ago, Dewar’s outsold Bacardi stablemate William Lawson’s, however, the contrasting fortunes of Lawson and Dewar have led them to change positions, and Dewar’s performance impacted by the decline in popularity of Bacardi’s blends in both Spain and the US in the US and Spain.
But Dewar’s White Label is still one of the top industry blends with its honey- and vanilla-accented flavour profile perfectly suited to the postwar American palate. Dewar’s continues to sell 1 million cases of whisky every year.
Early success was based on the shared talents that were shared by brothers John as well as Tommy Dewar – the latter known for his extravagant marketing savvy and two-year-long trip across the globe.
The company has now reaffirmed its commitment to age-related statements with the recent introduction of Dewar’s 25 Year Old to replace Signature.
10, Black & White
Black & White advertisement
The 2017 sales figures: 2.3m cases
Versus 2016: +27.1%
The 2016 ranking: 12
Popular in…: Brazil, Mexico, India, South Africa
Four years ago, Black & White would scarcely have made a top 20 list of the world’s top-selling Scotch whiskies at least not even a top 10. Its growth in the last few years has been astounding.
Much of the success has been built on the competitive pricing of Black & White and its historic links to the Diageo blend Buchanan’s which is a very popular product in the Black White’s Latin American heartland.
Legend says there was a legend that James Buchanan, one of the Victorian whisky barons, chose as brand mascots an black Scottie pet and white Westie, or West Highland terrier, after going to a dog show.
Since then, Black & White’s canine branding has been widely traveled. It was once the most well-known mix in England and was even consumed during the reign of Japan in the early 20th century. It also been featured in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and Ian Fleming’s Moonraker.
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