Consolidation is the name of the game. Every week there is another story of a small or independent distillery being purchased by a bigger player. Most recently Bacardi purchased a minority stake in Teeling Irish Whiskey, Diageo paid nearly a billion dollars for George Clooney’s Casa Migos Tequila, and Pernod Ricard got into the mescal game with Del Maguey. No matter who the players are it always means some sort of change.
It’s not just a story of international conglomerates snapping up fast rising names either. Look at the recent merger of Spencerfield Spirits and Ian Macleod Distillers. Spencerfield was the brain child of Alex Nicol, the former marketing director of Glenmorangie. The company was built on solid, old school blended whiskey labels, like Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose. They’ve been having explosive success with its Edinburgh Gins, which have become the #1 craft gin in all of Scotland. Alex had close ties with Ian Macleod, the makers of Tamdhu and Glengoyne, sourcing much of the whiskey for the Pig’s Nose and Sheep Dip blends and using their bottling facilities for their brands. As Spencerfield grew a more formal partnership seemed inevitable.
Compared to the massive deals mentioned above this merger is still a small player but it’s a great case study in what this kind of deals can yield. The Spencerfield Brands gain more direct, consistent access to primary ingredients for their brands, while also gaining access to a larger distribution and marketing network. Ian Macleod then expects the brands to continue to show an increase in performance to justify the money spent bringing them into the fold. And that means increased sales. Which means grabbing the attention of new consumers. Which means change.
The most dramatic example is Pig’s Nose. The brand was originally started in the 1970’s but was revitalized by Alex Nicol and is proof that good whiskey doesn’t need to be expensive, or carry a massive age statement. It just has to be made with care. Bottled at 80 proof and made up of a blend of 40% single malts to 60% grain whiskey, the Pig’s Nose has a massively high malt content for a “non-craft” blended whiskey. It’s name comes from the whiskey being “as soft as a pig’s nose” and is a great workhorse (or work pig) in the bar world. The whiskey has a subtle fruitiness that lends a extra layer onto the malty, butterscotch middle while the whole dram remains round and soft. It’s a great cocktail backbone while still enjoyable on its own. And on top of that it was always affordable. It’s a phenomenal sleeper, an unassumingly delightful whiskey.
However, its biggest struggle has always been that it is unassuming. The packaging reflected the nature of the whiskey with a mellow, retro 70’s design. Simple. Clean, but not terribly exiting. And that’s where the change is happening to Pig’s Nose. The packaging is being aggressively overhauled to turn a few more heads. Nothing inside the bottle is changing, but with new liter bottles and a label that still looks classic yet undeniably more hip. It may seem like a small change but it is one that will get people to look past the outside to actually try the whiskey on the inside and ends up being the first label change in a long time that I actually enjoy.
These small changes happen with every brand purchase and merger. What the change is varies from brand to brand and company to company but over time they accumulate, slowly altering the brand until it’s no longer what it was. Sometimes, like with Pig’s Nose, it’s a positive face lift. Other times, it’s a slow loss of quality, or of personality that leads to the brands identity completely shifting. It’s an ever evolving world of spirits but by watching these changes we can see where to throw support and where to abandon ship because they tides they are always a’ changin’.