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[Herald Interview] ‘Drinking less but better has helped single malt boom in Asia’

The global trend of drinking less but better has led to a boom of single malt whiskey in Asian markets, including South Korea, according to a global brand ambassador of Glenfiddich. 

“The world is seeing a drink-less-but-better trend now, and it is exciting for us in the single malt world,” said Struan Grant Ralph in an interview with The Korea Herald during his trip to Seoul last week. 

Struan Grant Ralph, a global brand ambassador of Glenfiddich (Glenfiddich)
Struan Grant Ralph, a global brand ambassador of Glenfiddich (Glenfiddich)

“Korea is an exciting (market) for us. It is exciting in terms of what we can do here to introduce and settle the concept of single malt.”

Unlike the country’s shrinking whiskey consumption, sales of single malt whiskey rose 21.9 percent from January to August last year compared to the previous year. The 21-year-old single malt whiskey, in particular, saw a 54.7 percent increase in sales on-year. 

But the whiskey market, as a whole, has been in a free fall for nine consecutive years since 2008. Especially the sales of blended scotch whiskey fell by a third compared to a decade ago. 

As an official ambassador, he has traveled to Japan, Singapore and Mongolia to promote Glenfiddich. 

“Countries like Korea, Japan and Singapore share reasonably similar cultures over drinking behavior, such as they go out for a drink after work with colleagues,” he said, adding that the three countries’ cultures are very different but share certain types of trends. 

Ralph has acted as Glenfiddich’s brand ambassador in both the US and Asia-Pacific region for the past eight years. Born in Speyside, Scotland, he previously worked at Knockdhu Distillery before achieving a master’s degree in chemistry and a distinction from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. He has also worked as a bartender and ambassador in locations including Osaka, Manilla, Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur.

When asked how the single malt and whiskey trend will take off in the future, Ralph said the liquor industry is seeing that more consumers desire a premium, luxury-drinking culture.

“Moving from traditional cocktail bar culture, markets like Korea, Japan and Singapore are going through the trend of drinking in a sociable atmosphere or while networking,” he said. 

This is in line with pairing single malt with different kinds of food as well as drinking solo at home, he added. 

To better cater to increasing consumer interest in a premium drinking experience, Ralph has visited Korea not only to celebrate the launch of Glenffidich highball but to meet with Korean drinkers and participate in mentoring and education sessions with local bartenders. 

Last week, Glenffidich launched 200 millimeters Glenffidich highball package, for the first time as a single malt brand, to encourage drinkers to combine its whiskey with soda as part of a new mixer trend. 

“Highball is a great drink which is lower in strength and more refreshing for daytime occasions such as when you socialize,” he said, adding that there is an increasing trend around the world in people seeking a whiskey-based aperitif as the perfect kickoff to a social event.

Glenfiddich highball (Glenfiddich)
Glenfiddich highball (Glenfiddich)

Ralph said Glenffidich will seek to continue to lead the market around the world, as the first brand to have launched the single malt. 

“Glenffidich will progress the category further, try something new and be creative to inspire the industry,” he said. 

To discover creative talents globally and also in Seoul, Glenffidich is receiving applications from local bartenders to shortlist a number of them for the World’s Most Experimental Bartender, where they compete to show unique collaborations and drinks.

The selected seven teams of bartenders in Korea will head off to Scotland to join the final round in November. 

By Kim Da-sol (