The scotch-tasting millionaires of Instagram

You've seen them around. The hard spirit influencers.

Raul Gonzalez.

The consumption of hard liquor has exploded. But not in terms of mass consumption. Just like wine or craft beer, it’s to be savored, explored and understood. And of course that education should be visual. I sat down with Raul Gonzalez, Marketing Director for The Macallan, to understand how the brand was using Instagram to market Scotch and its education to consumers.

Why are hard spirits gaining in popularity?

Raul Gonzalez: It has been a very good time for single malt Scotch whisky recently, and the spirits industry as a whole. Indeed, for The Macallan, we’ve seen more than double-digit growth over the past year. We anticipate the market for high-end premium single malt Scotch offerings will continue to rise this year as more consumers veer away from other premium brown spirits in search for highly crafted and refined single malt offerings.

We have seen that consumers are evolving in their taste and appreciation for Scotch and spirits overall—they are constantly looking for brands with an authentic story, that substantiate their premium positioning, with unsurpassed standards. Consumers want to know more about where grains are sourced, what types of oak wood are being used, the size of cask and what the they have been seasoned with before aging our whisky. The interest in sourcing and craftsmanship behind product  is a trend that’s not just specific to spirits but consumer goods in general.

How do you actually taste Scotch?

Tasting whisky is very personal and there are many different techniques and ways to go about it—but first and foremost, take a look at the color, as this will suggest what type of oak was used to mature the whisky.

Next up is nosing the whisky, enjoying the different types of aromas (i.e vanilla, oak, toffee, spice). Indeed, your nose is your most powerful sensory organ and will tell you most about the whisky. Finally comes tasting: take a sip, chew it around your mouth, so it passes over all your taste buds, and then swallow and enjoy that long, smooth finish.

With Scotch, older doesn’t necessarily mean better, it just means that is more rare. Try not to let that misnomer get in the way of your perception of the spirit. Some people enjoy their Scotch neat, others enjoy it with a few drops of water or ice. It’s all a matter of personal preference; drink it how you enjoy it.

Instagram is a key priority for the brand due to the visual impact it helps portray and the way it allows us to engage with our followers. We felt like it was the perfect channel to educate consumers on our newest limited edition offering, Edition No.1, and its unique marriage of eight different casks type and sizes.

We believe there is a bigger opportunity on Instagram to align the brand with the aspirational lifestyle that is important to our consumer, more so than on Facebook and Twitter. Instagram is such a social medium. And it’s visual and quick. Millennials can be so jaded toward traditional marketing. On social media, they can learn about our brand on their own terms. And it allows for many different creative kinds of content, including videos, pictures, and links.

How was the “lifestyle angle” important?

The lifestyle angle is very important to engage with our Instagram following. Millennials don’t learn about Single Malt Scotch in the traditional way, they learn by experience, they want to live the brand world. We have found a way to integrate the brand world to our content, blending brand education with interesting lifestyle angles that result in relevant, shareable content that is both creative and full of striking visual imagery.

Who are the audiences you’re speaking to and why?

We are constantly recruiting new Macallan drinkers. We know that millennial consumers in particular are interested in the authentic stories behind the products they purchase. More often than not, these consumers are not interested in reading a long blog post or watching a lengthy educational video. They are more likely to engage with the information if it lives on the social channel they’re currently using rather than being driven off of the social channel to websites.

You took an interesting approach to Instagram video, why did you do it the way you did?

In honor of the brand’s latest launch of our exclusive Edition No.1 bottling, we created eight separate Instagram accounts for each oak wood cask type used in the whisky’s creation. Each account highlighted what each of these oak and cask types brought to the table via copy and unique images of the bottling, aging, sourcing of wood etc. in an effort to explain why this whisky is so good, in a clear and engaging format. It was important to us to find a way to educate our consumers about how the carefully selected wood of our casks impacts the flavor of the liquid in a way that is engaging and leverages the way our followers are using social media. In fact, since this activation launched, we have seen our follower count increase by 350 percent.