Johnnie Walker’s paper bottle makeover will not alter the liquor's flavor, according to one expert.
Tommy Tardie, owner and operator of The Flatiron Room and Fine & Rare in New York City, said while it will not make it taste better, the big question is whether the Scotch whisky will be kept in a neutral vessel.
“I [have to] believe they did enough research to create some kind of container that is going to preserve the integrity of the spirit,” Tardie told FOX Business.
Glass is a neutral vessel that is impermeable to oxygen, but exposing it to air could impact its taste and aroma, Tardie explained.
Diageo, the maker of the spirit, said Monday that it will begin selling new bottles made of “sustainably sourced pulp” by 2021. It is the world’s first paper-based spirits bottle that is completely plastic-free.
Johnnie Walker is available in seven different labels: Aged 18 Years, Red, Black, Double Black, Green and Blue, ranging in price from about $23 to $210 for a 750ml bottle.
While Diageo believes the sustainable packaging is fresh and innovative, Tardie said the iconic brand faces an "uphill battle," especially if the new bottle becomes a permanent fixture.
“I think it’s great in a limited quantity if people have the choice of choosing between paper or glass,” he said. “But if they're replacing it entirely, I think they're going to lose some customer share, some market share because I know people that are not going to want to purchase that. They're going to stick with the tradition, even though it maybe isn’t as good environmentally as the paper.”
Johnnie Walker would potentially be missing out on a big chunk of change in the whisky market. Although total whisky retail sales in the U.S. are expected to remain flat in 2020, they are forecast to grow by 2.8 percent by 2024, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. Total whisky retail sales in the U.S. totaled $20 billion in 2019.
Tardie added that he is all for saving the planet, but the liquor maker is definitely “pushing the envelope” in terms of staying on top of movements and trends.
“I think if they were using plastic bottles, then it would be an easier sell because people equate plastic with not being recycled,” he explained. “So when you're talking glass that you can recycle and then you're saying we're going to switch that to paper -- it's, you know, it's a tall order. And I think people aren't necessarily making that connection.”
Diageo tested the brand's 200-year history in 2018 when it replaced Johnnie Walker with Jane Walker on some limited-edition bottles to shed light on gender equality.
However, this time, Tardie believes the move could alter the experience around whisky drinking.
“There's a little bit of a ceremony involved with the whole process,” he explained. “If you're sitting, drinking something premium, I mean people like to display their bottles. I mean we have 1,200 bottles on our shelves. And guess what? They're all displayed. They're all displayed because personally I think they're beautiful. I think the amber color. When you uplight it, you know, it sits on the wall. It looks beautiful. It's kind of voyeuristic to see some of the collection.”
Even so, Tardie said he has no plans to ban the new bottles. If anything, he added, it will spark conversation and debate at his bars.
FOX Business' Daniella Genovese contributed to this report.