There’s a party going on in US spirits with producers pushing boundaries as never before. Tom Bruce-Gardyne investigates the latest craze for hybrid spirits
In a strive for innovation, hybrid spirits have emerged as cross-category champions
It’s not just the scale of the US spirits market that sets it apart, but the sheer pace of innovation, reckons Enda O’Sullivan, global brand manager at Sailor Jerry spiced rum. “Visiting Orange County, California, Austin, Texas or Manhattan, the level of experimentation and the rapid movement of trends is incredible. It’s kind of mind-blowing, and I don’t see any sign of it slowing down.”
Sailor Jerry now sells more than 700,000 a year, the vast majority in America, and has done so without adding a single flavour. That alone makes it highly unusual given the explosion in flavoured spirits which grew at four times the rate of non-flavoured ones in the US in the year to September 2012, according to AC Nielsen.
Like many, O’Sullivan credits America’s uniquely dynamic on-trade as the great innovator, for it is here that most new spirits trends are born. The trade surfed the wave of crazy new vodka flavours until the nation’s back-bar was bursting at the seams, and then seemed to tire of all that candy-coated cupcake excess. There have been fewer launches of late, and, according to research by Restaurant Sciences LLC, flavoured vodka is already in retreat in the American on-premise – down 11.7% in the year to September.
The trend for flavours has spread into new categories, particularly whisky, be it American, Irish or Canadian. Even Scotch has joined the party with last year’s launch of Dewar’s Highlander Honey – a flavoured whisky in all but name. Few believe it will be the last. Yet some producers are not content with simply adding a spoonful of honey or a sprinkling of spice to their spirits. Instead they are really shaking things up in the latest craze to hit the US spirits market, particularly in the on-trade.
Rather than leave it to bartenders to mix the drinks behind the bar, brand owners have started doing it for themselves and bottling the results. Boundaries between categories are being breached in a bid to create new categories. Among the weird and wonderful concoctions to emerge so far are rum and Tequila, Cognac and Moscato, and vodka and Sauvignon Blanc. The possibilities are endless.
One of the leading pioneers has been Pernod Ricard USA, whose SVP of spirits marketing, Pierre Berard, takes up the story: “We know that the millennial consumer is constantly looking for ‘new, now, next’ in the spirits world. Over the past three years, we’ve put forth several successful new products that helped fuel this hybrid trend,” he explains. “On the vodka front, Absolut really started this when we crafted our ‘blended’ flavours – Berri Açaí, Orient Apple and Grapevine are just a few examples.”
Source: The Spirits Business