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Why flavoured whisky should be on your radar

Following the boom and bust of flavoured vodka last decade, the drinks industry became a bit lairy about infusing spirits, but one brand changed all that four years ago: Gordon’s Pink Gin.

Gordon’s Pink was launched in the UK during the summer 2017 and added £75.2m to Gordon’s sales in the first year. The Grocer editor Daniel Woolfson described its popularity as “astonishing” and the most successful spirits launch of the decade. Even better, more than half the consumers who started drinking pink gin were new to the category.

“Many shoppers buying it are coming over from other categories such as wine and RTDs,” Woolfson told The Guardian.

The growing flavoured spirits category now accounts for 95% of NPD volume in the on premise in the UK and has driven 80% of all off-premise spirits NPD sales in the last two years.

So it’s hardly surprising that Scotch and Irish whisk(e)y distillers are eager to join the party, hoping to shake off the spirit’s fusty reputation and appeal to millennial and Gen Z drinkers.

Emma Cookson, Whisky Educator at The Whisky List, believes it’s a canny move.  Cookson recently joined the whisky subscription service after working as bartender in Melbourne. 

“I think it’s a great opportunity to lure people into whisky and that the products should be seen as a compliment to the category, like how sloe gin is to the gin category,” she said. “Additionally, coming from a cocktail bar background, I think they make great modifiers for cocktails and can be a great alternative to one-dimensional liqueurs or schnapps.” 

In the past, Scotch producers who dared to add a splash of honey or lime to their spirits faced a significant backlash. Guidelines by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and EU law state no other ingredients except caramel colouring and water can be added to Scotch whisky. However, if the flavoured bottling is differentiated from Scotch and labelled as a “spirit drink”, no rules have been breached. 

But the lure of recruiting new fans has lead to drinks companies to ignore the naysayers and experiment in the genre.

Jameson Orange flavoured whisky

Pernod Ricard has just launched a new flavoured “spirit drink” in the UK called Jameson Orange.

Ian Peart, Commercial Director at Pernod Ricard UK, said: “With the popularity of flavoured spirits on the rise and Jameson continuing to fly in the UK, Jameson Orange is perfectly positioned to tap into this growing consumer opportunity. The newest innovation in the Jameson family builds on the brand’s carefully crafted process to offer an accessible entry point from which to explore a value rich category and engage new consumers. We’re confident that this focus on taste and quality will appeal to a broad audience of whiskey fans, bartenders, and curious spirit drinkers looking to explore and experiment.”

The innovation is everything younger consumers are looking for – low ABV, naturally flavoured and low in sugar – but David Gluckman, who famously created Baileys in 1973 by mixing together a bottle of Jamesons Irish Whiskey, a tub of single cream and a few spoonfuls of Cadbury’s Powdered Drinking Chocolate, isn’t impressed.

“To classify the mixing of cheap whiskey with orange flavours as innovation is going a bit far – despite all the GenZ witchcraft,” he said .”Jameson Whiskey was established in 1780. Jameson Orange will do nothing for its 241 year old brand equity.”

Haig Club flavoured whisky

Meanwhile, Diageo’s Haig Club introduced Mediterranean Orange in the UK earlier this year, hoping to open up the whisky category to a wider audience. The Scotch is created by adding orange blossom extract to a Haig Club Clubman base.

“Myself and the Haig Club team are continually looking at ways to engage and adopt new consumers to the brand,” brand ambassador David Beckman said. “The orange perfectly complements the signature Scotch notes of Haig Club and it’s a great long drink for summer.”

Violeta Andreeva, whisky marketing director for Diageo, added: The launch of Haig Club Mediterranean Orange is an exciting step forwards for dark spirits.

“We see this as a huge opportunity to recruit a new generation of drinkers as more and more consumers are choosing flavours and sweeter drinks. The whisky tastes delicious mixed with lemonade but it also tastes wonderful neat.”

Australian whisky distillers are also experimenting in the space, with delicious results.

“When you think flavoured whisky, you instantly think of the classics like Fireball and Southern Comfort, which have been around forever,” said Oliver Maruda, Co-founder of The Whisky List.

“I’m actually quite excited to see the resurgence in the category with a few newer products like the Archie Rose X St. ALi Blasphemy Coffee Whisky entering the market alongside staples like Sortilege Maple Whiskey. These tend to focus on more raw ingredients and flavours, which make sense of current food trends.

Archie Rose Founder, Will Edwards, noted: “Blasphemy is the subversion of two liquid obsessions and although strict whisky and coffee purists might consider it an abuse of both liquids, it’s a pairing that when you taste it, and understand the production processes, actually makes perfect sense.”

According to Maruda, experimentation and innovation are paying off for Australian distillers.

“We’re seeing more Aussie distilleries starting to experiment and innovate with different types of whisky cask finishes like the crowd favourite Maple cask finished Hobart Whisky created specially for Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast, which is fantastic to see more the traditional whisky drinker lean towards,” he said.

Flavoured tequila tests the waters

Whisky isn’t the only spirit experimenting with flavour – the booming tequila category is chasing the trend too.

Flavoured tequila; Cazcabel

Cazcabel officially launched in Australia last month and is leading the premiumisation trend in flavoured tequila. The Cazcabel range includes Blanco, Coffee, Reposado and Honey, with a soon-to-be-released Coconut offering on the way.

General Manager of Proof Drinks, Cazcabel’s Australian distributor, Luke Frost said: “We’re so excited to launch one of the fastest growing and popular tequila brands in Australia. Our aim is to offer a range of authentic premium tequilas that allow consumers to explore the category in new and exciting ways. Cazcabel’s range, particularly the flavours, opens up tequila to new drinking occasions beyond late night and can be sipped neat or savoured in cocktails. With international travel off the cards for the foreseeable future, what better way to experience Mexico?”

While Cazcabel isn’t the first flavoured tequila on the Australian market, Frost said it’s the first brand to have a dedicated portion of its range in the flavoured category.

“These variants provide a fun and approachable way of recruiting new consumers to the premium tequila category,” he said.

Frost also noted that the flavoured spirits sector is premiumising and rapidly becoming more sophisticated in its offerings. As a result of the gin boom, consumer’s willingness to pay for premium spirits and explore new and unique flavour expressions is at an all-time high.

“Flavours have always played a role in offering a variation of an old classic or a new flavour profile, so while flavoured spirits aren’t ‘trending’, premiumisation is,” he said. “Consumers are looking for those innovative and premium products that allow them to experiment in making quality drinks. The Cazcabel flavour range is perfectly positioned to capitialise on this current trend offering a quality and versatile liquid at an affordable price. One of the key benefits of the flavour range is that is allows consumers to make cocktails very easily at home, without the need to buy a whole shopping list of ingredients – particularly helpful during lockdown!”

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