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Patron is a Tequila – really

IT’S REALLY quite extraordinary how the heritage and provenance of spirits has come to the fore in the last few years – it’s always been there with the likes of Scotch whisky and Cognac, of course. On the rum front producers are adopting the appellation contrôlée route – but it’s a moot point whether trade or consumer understand the difference between a rum produced in Jamaica to a rum produced in Venezuela.

Nevertheless it is a form of authentication – and no doubt that’s what inflames Bacardi when Cuba is mentioned. And it obviously is mentioned a lot by Havana Club. This provenance thingy is now beginning to transcend the world of white spirits. “But it’s too late,” I hear you cry! Well arguably it is for gin because producers allowed their accountants to shift their production outside London – the gin capital – and produce elsewhere. There’s one huge exception, which is more by luck than good management – and that gin, which begins with a “B”, is making up for lost time. Well it’s got London to itself! Other gins have had to content themselves with stricter production guidelines et al – but what of vodka? Much as Ireland and Scotland bicker with each other over who was the first to produce the aqua vitae – so too do Poland and Russia over which is the true birthplace of vodka. But does it matter? To have either is pretty good – but broadly provenance is not the be all and end all – the image factor can and frequently does transcend provenance. Indeed image can even transcend a category – take Patrón Tequila. I was talking to a bartender the other day and he was telling me how this American came into his bar and asked for a large Patrón on the rocks. The bartender said he did not stock Patrón but he had other Tequilas he might like to try. However, the American got a bit annoyed: “I don’t want a Tequila! I want a Patrón.” He clearly had no idea that Patrón was in fact a Tequila – which is a tad worrying, after all it is writ large on the bottle. But I digress.

Does it matter then that Stoli can no longer describe itself as a Russian vodka? I don’t think it matters one jot. For starters the brand, over the decades since it made its debut overseas, is as Russian as the Kremlin itself and if its Russian heritage the consumer wants, well Stoli’s got hat in spades – you cannot deny the brand’s history.

There was a time when giving a brand a Russian-sounding name gave it instant credibility; look at the UK’s Vladivar – the “Wodka from Warrington” (well it was once, and that didn’t stop consumers buying it). It was the UK’s second best-selling vodka too. No, I’m convinced that provenance has a role to play, but it’s not the prime driver when it comes to a purchasing decision.

You only have to look at the phenomenal success of Grey Goose to see that – I mean a vodka from France? And even if it had been produced in Russia or Poland would it have been even more successful? No – Grey Goose is one of those image brands – ironically its erstwhile competitor Belvedere has all the Polish provenance, underlined by the Belweder Palace on its bottle.

Having said all that, if I was going to lash out and buy one of these brands – and you’re talking about at least £30 in the UK – I know which brand I would choose! Just think about it…



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