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Spirit brands to watch in 2013

As the world’s spirits markets edge towards 2013, the stakes are high for brands from Absolut to Yamazaki. Richard Woodard and Becky Paskin eye up the odds.

Spirit Brands to watch 2013
Brands to Watch: Our predictions for which spirit brands will make waves in 2013

So farewell then, 2012. A year marked by continued economic uncertainty in many western markets, not least the Eurozone countries in general and Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal in particular.

The UK wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs either, so thank heavens for what we really need to stop calling the “emerging” markets of Asia and Latin America. It’s no longer an appropriate adjective for a country like China, which now makes more revenue for Hennessy Cognac than the US.

For seismic shifts in the global spirits marketplace, we had to wait until the closing months of the year and Diageo’s long-awaited deal to secure a chunk of Vijay Mallya’s United Spirits. Hard to know what would be more interesting: having some insight into Diageo’s strategy for India in 2013 – or being a fly on the wall during those negotiations with Dr Mallya.

The other big stories of the year, beyond Campari’s US$415m deal to buy Appleton Estate owner Lascelles deMercado & Co were trend-driven: a feverish surge of activity in American whiskey, driven by flavour innovation and “white dog”; and, on the other side of the pond, the remarkable renaissance of Irish whiskey, led by Jameson’s 4m cases, but with a rash of new distilleries springing up from Belfast to Dingle.

It’s a year that will be remembered for sad reasons, too: for us here at sb, with the passing of deputy editor Alan Lodge at the cruelly young age of 29; and for the industry at large, which said farewell to one of its most powerful and charismatic figures, Patrick Ricard.

But onwards and upwards. You want predictions for 2013? We’ve got ‘em. What’s more, it’s good news: has there ever been a more dynamic and exciting time to be involved in the spirits industry? We doubt it. Well-funded and (mostly) quality-driven multi-nationals are being elbowed and jostled by local players with grand ambitions, and a burgeoning craft spirits sector that is breaking taboos and making great liquid from Alaska to Australia.

All of which makes choosing 25 brands to watch in 2013 a tricky task, but no less valuable and rewarding for that. The products featured on the following pages aren’t necessarily going to be the biggest or even the fastest-growing names in their sectors next year (although many of them may well be). Instead, they’re the ones we reckon will be the most watchable labels on the back-bar and the retail shelf in the 12 months ahead – and for all manner of reasons.

Separately, click here to find out which cocktail and bar trends the world’s best bartenders predicted to take off in 2013.


For years, the vodka sector has been the gleaming jewel of the global spirits market, but could it be losing its lustre? Decades of almost uninterrupted growth are showing the first signs of stuttering as vodka reaches maturity in Western Europe and lets its everyday status slip in the heartland of Russia and Ukraine.

Future success will depend on the spirit’s ability to carve out a lucrative position in Asian powerhouse markets such as India and China, plus its ability to reinvent itself.

And for how to do this, brands need look no further than the US, where flavours continue to diversify and embrace consumer-friendly line extensions.


absolut vodka

Pernod Ricard-owned Absolut is a microcosm of the western vodka sector – if a microcosm can shift more than 11m cases a year.

A constant process of innovation, both in terms of product and marketing, had threatened to grow stale in the post-Lehman Brothers new era of austerity, raising question marks about the brand’s multi-billion-euro transfer fee to boot.

But, during 2012, a raft of sexy new ideas changed that. The punters were as likely to pick up travel retail exclusive Absolut Exposure for its stylish John Renck photography as for its melon and lemongrass flavours, while Absolut Unique was so barking mad, it was marketing genius: splash guns and colour generating machines used to create a “limited edition” – stretching the meaning of the phrase to say the least – of 4m bottles.

We’re not sure what they’re drinking at the brand headquarters in Åhus, Sweden, but order us up a double.


Pinnacle Whipped Cream Vodka

More than US$600m is a heap of money for a vodka brand that remains unproven in the longer term, let alone one that is hugely dependent on the dessert flavour craze currently sweeping the US (even if Calico Jack rum was thrown in).

But if any multi-national was going to splurge that kind of cash on the latest hit to roll off the White Rock production line, it was always likely to be Beam, with its strong US presence and big focus on NPD.

Pinnacle is poised to hit 3m cases in 2012, thanks to a list of whipped dessert flavours that would shame most restaurant menus, prompting the big question: what happens next? The cheeky new ad campaign, It’s More Fun On Top, gives some clues to Beam’s likely approach, but whether the Pinnacle franchise will travel beyond the US remains to be seen. Then again, maybe it doesn’t need to?


Stoli Hot n Sticki Stolichnaya William Grant

Four years after Stoli was jilted by Pernod Ricard in favour of Absolut, brand owner SPI Group is still tweaking distribution around the world.

It’s a tribute to the underlying strength of Stoli that, even amid this potential disruption, it has kept its head above the 3m-case mark. But more than half of those volumes are sold in the US, where things have been altogether trickier: from a pre-economic crisis high of 2.2m cases, volumes have drifted to 1.8m and stuck.

Now SPI has ended its US distribution agreement with William Grant, and will set up its own office stateside in January 2014. The next 12 months, which will be spent with an importer which knows its days are numbered, will be very interesting indeed, but SPI will hope that the Stoli innovation conveyer belt, which this year has yielded flavours as diverse as Hot and Sticki – nods to the brand’s historic first flavours – and Salted Karamel, will keep one of the world’s great drinks brands chugging along.

Scotch whisky

These are golden years for Scotch whisky. Ok, so trends for blends in mature markets such as the UK and the US could certainly be better, but that’s more than made up for by what’s happening in Beijing and Buenos Aires: from standard to luxury, never has that skilful combination of malt and grain been more appreciated in the world at large.

Add in the allure of single malts and you have a heady mix, and one that’s unlikely to lose its savour for years to come. If you’re not sure, check out the investment in extra production capacity announced during 2012 by the likes of Chivas Brothers and Diageo.


BruichladdichIt says much about the current state of Scotch that a distillery silent from 1994 to 2000 changed hands this year for £58m.

The enfant terrible of malt – it refused to join the Scotch Whisky Association, and ex-MD Mark Reynier never knowingly avoided controversy – this is a brand that has bucked trends since its inception, making the identity of its purchaser, the generally conservative Rémy Cointreau, a real eyebrowlifter.

But never mind chatter about “selling out” from the Scotch anoraks – Rémy has pledged that the “Laddie” will stay true to its iconoclastic character – and watching it make good on that promise will be fascinating.


Johnnie Walker ScotchThe inclusion here of an 18m-case-selling brand which is the top priority of the world’s biggest drinks company might well seem like a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, but bear with us.

Great brands make changes when they want to, not when they need to – and that’s just what Johnnie Walker did in 2012. Sure, there was a snazzy new marketing campaign, Where Flavour is King, and very nice it is too.

But look at the liquid: from the new core whiskies, Gold Label Reserve and Platinum Label, to Odyssey and the first exclusive travel retail range under the Explorers’ Club banner, all are exemplary. Sometimes, big really is beautiful.


Label 5 ScotchFor years, this was in many ways a parochial blend, a local hero for the French market that never concerned anyone outside the hypermarchés of the world’s biggest Scotch drinking nation.

But brand owner La Martiniquaise has slowly but surely changed that, reinvesting to expand Label 5’s area of influence to countries like Mexico, where it now sells 150,000 cases.

Global sales have surged 50% in five years to 2.5m cases in 2011, amid a focus on premium line extensions such as Extra Premium 12-year-old and innovative marketing initiatives, including an Instagram photo contest. Now the target is to reach fifth place among standard Scotch brands in the next decade.


Royal-salute ScotchAnother local brand with global aims, Royal Salute reaches its diamond anniversary in 2013, 60 years after its creation to mark the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

You can’t talk about “humble” beginnings with a brand whose entry level is a 21-year-old, but it’s come a long way from its erstwhile base in Korea and Taiwan, boosting sales by 23% in Pernod Ricard’s most recent set of results.

Breaking out of its Asian powerbase, Royal Salute’s aim is to establish itself as “the world’s first true luxury whisky” – a bit like a Hibernian Louis XIII – via tie-ins with Historic Royal Palaces, the younger generation of Windsors and polo.

World whisky

The battle of the world’s whiskies against the omnipotent power of Scotch is all set to relentlessly continue into 2013 – although don’t expect them to fight quietly.

It’s too early to tell what Diageo plans to do with United Spirits’ plethora of Indian and Scotch whisky, while the future is already cast, and particularly brightly at that, for Beam’s transformation of Cooley.

As Irish whiskey grows and grows, and Bourbon increasingly embraces innovation, luxury, aged products are expected to dominate new launches across the category for another year and beyond, with brands extending their reach to more markets than ever before.


Kilbeggan World whiskeyIt’s not even been a year since Beam made a takeover bid for Irish whiskey distillery Cooley, but the multinational’s route-to-market cogs have been a-turning.

Already Kilbeggan’s sales are soaring, by 31% in Q3 compared to the same period last year. Beam intends to position the brand as its leading light for Irish whiskey, with big plans to take on the might of Pernod Ricard’s Jameson. Watch out for new premium aged expressions next year as Beam flexes its muscles.

The company is also investing heavily in marketing the distillery itself as a tourist destination as interest grows for Irish whiskey tourism in general.

Visitors to Kilbeggan were up 40% in September 2012 compared to the previous year, and Beam is expecting the figure to grow further with the appointment of a dedicated brand experience marketing manager.


yamazaki world whiskyThe Japanese single malt whisky brand has big plans for the 12 months ahead.

Continuing with its position as brand owner Suntory’s flagship, Yamazaki has ambitions to increase awareness among key European cities such as London and Paris by appointing a new European brand ambassador and new distributor in France.

We’ve recently seen the eagerly anticipated launch of the Yamazaki Cask Collection – a range of four whiskies aged in different casks, including the indigenous Japanese Mizunara.

The brand also returns to UK duty free with sister brand Hakushu following a two-year hiatus, making Yamazaki one of the most interesting whiskies to watch in 2013.


sullivans cove world whiskyWhat a year it’s been for Sullivans Cove. Produced by Tasmania Distillery in the sleepy village of Cambridge on the outskirts of Hobart, its global reception has been anything but quiet.

The brand’s French Cask HH509 was named best whisky in the Southern

Hemisphere by whisky guru Jim Murray, and has won a pirate’s share of gold medals.

Already spreading the Tassie love in several markets around the world, including the UK, US, Canada, France, Scandinavia, Benelux, Singapore, Dubai and New Caledonia, the distillery plans to expand further into Germany and Switzerland in 2013.

And, given current growth, Tasmania Distillery expects to see sales soar by a whopping 50% next year. Its case sales may not be anything in comparison to the likes of other world whisky heavyweights like Yamazaki, but the brand is already generating something of a cult following, while paving the way for global recognition of Australian whisky.

Cognac and Brandy

The past few years have been notably kind to Cognac, which has overcome economic fragility and category stagnation in Western Europe to enjoy solid volumes in the dependable US market, and soaring sales of luxury expressions in Greater China.

At the time of writing, there were signs of this red-hot growth cooling somewhat, with export shipments flat in October and falling in August, but at a time when input costs for aged Cognacs have risen hugely, that might be welcome news for the Cognaçais.

Trends have been less dynamic for domestic brandy products, but India continues to shift huge volumes, while markets including Mexico, Brazil and the

Philippines all have their local multi-million-sellers – some of them with much grander ambitions.


baron-otard cognacFor many Cognac observers, Otard has long had the air of a neglected child in brand owner Bacardi’s portfolio; unavailable in Cognac’s largest market, the US, and a niche player elsewhere, especially in comparison with the sector’s big four brands.

But Bacardi has wrought a slow transformation at Otard’s base of Château de Cognac, with its notably humid cellars close to the Charente river, rebranding it as the ennobled Baron Otard, renewing the packaging and tweaking the VSOP blend (which is no longer 100% Fine Champagne).

Luxury products – an XO travel retail exclusive and a scarce 1972 vintage – have followed. Amid hysteria over Asia, Baron Otard is staying loyal to core markets Belgium, Germany and the Nordics. Meanwhile, in the US, Bacardi has launched D’Ussé, a tactical brand designed to exploit the peculiarities of that market and backed by music and style mogul Jay-Z.


dreher cognacIn theory, these should be good years to be a Brazilian drinks brand.

Cachaça producers, buoyed by Diageo’s multi-million pound foray into their industry to buy Ypióca, are already talking up their prospects as the country prepares to host the football World Cup and the Olympics in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

What’s more, the economy’s not in bad shape either, as Scotch whisky producers will testify. Now Gruppo Campari is aiming to up the game of local brandy Dreher, a solid performer that has hovered around the 3.5m-case mark for the past few years, suffering less than most from the effects of the economic crisis.

A new pack courtesy of Claessens International trumpets Dreher’s Brazilian roots and readies the brand for international expansion – but will it translate into overseas markets and match or outdo the efforts of compatriot cachaça?


polignac cognacThere’s no quibbling over the vital role played in the development of the Cognac category by the so-called “big four” of Hennessy, Martell, Rémy Martin and Courvoisier.

They’ve been instrumental in the creation of hugely lucrative markets in the US and China, but their dominance – they account for roughly 80% of global category sales – could be seen as hindering diversity and innovation. Step forward, then, brands like Prince Hubert de Polignac, the flagship product of H Mounier.

In 2012, the company announced itself with an aggressive bid to premiumise, via a focus on travel retail and the introduction of luxury products such as its 888 Trunk and Prince Hubert de Polignac Cognac Extra.

Beyond duty free, the business continues an emphasis on Russia and the Nordics, but is determined, in the longer term, to build a presence in the big markets of the UK and the US.


Rum producers have been cautious little hoarders over the past few decades and stocked their ageing barrels with great care.

It means that while some whisky producers, who didn’t see the Asian appetite for aged brown spirits coming, start scaling back distribution and playing around with no-age-stated products, the door could be left wide open for rum to move in.

The future looks not just bright for aged expressions either; spiced rum is growing at a phenomenal rate and white, the workhorse of the category, is continuing to add numbers. The Mojito is still the most popular cocktail in the world, after all.


appleton estate rumWhat Italian force Gruppo Campari does with Appleton Estate in 2013 is exciting the hell out of us.

Since buying a controlling stake in its parent company for US$414.8m in September, analysts have only dreamed about what Campari might make of Appleton’s stock of extra-old rums.

The brand already launched a 50-year-old during 2012 to commemorate the anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, while it has discussed an expression containing 100-year-old rum for the country’s centenary in 2062.

The possibilities for Appleton aged releases are huge, particularly with the Asian appetite for aged brown spirits awakening.

Master blender Joy Spence has voiced her doubts, but will Campari nudge Appleton into releasing a spiced rum too? Another category set for glory in 2013?


Captain-morgan rumThis is set to be a massive year for Captain Morgan, which is expected to reach a major milestone of 10m cases.

Last year the Diageo-owned brand grew by more than 500,000 cases, and is expected to repeat its performance with a cherry on top in 2013 as it targets more emerging markets.

The Captain is prioritising Russia, Eastern Europe, Latin America – particularly Argentina, Peru and Costa Rica – and South Africa, where initial growth over the past few years has been described as fast.

The release during 2012 of its darker Black Spiced variant, targeted at brown spirit sippers, will no doubt gain traction in the US and Canada where it has already sold “six figures-worth” of cases, as well as in the five unnamed new markets it hopes to slip into in the next nine months.


botran rumWhile the Guatemalan rum’s long-term ambition is to hit one million case sales annually, that target is unlikely to be achieved in the next 12 months.

The brand, however, is tipped to start moving towards that figure during 2013 while maintaining its strategic focus on aged expressions. Botran’s Solera and Reserva rums have already hit 100,000 cases annually with launches in Western Europe and travel retail, and the company is all ready to launch a Blanco version in the US, the UK, Germany and travel retail in early 2013.

The Blanco, it claims, is a premium product designed to fill a gap in the market for a quality white sipping rum. Botran will support its expansion in 2013 with a targeted marketing campaign to raise awareness of both its new Blanco and existing rums.


Gin is arguably one of the most exciting and dynamic spirits categories out there right now, fuelled by an apparently neverending spurt of innovation.

Style bar wannabes boasting exotic botanicals and super-premium credentials are queuing up to win the plaudits of bartenders the world over – and mixologists in turn are embracing the renaissance with zeal, rediscovering classic cocktails from the Negroni to the Aviation.

For the bigger players, this new age offers mixed prospects: a more crowded marketplace is harder to negotiate, and a constant need to innovate to keep up with the new guard is financially burdensome.

In general, premium players are likely to fare best in 2013, while the standard market will for the most part continue to stagnate.


Beefeater Forever London ginThere’s a hoary old sporting cliché about football being “a funny old game”, but at times it could equally apply to the spirits marketplace.

Relying on cash-strapped Spain for about 40% of your sales doesn’t sound like

a winning brand strategy right now, but Beefeater is nudging 2.5m cases of sales in 2012, thanks to the counter-intuitive gin resurgence occurring in the bars of Madrid and Barcelona.

The London-led marketing blitz is also working in the US, which is reporting solid, steady growth for the first time in years, and the success of Beefeater 24 has given the core offering a valuable halo effect.

Brand owner Chivas Brothers is looking to replicate the Spanish-serve G&T – goblet glasses, lots of ice, simple garnishes – elsewhere in the world, while simultaneously pursuing new opportunities in places like Russia, Ukraine and Turkey.

Factor in the potential of Asian markets and the future looks very enticing indeed.


bombay_ginHolidays must be hard to come by among the Bombay Sapphire brand management team, to judge from the constant stream of activity surrounding the Bacardi-owned gin.

With its azure-dipped advertising and tie-ins with arts and design, that distinctive shade of blue is to Bombay what yellow is to Veuve Clicquot Champagne, establishing it as the world’s biggest premium gin. In 2012, it cemented that position by overtaking Gordon’s to become the biggest gin in travel retail and launching a well-received line extension, Bombay Sapphire East.

All of this while it establishes a distillery and visitor centre at Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire, England, giving the brand a home of its own from autumn 2013. Looks like that brand team can expect some long hours in the office over the next few months once again.


plymouth ginScarred by years of misuse and neglect, this underrated brand is finally struggling back into the limelight, boosted by a masterful redesign and premium positioning far more in tune with its status.

Long an understudy to Beefeater’s beefier volumes in the old Allied Domecq days, Plymouth was rebuilt by branding genius John Murphy before passing to Vin & Sprit – who promptly dropped the ball and forgot all about their new acquisition’s provenance (Plymouth gin even has its own GI status).

Then Plymouth was reunited with Beefeater under current owner Chivas Brothers, whose parent company Pernod Ricard looked set to sell it on yet again before changing its mind and engineering that relaunch. Phew!

Cue a gin renaissance and a determined effort to regenerate sales in the US, where Plymouth was massively popular in the past – although you’d guess that workers at the Black Friars Distillery would settle for a little stability.


You could run a sweepstake about how many words into an article about Tequila you can get before encountering the “next big thing” cliché (20 or so in this case).

It’s a category that remains stubbornly fixated on the markets of the US and Mexico, despite the efforts of the brands namechecked here (and a number of others).

Connoisseurs may salivate over the intricate differences between highland and valley agave, and the competing joys of a peppery Blanco or a rounded Reposado, but getting that message across to slammer-happy consumers is another matter.

It’s no coincidence that Patrón – the biggest Tequila brand in the world by retail value – communicates its brand first, and its category second.

Transforming perceptions of a drink with such engrained preconceptions is no simple task.


jose cuervo TequilaCuervo bestrides Tequila like a colossus. Shifting double the number of cases of its nearest competitor, it is the category’s Jameson, covering the bases from the lowest-priced Mixto to luxury expressions like Reserva de la Familia.

But the end of 2012 represents a troubled time for the brand owned by the Beckmann family: their sales, marketing and distribution deal with Diageo ends in June 2013, and renegotiation talks have been long, hard and, at the time of writing, unresolved.

Diageo is fed up with picking up bits of revenue as a distributor and is likely to walk away and pursue other opportunities if it can’t secure an equity stake or outright acquisition, in exchange for stock rather than cash.

Add in comments from Diageo CEO Paul Walsh about Cuervo “not realising its full potential” and it’s an uncertain time for the category leader.

*Diageo has since walked away from discussions to acquire the Jose Cuervo brand, leaving its distribution contract to run its course.


olmeca TequilaPernod Ricard has owned Olmeca for more than a decade now, but it remains the

“big in Japan” Tequila, outgunning its rivals in the relatively small-time markets of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, but falling short in the hugely dominant US.

Aiming to match the likes of Cuervo and Sauza is a long road, but Pernod has assembled a clearly laddered range – Olmeca, 100% agave Altos and luxury Tezon – and has gradually ratcheted up distribution in the US, targeting premium Tequila hotspots.

Meanwhile, traditional markets in Europe have been kept moving by a tie-in with DJ Ferry Corsten (prompting a limited edition bottling in Tequila-loving Russia), and partnerships with Mexican-themed bars and restaurants in London and Paris.

The launch of flavoured Tequila liqueurs under the Olmeca name – Fusión has Dark Chocolate and Hibiscus variants to date – ticks another box of brand maximisation.


patron TequilaPatrón is one of those ideas that most people in the drinks industry wish they’d had first: grabbing a big but relatively unexciting category by the scruff of the neck and dragging into the modern age of luxury lifestyle, and getting everything from the name to the packaging spot-on in the process.

Growth understandably stalled in 2009, but by the time you read this, Patrón should have passed 2m cases in 2012, with retail value nicely above US$1bn – outpacing even Cuervo despite selling roughly 4m cases fewer.

About 95% of volumes still come from the US, but the brand has spent the past few years investing internationally and seeding long-term success across the world, with a notable focus on travel retail. Unlooked-for success from spin-off XO Café has kick-started a fresh Tequila sub-category, and new variant XO Café Dark Cocoa is due for an international roll-out in 2013 too.

Liqueurs and Specialities

A hugely diverse and fragmented category, liqueurs and speciality drinks defy generalisation, thronged as they are with a combination of marquee international brands and niche local players.

But even those lines are becoming increasingly blurred with the expansion of franchises such as Stock Spirits’ Lubelska, the Polish vodka-based liqueur which is beginning to build a regional presence beyond the bars of Warsaw and Kraków.

Impossible to ignore the global success of leaders such as Baileys, De Kuyper, Malibu, Jägermeister and Campari, but – as our run-down illustrates – this is a category which is a byword for strength in depth.


chambord liqueursThe French raspberry liqueur could be a beneficiary of owner Brown-Forman’s desire to grow its portfolio brands at a faster rate than flagship whiskey Jack Daniel’s.

Chambord has under-achieved since it was bought for US$251m in the heady, pre-recession days of 2006, impacted by economic woes in its core market, the US bar sector.

Following a repack in 2010, the plan now is to expand distribution in the UK and Australia, with travel retail identified as another potential area of opportunity.

Communication will cover the basics: how to drink it – mixed with Champagne or quality sparkling wine and in simple cocktails such as a French Martini – and the fact that it’s 100% natural.

A “pick me up” bottle (bartenders long ago dubbed it the “holy hand grenade”) and successful sampling will be the keys to success in the years to come.


drambuie liqueursNo high-achieving brand ever enjoys the fall, the dizzying, consumer-driven slide from fashionable to forgotten.

Drambuie has suffered this fate twice over – once in the US, where it was earlier elevated by the popularity of the Rusty Nail, and more recently in Greece, where its sales were halved by the country’s economic meltdown.

The upside comes in the form of a clean slate: rather than trying to cling on to a reactionary consumer base, the whisky liqueur is leaving its past behind and embracing the new via its Drambuie: A Taste of the Extraordinary campaign.

The Drambuie 15 line extension is continuing a global roll-out, faring well in travel retail and working alongside the core offering in new markets such as India and south-east Asia.

Even the US, where Drambuie has skipped an entire generation of consumers, is showing promising signs of resumed growth.


Lubelska liqueursOur liqueurs Brand Champion from earlier this year, Lubelska continues to be a category phenomenon, moving to well over 1m cases MAT in its home market of Poland with the introduction of two new flavours, grapefruit and mint.

Owner Stock Spirits pulls off the highly effective trick of leveraging Lubelska’s trusted status among Poles alongside the market’s move into vodka flavours (and, by extension, vodka-based liqueurs).

This process of sympathetic and targeted innovation means the brand could shift close to 2.5m cases in 2012, up from 2m cases in 2011, led by Poland but with growing interest from export markets, especially for Lubelska Lemon, which kick-started its current sales surge.

With the redoubtable Stock NPD bandwagon behind it, expect more innovation and continued depletion increases in the year to come.

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