Top 10 hybrid spirit innovationsBy Becky Paskin
Hybrid is a word most commonly associated with science-fiction, but the world’s drinks companies are using their imagination and innovating with a series of hybrid spirit launches.
Let’s be clear: hybrid spirits are products blending two different alcohol categories together, whether they be beer, wine or spirit, although the predominant ingredient has been distilled.
Die-hard spirit fans may want to stop reading here, as the next few pages may not be pretty. Cognac lovers may baulk at the vodka hybrid launched Stateside, while Scotch aficionados may detest the Celtic blend listed in our rundown of the 10 most innovative spirit hybrids.
But fear not, you’ll find no Frankenstein monsters or Triffids lurking on the next few pages, but a selection of examples of how spirit producers are breaching the confinements of their categories and enticing a wider audience.
The reasons for doing so are varied: some attempt to offer consumers greater choice while others are using hybrids to enter new drinking occasions. Whatever the motive, there are some fascinating blends being created that have the world excited over this new, emerging category.
Know a hybrid spirit we missed that deserves to be in this line-up? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Launched in the US in March 2012, this blend of silver Olmeca Tequila and coconut-flavoured rum was created to enable Malibu to extend its brand presence into night time drinking occasions.
The spirit traditionally associated with sun-drenched holidays enlisted the marketing assistance of R’n’B star Ne-Yo, to establish Malibu Red as a partier’s tipple.
“Malibu Red was designed to awaken our night time business, because Malibu is great in the day at pool parties or on the beach, but at night we lose a bit of credibility,” explains Josh Hayes, senior brand manager for Malibu. “By adding Malibu Red with a little more alcohol kick at night, as well as working with Ne-Yo who has a great nightlife persona, the brand now really works after the sun goes down.”
Courvoisier Rosé/ Gold
Courvoisier Rosé, an 18% abv blend of Cognac and rosé wine, wasn’t specifically aimed at wine consumers when it launched in 2011. “It was more about looking at how we broaden the appeal of Cognac which can be a very intimidating category, especially if you’re drinking it straight,” according to Claire Richards, director of Cognac and world whiskies at parent company Beam Inc.
Beam followed up the release with Courvoisier Gold, also an 18% abv blend of Cognac and wine of the moment, Moscato, in 2012. Both expressions were launched to “push the boundaries of the category” and provide consumers with unique ways to enjoy Cognac.
Another spirit-wine infusion, Pernod Ricard continued its innovation streak with the launch of Absolut Tune in the US in 2012, following a trial run in Australia in 2011.
The sparkling blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Absolut Vodka targets young females with a fashion-themed marketing campaign, that has since gone on to include a partnership with Icona Pop. The expression even featured in the pop duo’s music video for I Love It with Charli XCX.
Aside from the US, Absolut Tune is only available in limited quantities in Mexico, so far.
In recognition of the emergence of hybrid spirits, British bartender Dee Davies created a gin-sake hybrid for Diageo’s inaugural Show Your Spirit competition in May 2013.
The product, named Jinzu, won the competition, with a promise to be developed by Diageo into a fully-fledged product that would join the group’s Reserve Brand portfolio alongside the likes of Johnnie Walker and Cîroc.
At the time, Jörg Meyer, Show Your Spirit Judge and owner of Le Lion in Hamburg, said: “We debated whether a gin should win as it already exists as a category, however with the mix of sake it is so special and has created a new category.”
Although the product was due to be unveiled to bartenders at Diageo World Class in July 2013, Jinzu has not yet officially launched, and a spokesperson for Diageo confirmed it is unlikely to emerge in this fiscal year.
Twenty Grand Vodka
Part Vodka, part Cognac, Twenty Grand is a category all of its own. Launched in January 2013, the unprecedented blend is once again targeted at the nightclub scene, and is designed to mix or sip on its own.
The brand is available in three expressions: Original, Black and Rosé, the latter of which is a blend of Cognac, vodka and rosé wine.
The brand describes itself as “a lifestyle that transcends the normal boundaries and takes it to a whole new level. Capturing the true essence of style, sophistication and class, Twenty Grand is all about being you and setting yourself apart from anything.”
The sparkling liqueur presented in what looks like a shampoo bottle is a blend of French vodka, natural raspberry, peach and strawberry flavours and sparkling wine (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir).
It was first developed by Raphael Yakoby in 2007, the same year Diageo took a minority stake in the business. The group increased its stake to 70% in 2010 but sold its ownership stake in Nuvo back to Yakoby in June 2013.
In July 2013, just weeks later, the brand was put up for sale with a reported US$50m price tag.
Claiming to have A-list celebrity fans like Eva Longoria and Jamie Foxx, Nuvo is designed to reflect a perfume bottle, with the floral motifs, curved cap and pink colouring working to attract a female audience.
Created from the leftover stock from Celtic Nations, a collaboration between Ireland’s Cooley Distillery and Scotland’s Bruichladdich, this Irish-Scotch whisky hybrid was the first release from the Teeling Whiskey Company in September 2012.
A blend of 10-year-old single malts from Cooley and Bruichladdich that has been married together in oak barrels for an additional eight years, Teeling Hybrid was created to offer “more choice” to Irish whiskey fans.
“The younger demographic that’s drinking mainstream brands like Jameson and Tullamore Dew need some choice because they won’t stay drinking them their whole lives; they’ll need other things to try,” explained founder Jack Teeling at the time of its launch. “If there’s not that choice in the Irish whiskey category, which was once there with independent brands, there’s a risk they’ll go to Canadian, Bourbon, rum or another classification of spirit.”
Just 1,400 bottles of Hybrid Edition 1 were produced, but Teeling hinted at the possibility of collaborating with other independent whisky producers around the world to “create some interesting bottlings”.
Released late in 2012, The One whisky from Cumbria’s The Lakes Distillery, combines whisky from all over the British Isles.
The Lakes doesn’t specify where it’s sourced the liquid from, but describes the expression as described as “slightly smoky, sweet and fruity, nutty, with hints of spice”.
It’s only available in limited quantities while the distillery gets up and running (it’s due to release its own distilled whisky in 2015).
Right now it’s only available in Germany, but Ferdinand Saar Dry Gin could be the first gin to list wine as an ingredient.
The Avadis Distillery in Wincheringen, has created a 30-botanical gin grown locally on the estate including lavender, lemon thyme, juniper, sloe, rose hip, angelica, hop blossom and rose, as well as almond shell and ginger.
The gin is then blended with Schiefer Riesling from the Saar and rested for four weeks before bottling at 44% abv.
Ferdinand’s does plan to export, and is beginning the process of doing so now.
In early 2013 Pernod Ricard once again flexed its innovation muscles and released Zaconey, a 35% abv blend of Irish and American whiskeys and natural berry flavour.
Sourcing many of its casks from the US Bourbon industry, Pernod decided to use the “pool of golden Bourbon resting inside” and blend it with liquid from its Midleton Distillery.
Marketed as a retro spirit with a 1950s Coney Island feel, Zaconey is only available in Ireland but has caused a stir among the local food and drink community already.