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Were these the biggest spirits trends of 2016?

At the start of the year, we asked industry buffs which trends they thought would mould each category in 2016. Were their forecasts correct? SB looks back…

crystal-ballLooking across each leading category in the sector, SB called on a panel of industry experts to predict which trends would have the industry talking in 2016.

From new regions and artisan production in vodka, to a surge in mezcal popularity, a number of these predictions came true – while others fell by the wayside.

Here, we look back and analyse how some trends triumphed, while others didn’t quite have the expected affect.

Click through the following pages to discover the top spirits trends in 2016.

Cognac: normalisation of China

China“2016 will be the year in which the Chinese market will increasingly resemble others. Previously it had been dominated by premium – and super-premium – Cognacs, often part of high-level corrupt networks. These have been at least partly eliminated, hence the fall in sales since 2012. But there is an enormous potential – and indeed growing – market for VS and VSOP Cognacs amongst the hundreds of millions of middle-class Chinese.”

– Nicholas Faith, author and Cognac expert

The Chinese market has come on leaps and bounds, with both value and volume sales up at the end of the year. Eric Vallat, CEO at Cognac house Rémy Martin, declared “the worst is behind us in China” as his brand returns to positive depletions there, and Cognac Frapin export director Bertrand Verduzier names China as one of the brand’s main markets.

Vodka: new regions and artisan production

Flavoured-vodka“It is not only the premium and luxury vodka brands (Belvedere, Double Cross, Beluga, Absolut Elyx, Purity Vodka, etc.) that are going to be the key drivers for the market growth, but also small independently crafted vodkas with locally sourced ingredients and artisan production methods.

“The more passion we put in vodka distilling process, the better product we get. Organic, small batch, gluten free – these are the words that characterise the future vodka generation. The growing trend of new distilleries and vodka brands can be seen in the countries we wouldn’t normally associate with vodka production – France (Sauvelle, Fair, Golovkine), United Kingdom (Our/London, Arbikie, East London Liquor Company, D1 Spirits), Spain (Santamanía, Basmoon Vodka), Germany (Sash & Fritz, Freimut), etc. It is hard to pick one or two good quality vodkas, especially with such a great number of new vodkas on the market each year. Whether you like it straight up, on the rocks, or mixed in your favourite cocktail, vodka definitely has its unique place and bright future in the modern spirits industry and mixology.

– Veronika Karlova, founder of Girls.Drink.Vodka

Authenticity, provenance and heritage are vodka’s buzzwords, from the craft producers to the big players. Marketing campaigns were awash with focus on production methods, provenance, ingredients and championed unique brand stories. Pernod Ricard-owned Our/Vodka took the notion one step further with the launch of Our/Infusions – four at-home infusion kits comprising oak, juniper, citrus and tea that transform the flavour of brand’s core expression.

American whiskey: diversification of malts

distillery“While Bourbon will continue to take precedence, it is historically fitting with the current abundant supply of barley produced in the North Western states that America produces an increasingly diverse supply of malts: a veritable hat-tip to this often overlooked American-Scottish cultural connection.

“I look forward particularly to the growing exposure of West Coast malts, such as Seattle’s Westland Distillery, which I hope will continue to add to its portfolio of intriguingly traditional expressions.

“I hope for an increase in the number of Colorado single malt distilleries, too. Why Colorado? Well, it’s Colorado – it’s awesome!”

– Robert Chapman, whisky expert

The rise of craft whiskey distillers has no doubt driven the diversification of US malts in 2016. American whiskey is no longer defined or recognised by Kentucky and Tennessee origins alone, resulting in a vibrant, complex market.

Gin: strawberry flavours and companion vermouths

ginIn-house base spirits

“A selection of British distilleries that started out making gin are now producing whisky; Cotswolds, Shortcross, and the East London Liquor Company, for example. I think we’ll start to see some experimentation with these sorts of distilleries making their own base spirit for new gins, rather than buying in neutral spirit. Expect to see a few British Genevers or Gin/Genever hybrids.”

Signature botanical gin

“This has been bubbling away under the surface for a few years and things heated up a bit in 2015 with some new releases. Essentially, they are gins that have the usual array of distilled botanicals, but also highlight a signature botanical on the bottle, such as Knockeen Hills Elderflower, Liverpool’s Rose Gin, or Curio’s Rock Samphire.”

Strawberry-flavoured gin

“This got really big in Spain over the summer of 2015 (where it is often mixed with Lemon Fanta) and, with strawberry being such a popular flavour in the UK, it could make an appearance in 2016. Both Hayman’s and Silent Pool released limited edition strawberry gin liqueurs in 2015 and Bloom has a Strawberry Cup. The key is to make gin that’s not too sweet, but still has the fresh succulence of the fruit.”

Companion Vermouths

“As distilleries mature and expand their portfolios, more will follow in the footstep of Sacred and look to make some distilled vermouths. There is growing interest in vermouth; it is a great accompaniment to gin, with good cross-sale potential. Expect products that work equally well when mixed and when sipped neat as an aperitif.”

– David Smith, independent spirits consultant

Of Smith’s predictions, the signature botanical gin trend is arguably the one which has gained the most traction this year. Few Spirits launched new Breakfast Gin expression, made using earl grey tea, and Portobello Road Gin introduced the “first ever” London dry gin made with British asparagus. Another such example is the introduction of The Revivalist Gins, a four-strong small batch grain-to-glass portfolio designed to reflect the seasons of the year.

Scotch: higher priced NAS and birthdays

Despite strict regulations, there are ample innovation opportunities for innovation in Scotch whisky

I think that 2016 will see a continuation of the growth and development of the no-age-statement sector. I see this being particularly true in the higher price brackets, rather than simply at the entry level price point, both in domestic and travel retail markets. We are already seeing the first shoots of this trend, especially in travel retail where research has shown that a high percentage of consumers are driven by flavour profile rather than age.”

– Matt Chambers, co-founder Whisky For Everyone (

Similarly to 2015, 2016 looks to be a year where a number of whisky brands are celebrating birthdays of a rather impressive age and as a result they are digging into their archives for inspiration for upcoming releases. Recreation of original or heritage expressions that were being sold those many years ago, be it through the age statement, flavour profile or simply the style of label, will be on trend and creating a buzz with consumers.
– Karen Taylor, co-founder Whisky for Everyone (
Though the no-age-statement has fared well, it has been the lower age whisky sector – 7, 8, 9 or 10-year-old expressions – which really shined in 2016. Lagavulin, for example, celebrated its 200th anniversary with the launch of Lagavulin 8 Year Old. Although key events have promoted heritage expressions, consumer interest in new, innovative Scotch offerings really flourished in 2016.


Irish whiskey: tourism growth

Irish-whiskey“In our export markets we have seen that millennials are certainly being drawn to Irish whiskey. Irish Whiskey has attracted a new consumer (if compared to Scotch). It’s the younger generation 21 to 35 who see Irish whiskey as approachable and mixable. It can easily be swapped into cocktail mixes even in place of Bourbon.

“With an influx of new entrants there is expected to be growth in whiskey tourism, as many open visitor centres with their distilleries. The industry hopes to increase visitors from 600,000 per annum to 800,000 per annum in the medium-term.

“There are 32 new or proposed distilleries across Ireland. Each have a different vision of what their Irish whiskey will be, meaning that consumers at home and in export markets can expect an array of new and distinct products to choose from. Irish whiskey has carved out its own niche in the global spirits market, relying on the traditional craft of Irish distilling and authentic heritage, underpinned by high-quality whiskey with a distinctive taste and broad appeal.”

– Ross MacMathuna, director of Alcohol Beverage Federation Ireland

Irish whiskey has certainly pulled in the headlines this year thanks to rapid growth and a penchant for distillery building, with new sites popping up in droves. This year Brendan Buckley, global innovation and prestige whiskeys director at Irish Distillers, called on the “big players” to invest in Irish whiskey to ensure the industry’s “boom time” continues.

Rum: gold and spiced success

rum“I think if you look at the category positioning right now we are seeing growth in gold and spiced rums, and that is certainly going to continue – we are definitely seeing more of a boom in the darker variants. The decline we’re seeing in white rum is due to people’s taste preferences changing, but I think we’ll also start seeing some levelling in white rum’s performance this year.”

– Lisa Jazwinski, director of Bacardi Europe

Dark rums certainly took precedence over their paler cousins this year, led by the acceleration of the upward trend for premium and super premium rums. This is likely because consumers are willing to pay more for aged expressions, particularly for innovations such as single casks.

Tequila and mezcal: wild agave

Tequila“Mezcal’s popularity will increase across Europe as people’s appreciation of ‘home-made’ and hand-made’ products is continuously growing. Artisan mezcals will continue finding their way into cocktail menus. Wild agave Mezcals and blends will also grow among connoisseurs and experienced drinkers.”
– Eduardo Gomez, founder of Tequila & Mezcal Fest
“Tequila will continue to grow in 2016 with further premiumisation of the category. As consumer awareness grows, consumption will continue to shift away from shots and into the cocktail and sipping occasions.”
– Sticci Stringfellow, Herradura Tequila brand ambassador 
2016 has been a great year for mezcal; the spirit has claimed a significant spot on the global spirits landscape, and this looks set to continue as the craft boom and echoes across each category. There have been a surge in brands stretching out beyond their domestic markets – even drinks giant Pernod confirmed it has a mezcal product “in the pipeline”.

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