Experts predict top spirits trends in 2017By Annie Hayes
If you’re curious about what the coming year has in store for the global spirits sphere, look no further than our comprehensive round-up of industry predictions.
In 2016, we saw the use of signature botanicals in gin, an Irish whiskey boom, and growth in gold and spiced rums. Meanwhile, Mezcal’s popularity increased across Europe and an increasingly diverse supply of malts hit American whiskey.
While 2017 will likely see a fair few of these trends continue, each category will no doubt witness the emergence of new phenomena as the year unfolds. We ask a panel of professionals for their predictions for the year ahead.
Click through the following pages to discover the spirits trends to watch 2017. Think our experts have missed one? Have your own predictions? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Euan Campbell, spirits manager, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society –
“For me, Scotch whisky is full of character, evocative, and best enjoyed in good company. With that in mind I think that we are likely to see new releases honing in on the spectrum of flavours and the convivial elements of Scotch.
“This may result in further innovative collaborations between producers and coopers, or experimenting with various strains of yeast in the pursuit ground-breaking flavour development.
“We may also see further utilisation in the world of mixology, with new premium whiskies specifically made for mixing.”
“I reckon with about half a dozen new distilleries opening up this year and unceasing innovation, the Scotch sector will continue blooming. Some companies are tackling the temporary aged stock shortage better than others as we see in the quality of some new no age statement releases.
“The Japanese whisky craze is reaching a hugely inflated value-for-money situation – given the increased demand and hype it could well cause a bit of a bubble burst at some point, but hopefully all stays positive.
“There’s also a need for more unbiased objective professional journalists to balance the opinion pieces by ‘expert’ bloggers or social media superheroes. In some cases, for the general public, factual calm tasting notes and stories are far more educational and fun than loud private opinions, but it is good to have both of them out there.
“Scotch and whisk(e)y as a spirit category is still an easy to evaluate topic compared to becoming a Master of Wine, for instance. Professional qualifications may be the way to improve the knowledge part.”
David T Smith, independent spirits consultant –
“The gin distilling business is booming in Australia and New Zealand; the island of Tasmania alone has over 12 gin distilleries. Whilst brands like Four Pillars and Westwinds have been around for a while, expect to see many more reach the UK and US this year. There is also the concept of ‘Bush Gin’ as a particular style of gin, which utilises Australia’s endemic flora and has its own distinct characteristics.
“As predicted last year, we saw the rise of signature botanical gins: those that highlight a particular ingredient on the bottle. We saw releases from Haven, Whittaker’s, Wrecking Coast, and others, and can expect plenty more in 2017.
“Expect to see some wild experimentation in 2017 as more distillers are commissioned for bespoke projects or commercial collaborations.
“2016 also saw some established distilleries sold to larger companies: Liverpool Gin, the Spencerfield Spirit Company (Edinburgh Gin), Monkey 47, and Sipsmith. This was the first time in many years that serious money has been paid for gin companies and I don’t think that the buying spree is over yet. Look out for distilleries between three and five years old.”
John Burke, co-founder, Craft Gin Club –
“The gin market will continue to go from strength to strength with consumers discovering new craft gins and distillers producing even more creative gins.
“Craft gins will continue to eat into the market share of established brands with those brands’ parent companies exploring acquisitions of craft distilleries.
“Don’t be surprised if by the end of 2017 one or two British craft distilleries follow Sipsmith – which was purchased by Beam Suntory at the end of 2016 – in selling to a global spirits house.”
Ian Burrell, global rum ambassador –
“My prediction for the rum category this year is that consumers will start to question more what the type of rum is in their glass and are they getting real value for money?
“With an increase in true premium rums being launched in 2017 such as Diplomatico Planas; Foursquare’s ‘Triptych’ & ‘2005’ single blended rums; Appleton’s master blender, Joy Spence’s 25 year old and even Bacardi’s acquisition of Santa Teresa’s distribution rights will have the chatter at rum festivals, in rum clubs and online dictating a shift in how premium rums are made, marketed and sold.
“Also with most people focusing on the Bacardi vs Havana Club trademark war in the US, look out for a few other Cuban rum brands getting ready to up their awareness on the international stage.
“Rum cocktails will also continue to drive the category as bartenders seek to use premium rums in their creations.”
Peter Holland, freelance rum writer, The Floating Rum Shack –
“I think that there are plenty of gains to be made at the top end with a more educated consumer demanding authentically produced rums, with the emphasis on the contents rather than the packaging. With a greater demand for genuine aged products, the cost of the ‘juice’ will surely go up as well, and there’s a risk the middle ground products will lose out a bit with non-age statement blends being dumbed down a bit to compensate.
“The spiced and flavoured end of the market will continue to expand. I’m expecting releases from major players this year, but I’m a bit worried that we’ll have too much ‘Sugar & Spice’ and end up with rum having nothing nice image-wise.
“There may be a touch of desire here, but I very much expect to see more amazing expressions of cachaça and agricole hit the market! Education still very much needed though.”
Veronika Karlova, founder, Girls.Drink.Vodka. –
“In the world of vodka distilling production we are experiencing a combination of the traditional distilling and innovative techniques. Due to growing consumer demands for local spirits and provenance we can expect the rise of craft and terroir-focused vodkas.
“Even the big vodka producers slowly turn their attention toward that end. A good example is Our/Vodka concept launched by Pernod Ricard. The idea of terroir is one borrowed from the world of fine wines. In terms of vodka it means: vodkas that reflect the influence of specific ingredients, waters and the influence of a sense of place – Arbikie, Boyd & Blair, Adnams Vodka.
“Pioneering in the ‘vintage vodka industry’ are brands like Vestal and Karlsson’s Vodka. It is hard to imagine what age does to vodka – such a clean and filtered spirit, but its profile intensifies and becomes richer with age. Potato-based vodkas seem to age best. We will definitely hear more about ‘vintage’ vodka category in 2017.”
Matt Chambers and Karen Taylor, Whisky For Everyone –
“The whiskey industry in Ireland is experiencing an unprecedented boom at the moment and this will continue to accelerate in 2017.
“A number of new distilleries will begin production, while slightly older distilleries that have been in production for a few years will release their first products. Some are also making gin, vodka and poitín as they wait for their whiskey to mature. This is positive for the wider growth of Irish spirits.
“The profile of rising stars such as the Teeling Whiskey Company will continue to grow. Also, experimentation by new brands will be key to success and standing out from the competition.
“This, coupled with big brands such as Jameson and Bushmills offering innovative new product ranges to entice new consumers, makes it an exciting time for the Irish whiskey category.”
Jon Anders Fjeldsrud, agave ambassador, Amathus Drinks –
“I predict that we will see existing brands teaming up or be bought up by established drinks companies, and a focus on this so-called ‘super premium’ category of Tequilas.
“We will see more mezcal brands, still driven by the hospitality industry but with more interest from consumers, and we will also see other agave spirits coming to this market like raicilla, and mezcal from other regions.”
Eduardo Gomez Resediz, founder and director, Tequila & Mezcal Fest –
“Tequila 100% premium and super premium will continue to grow. Big Tequila brands are creating awareness that Tequila is not just a party drink – they want people to look at it as a drink that can be enjoyed like wine or beer which pairs well with food. Mexican cuisine is growing and that is also helping massively.
“Brands want consumers to think or perceive premium Tequila as they do with whiskey; a spirit that can be sipped. In the case of artisanal Mezcal, it will also continue to grow together with the new trends of craft and small batch products.
“I believe that all single malt whiskey drinkers are Mezcal drinkers but they dont know it yet – however, more and more consumers are realising it.”
Greg Dillon, luxury spirits brand consultant, writer at GreatDrams.com –
“I think the American whiskey category will continue to see exponential growth this year as consumers, especially millennial and emerging LDA consumers seek to experience new flavours and non-‘standard’ brands, with Bourbon and newer styles of American whiskey such as Texas single malt and the rapidly expanding rye category captivating the imaginations and curiosities of these consumers.
“I also believe there will be another spate of acquisitions this year too, with consolidation seen in other categories now hitting the American whiskey market as the big players look to shore up their positions and have a foothold in each category and sub-category.
“One thing I sincerely hope will happen this year is that more education and clarity will find its way into the American whiskey market, as it has with Scotch and Irish whiskey over the couple of years as I still do not believe American producers have done enough to help their end consumers understand their Bourbons from their ryes etc. in order to make informed purchasing decisions.
“I also see a trend emerging this year for truly aged whiskies from the small craft producers – last year saw the premiumisation of very young ‘craft’ whiskies, but I think this year and next we will see interesting age statements on a lot more American whiskies to justify their high price tags.”
Athila Roos, private client director, Louis XIII –
“With both the US and Chinese markets showing buoyant figures in the luxury spirits sector, the Cognac category iis likely to follow with the launch of additional lines on the ultra premium/luxury sector, following the already-on-the-market releases of Hennessy 8, Remy Martin’s Louis XIII showcasing the launch of their Mathusalem decanter, and the other major houses trying to catch up.
“On the premium side – £50-100 – we should see the most exciting releases, with some houses experimenting with new toasted oak aging techniques (Martell’s ‘intense heat’ cask finish), a higher focus on vintage releases (look beyond Hine), and smaller producers trying to carve a niche by releasing single cru bottlings to showcase terroir tipicity.
“Specifically for the UK market, the ‘lesser Cognacs’ category – VS and below – is slowly but surely dying whilst that same category seems to be gaining ground in the US. A few houses have released a ‘white Cognac’ – clear spirit – to entice the millennial generation and encourage Cognac as a mixing spirit.
“It should be an exciting year if the houses focus on scarcity, which should come from the blending of rare, exceptional liquid. Releasing yet another ‘limited-and-in-a-lalique-decanter’ simple plonk for a ridiculous sum of money just because the house is celebrating some sort of anniversary is not justifiable.”
Pritesh Mody, founder, World of Zing
“I think this is the year that pre-batch cocktails go mainstream. Whilst they are commonplace in top-end bars, we have been increasingly approached by mid-level restaurants to provide a simple yet high quality cocktail solution for them.
“The concept allows venues to offer interesting drinks to their customers without having to invest in dedicated bar staff or invest in a large back bar.
“By way of example, we have delivered over 50,000 serves to the Rosa’s Thai Café Group, clearly showing the thirst for cocktails in venues that would normally stick with simple spirits, beers and wine, whilst creating a lucrative option for the venue.
“The spritz category really seems to be taking off, particularly as consumers look for lighter serves and our love affair with Prosecco continues. We saw sales of our bottled Spiced Rum Punch and Kings Ginger Punch double at the end of last year simply because we tweaked the label to include a serving suggestion to add a splash into the drinks.”