SB Voices: Next stop, the innovation station

23rd March, 2018 by Owen Bellwood

As big brands relaunch old products, Owen Bellwood asks if anything is ever truly ‘new’ in the spirits world.

Imbibers are demanding more from their classic cocktails

In recent weeks, the spirits world has celebrated the relaunch of a number of forgotten recipes and old products.

While I can appreciate the important role these drinks may have had, the relaunches had me a little worried – can it be that all the recipes have been made?

It seems like a daft question, but when one of the world’s biggest spirits brands is celebrating a 20-year-old recipe, rather than coming up with something from scratch, it gets the mind racing.

On reflection it would appear that my frantic mind had no reason to fret, as this looks to be the exception, rather than the norm.

We may have seen a number of old products brought back to life, but that’s nothing compared to the amount of exciting new releases that have landed on our desks here at SB towers in the last few weeks.

We’ve seen Ardbeg release its first wine cask aged expression, an Irish distillery launch a vodka made from the sausage tree and a Scottish distillery even launched a gin aimed at horse fans – made from apples, carrots and hay.

As the number of brands clamouring to be seen by imbibers grows and grows, the level of innovation and creativity is also on the up.

It is no longer acceptable for a distillery to release a middle of the road product – it’s seemingly essential for anything new to market to have some exciting or creative aspect.

From a vodka designed to mix with water to the bottling of the world’s strongest gin, fledgling brands around the world are forging their own identity by doing something different, and that has to be recognised. It also begs the question, if a maple syrup gin is a good idea today, what will these producers be doing in five or 10 years time?

And as consumers are drawn to these creative new products, they have begun to demand more from their bartenders. An Espresso Martini made with vodka, Kahlua, coffee and syrup may just not cut it anymore, and instead, bartenders are heading to the nearest innovation station and hopping aboard the creative train.

London bar Swift launched its latest menu and it is chock full of new ways to look at ‘classic’ cocktails. Three Sheets in Dalston has reinvented the Cosmopolitan with its Cosmo, which replaces cranberry juice with a homemade cranberry ferment.

Even historical cocktail bar Dukes is joining the reinvention bandwagon.

As well as a number of twists on the Martini, the hotel bar now serves its own version of the Negroni, made with smoky Islay whisky and an extra spritz of smoke essence – just to up the phenol content.

While it may be appealing to look back on the golden age of cocktails and old-school spirit production, in this young writer’s mind, those days haven’t got anything on what’s to come.

With spirits producers looking to push the definitions of their products, and bartenders around the world testing what they can do with ingredients, its an exciting time to be writing about the world of spirits, cocktails and imbibing.

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