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SB Voices: Celebrating a milestone moment

As The Spirits Business releases its 100th issue, Amy Hopkins looks at all that has changed in the 11 years since the magazine’s launch.

This month, The Spirits Business will release its 100th issue

When the first issue of The Spirits Business was sent to print almost 11 years ago, the world was a remarkably different place. Since then, wars have ended, governments have formed and dissolved, new technologies have made an indelible mark on the international marketplace, and economies have crashed, only to rise once more.

Little could readers have guessed in October 2007, when SB made its debut, that Donald Trump – then seen as a famous property magnate with an eccentric hairstyle and presenter of the US version of The Apprentice – could become the world’s most powerful politician. And not even the most trusted of crystal balls could have foreseen the UK’s shock exit from the European Union or the prospect of peace between North and South Korea.

One need only flick through our inaugural magazine to see that the spirits industry is also much changed today.

In 2007, commentators were still reeling over Sidney Frank’s jaw­-dropping US$2 billion sale of Grey Goose to Bacardi, and one feature in SB considered what the brand builder extraordinaire’s next move would be. While the US group had certainly created a spirits titan in Grey Goose, it didn’t make another transformative acquisition or sale, and was swallowed whole by one of its own partner brands – Jägermeister – in 2015.

The issue also featured interviews with whisky veteran Sandy Hyslop, who at the time had recently become master blender for Ballantine’s, and the late Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jimmy Bedford, who sadly died less than two years later.

Fast­ forward to February 2008 when SB ran an interview with the now disgraced Vijay Mallya, discussing his empire and plans for United Spirits’ newly acquired Whyte & Mackay whisky business. Much has changed for Mallya and USL, now controlled by Diageo – and it seems fair to assume that 2008 was a simpler time for the Indian tycoon.

The gin revolution is one of the many trends that has altered the face of the spirits industry since SB‘s launch

He did, however, predict that “India will be the biggest market for Scotch whisky in the next five to 10 years” – a sign of the unpredictability of spirits markets. Today, India is the fourth largest market for Scotch by volume, and the 13th in terms of value – discussions about the market’s 150% import tariff for spirits are as pertinent now as they were 10 years ago.

The rapid growth of gin over the past decade is one of the biggest spirits success stories in recent history. Once seen as outdated and boring, gin has now been appropriated by that most coveted of demographics – millennials – and has assumed a whole new identity. In the UK, annual gin sales hit £1.4bn in 2017, the equivalent of nearly every British adult buying a bottle of the spirit. Its soaring popularity is in part to do with consumer interest in locally produced, provenance-led goods – that is, the boom in all things ‘craft’, ‘artisan’ and ‘handmade’. At the birth of SB, it was the big brands that were feted, but a swathe of successful smaller producers means very different market dynamics are now at play.

The resurgence of spirits such as gin and Bourbon is also largely owed to the on-trade and its international network of classic cocktail bars. By going back to traditional values of craftsmanship, choice ingredients and impeccable service, the on-trade has ushered in a new era of high-quality bartending, which can be seen everywhere from Los Angeles to Leeds. The significance of the on-trade to the trends that have shaped the wider spirits industry cannot be underestimated.

While change has indeed been staggering, many topics are seemingly locked in an echo chamber. In the editorial comment for the very first issue of SB, the imbalance of supply and demand for old Scotch whisky was lamented – a familiar story still relevant to today’s market. Similarly, the premiumisation of rum and Tequila was a hot topic.

Looking back on our portfolio, it’s clear to see the magazine’s own growth, too, with production increasing from a handful of issues per year to one every month. And as demand for quick and easily digestible news grew, so did our online presence. Today, SB dedicates significant time and resources to making our news provision one of the best in the business, with an extensive daily newsletter and social media presence. Our magazine has also grown in size, covering a vast array of topics, regions and categories, with a much-enhanced focus on the on-trade.

Each of the 100 SB magazines serves as a time capsule for the industry to look back on its remarkable journey, learn from past mistakes, recognise achievements and celebrate peers and friends, some of whom are no longer with us. With so much transformation over the past decade, one can only imagine what we will be writing about in 2028.

The June 2018 edition of The Spirits Business magazine will be out soon. 

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