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Future daze: spirits trends for 2024

Changing whisky regulations, the full return of global travel retail, and a deep dive into Latin American spirits are on the agenda for the year ahead.

2024 spirits trends

*This feature was first published in the January 2024 issue of The Spirits Business magazine.

It hasn’t been an easy year for the spirits world, but it’s onwards and upwards for 2024. The Spirits Business looks at five key trends likely to shake up the sector in the next 12 months.

In 2023, we predicted that cost pressures would encourage drinkers to stick to established brands, alternative agave spirits and shōchū would shine, and flavoured whisky and vodka would take off.

This year, we’re predicting the rise of Latin American spirits, a change in whisky regulations, and a boost for events and experiences, as well as a glorious return for global travel retail.

All change for whisky rules?

whisky barrels

With whisky distilleries popping up all over the world, there’s a huge demand for casks. Bourbon’s regulation requires new white oak – but is there enough wood to satisfy the sector? “It would not surprise me, five years from now, for the legal stuff to be changed so that we can reuse barrels a second time,” says Dixon Dedman, master blender for Kentucky’s 2XO Whiskey. Conversely, there’s a growing movement for a formal definition of American single malts.

Kieran Healey-Ryder, global head of communication, Whyte & Mackay, expects a similar issue for the Scotch industry, which stipulates a three-year maturation in oak: “We’re starting to see pressure to rethink the definition of whisky. Even if we didn’t have new producers, the volumes for existing cask suppliers would be too much.”

While Bourbon and Scotch might be loosening their regulations, Japan and Wales have tightened regulations, though neither have stipulated cask requirements. Could England and Australia follow suit?

Mix up in the RTD market

Franklin & Sons RTDs

The ready-to-drink (RTD) category is the fastest-growing in the spirits sector, but is there any space for innovation?

A growing trend sees spirits firms partner with mixer brands, rather than pairing their prized liquids with unbranded soft drinks. In November 2022, Jack Daniel’s debuted a partnership with Coca-Cola. “It brings together two iconic US brands that have grown to have a global footprint,” explains Maureen Brekka, global senior vice-president of Brown-Forman’s RTD business.

Mixer brand Franklin & Sons has partnered with a few spirits brands, including Manchester Gin and RedLeg Spiced Rum.

James Stimson, Franklin & Sons’ senior brand manager, says: “The chance to differentiate product and get more shelf space with well-considered spirit and mixer partnerships will see many brands expand here. For the consumer, an RTD developed between two premium brands offers a ‘try-before-you-buy’ opportunity at a time when those hit by inflation might be less likely to reach for a bottle of spirit.”

Cheers to Latin America

There’s a whole world of Latin American spirits to discover. Cocuy is a Venezuelan agave spirit, which could help ease concerns about Mexico’s ability to satisfy the world’s thirst for Tequila.

Away from agave, Singani is a Bolivian brandy that received legal recognition in the US in 2023 after an eight-year campaign. And while pisco might be familiar to many, there could be a growing market for it in 2024 as Chilean government body ProChile works to develop its presence in new markets.

Kimpton hotels are weaving some of these spirits into its menus. “Latin American spirits have versatility, and can be served within craft cocktails or sampled on the rocks,” says IHG Hotels + Resorts’ director of beverage programmes and partnerships, luxury and lifestyle Americas, Katherine Wojcik. “Singani can be enjoyed on its own, in a Highball with lemon-lime soda, or as a fruity option with fresh orange juice and simple syrup.”

A full comeback for global travel retail

global travel retail airport

The past few years haven’t been the greatest for global travel retail (GTR), with the pandemic closing borders in 2020.

While most countries allowed travellers again from 2022, China kept its borders closed to foreign tourists until March 2023. In October 2023, Erik Juul-Mortensen, the Tax Free World Association’s president, warned that passenger numbers were still 10% behind pre-Covid levels.

But 2024 could well be the year GTR returns to normal, with Ian McLernon, CEO of Rémy Cointreau for EMEA, Asia Pacific and GTR, expecting Chinese travellers to come back in the second half of 2024. Andrew Cowan, managing director of Diageo Global Travel, agreed that GTR is bouncing back: “Some Asia Pacific consumers were clearly slower to come back into the channel as air travel took longer to open in those parts but, across Asia, we are seeing a mix of consumers on the move again and seeking unusual gifts.”

Events and experiences

Vinexpo New York wb

Trade shows came back with a bang in 2023, but 2024 looks set to be an even bigger year for the sector.

Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris says that it will have 28% extra floor space for spirits at this year’s show. UK-based The Whisky Exchange revealed that ticket sales for its Cognac Show were up by 20% in 2023 compared with 2022, and Rum Show ticket sales were up by 34%.

“People are certainly more experimental,” says Dawn Davis, head buyer at The Whisky Exchange. “They seem more interested in learning than drinking – they’re engaging more and more each year with the brands.

“In tough times, shows allow consumers to try things that, in the past, they might have bought straight away. Now they can taste before they commit.”

Producers can get in on the experience trend outside of trade shows. Northern Ireland’s Bushmills, Japan’s Yamazaki Distillery and Scotland’s Dunphail Distillery opened visitor centres in 2023, while Chivas Brothers opened its guest house in Scotland to the public.

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