FLAVOURED BRANDY IS NOT STRICTLY BRANDY – BUT WITHOUT IT, MANY PRODUCERS WOULD BE IN A STICKY SPOT. Flavours are now the engine for many producers outside of cognac and armagnac. The battle once fought on price at the unsexy end of brandy has shifted and producers of these hybrids are now working in a younger dimension.
The likes of Christian Brothers, Paul Masson, St Rémy, Three Barrels and Torres are now brandies without borders – their flavoured identities crossing paths with flavoured [spirit drinks] from scotch, Canadian, Tennessee, bourbon and Irish whiskies, spiced rums and even vodka.
The US is the number one destination for flavoured spirits. Heaven Hill communication manager Josh Hafer explains the phenomenon: “Millennials have grown up with flavours. Flavoured tea, Mountain Dew, water – it’s their expectation of the market.”
Honey has become the choice for brown spirits – its staggering proliferation leaving us wondering what these brands did without it. Bardinet’s Beehive brandy was preordained for honey notoriety from birth, and its Honey edition has been around for 10 years now, launching in the US, Russia then Europe, Middle East and Asia. Isabelle Dubois, director of marketing at Beehive owner Bardinet, says there is a “popular following for the taste of honey, bees and the positive connotations associated with them in many cultures”.
Bees are pretty cool – and, while honey is essentially sugar (82g per 100g), the perception is that it is packed with natural goodness. The less said about the shortage of honeybees the better – according to the BBC last year there was a seven billion honeybee deficit in Europe.
St Rémy has taken it a provenance-cue further with the launch of French Honey in the UK, Canada, Russia, Nigeria and other markets with a sweet tooth. Terry Barker, sales and marketing director of UK distributor for St Rémy Celler Trends, has witnessed the flavour boom. He says there is little room for upward growth for non-cognac brandy as cognac has such a stranglehold in the UK, particularly in the on-trade, which is “90% cognac”. The new St Rémy Honey will now battle William Grant & Sons UK’s Three Barrels Honey, launched last September, and honey leaders Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam.
In the US, honey is no longer flavour of the month. That title goes to Peach, which, according to Heaven Hill associate brand manager MaryCrae Gill is growing at 80% and was the number one new spirit flavour in 2013. “Peach has gone crazy,” she says. “Flavours are an opportunity to move consumers into brandy.” This view, though subversive, is widespread among brandy producers, who treat flavours as a recruiting exercise. But as the flavour category innovates, it’s hard to see consumers jumping from the fun ship. The truth is, the flavoured category is too young for us to know either way.
Torres has also spiced up its brandy offering, looking to catch the eye of more female and younger consumers. Torres Spiced will start in Spain, Mexico and Russia, but potentially Torres’ 150 worldwide markets. “It will have a positive effect on the reputation of brandies, which in some countries and segments have a rather traditional image,” says master distiller Matias Llobet.
Torres Spiced will take on Jim Beam’s Red Stag Spiced, Wild Turkey Spiced, William Lawson’s Spiced and might do unlikely duel with Captain Morgan and Bacardi Oakheart. This is probably not where a venerable brandy producer such as Torres envisaged it would be competing in 2015, but flavoured spirits have redrawn the lines of engagement.
If the sugar rush ever slows, brandy producers may struggle against the big fish of Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam and Captain Morgan. That said, the human palate is programmed to enjoy sweetness. Trying to wean the world off sugar is not going to happen, so now sweetened spirits are here, they are probably here to stay. Even if the bees do run out.