IF VODKA WAS A teenager it would probably have spent the past few years sulking in its bedroom, writing bad poetry about the unfairness of gin getting all the attention while it, the most mixable of all spirits and the biggest global category by far, was failing in column inches – at least favourable ones.
After all, gin just tastes of juniper and vodka had done its damnedest to shake off its flavourless, odourless (which, if it was a teenager, it almost certainly would not be) reputation by creating a raft of exciting flavours, from peanut butter & jelly to smoked salmon or bacon, getting itself filtered through diamonds and gaining all manner of celebrity endorsement. What more did consumers want?
And then along came the ‘craft’ movement and it started to look like people actually wanted less, not more.
No drinks category has escaped ‘craft’, although vodka may have come later to the party than most. Maybe because it was too busy sulking in its bedroom.
Indeed, Joe McCanta, brand ambassador for the French-produced super-premium Grey Goose, refers to the flavoured trend as vodka’s “awkward teenage period, where brands were being almost like mother’s milk.
“It was all about nostalgia – that’s not going to give complexity”.
But, as he adds, trends come and go and he predicts a lot of brands will “fall by the wayside as vodka comes out of this phase”. But the survivors and the newcomers have grasped the concept that consumers are seeking out the ‘natural’ in every aspect of their purchases, from food and cosmetics to drinks, and this is having an effect on the spirits sector as a whole.
While what actually constitutes ‘craft’ is something of a grey area, it’s always been black and white for Grey Goose. “We have always been the same thing since we launched 20 years ago. People were thinking about vodka as a tasteless, odourless spirit and we came out trying to change that. Now a lot of people are talking about taste and how you achieve that,” says McCanta.
Grey Goose was created by former cognac-maker Françoise Thibault, who still today oversees all the production, from field to bottle, and tests every batch. The spirit uses the same grade of wheat that is used for French bread and pastries, the flour is milled onsite and the water is naturally filtered through limestone from a well in Gensac-la-Paulle in the Cognac region.
This is the kind of story today’s spirits consumers literally lap up and helps to account for Grey Goose being the number two best selling and number four top trending vodka in Drinks International’s 2017 Bars Report.
And it hasn’t hurt Absolut either, which sits just behind Grey Goose in both categories. “The ‘craft’ movement is showing that consumers more and more value genuine brands and production methods,” says Henrik Ellström, director of brand strategy for Absolut, “and Absolut has everything to win from this considering our authentic brand story and strong heritage and quality credentials.