Herbal Bitters: covering all bases

04 January, 2023

Czech brand Becherovka is in a similar position, according to Petr Polak, head of marketing CZ&SK for Jan Becher at Pernod Ricard. “As a very versatile brand, Becherovka is being activated and is benefiting from both main drinking occasions – as a shot, and as a cocktail base much appreciated by bartenders for its unique taste,” he says.

Becherovka is an example of the strength of brands within the herbal bitters category, often with long histories and loyal fanbases. “In our communication, Becherovka represents a timeless classic in an always faster-changing world,” says Polak.

Honesty and authenticity

Germany’s Schierker Feuerstein benefits from its brand’s credentials in a similar way. “As a regionally based brand in the Harz, Schierker Feuerstein meets the zeitgeist of consumers more than ever – they want honest, authentic regional products,” says marketing manager Julia Brökers.

Another brand with a loyal following, most notably in its hometown of Chicago, is Jeppson’s Malört – in spite of, or perhaps in part because of, its divisive flavour profile. “One of the reasons it’s popular is the constant search people have for brands that they can actually connect to,” says Tremaine Atkinson, chief executive and head distiller of brand owner CH Distillery. “Malört has that because it’s real – it’s never had a slick marketing programme. It’s also got Chicago written all over it, which Chicagoans love.”

CH Distillery acquired the brand about four years ago, and sales have tripled in that time, according to Atkinson. And there’s more potential, he believes. “We want it to grow, so we’re at a juncture here, trying to figure what next level of appeal it can have,” he says. “I think that lower-calorie serves, and not always as a shot, isn’t a bad way to go.”

While a significant amount of FernetBranca is consumed as a shot – when it’s not being mixed with cola in vast quantities in Argentina – the brand has seen success with cocktails too, according to brand manager Selina Raggett. “While the UK consumer is less accustomed to drinking herbal bitters neat, the popularity and growth of cocktail culture has proved to be a huge opportunity,” she says. “Consumers are increasingly enjoying premium cocktails both in and out of home, allowing a herbal bitter such as Fernet-Branca to be enjoyed in both classics and in original cocktails created by the on-trade.”

Anna McFarlane, UK brand ambassador for Angostura, which has its own herbal bitter, Amaro di Angostura, is seeing growing interest in the category in general. “In Edinburgh alone there have been at least two specific bitters bars opened in the past few years – Bittersweet and Hey Palu. So from a UK perspective, there is a certain buzz around the category.”

McFarlane sees the potential benefits for Angostura’s brand, and for the category in general. “I think the opportunity is to educate the consumer on the category, and it’s a great opportunity for Amaro di Angostura to benefit from the trend too,” she says.

While not entirely new – it was launched in 2014 – Angostura’s offering highlights the potential for innovation in the category, alongside products with many decades of history and tradition. The category’s major players have risen to the challenge in recent years, including Becherovka.

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