Spirits for every occasion - analysis

From aperitivo moments to barbecues, cocktail hour and after dinner drams, there’s a world of drinking occasions for retailers to get behind, finds Jaq Bayles

The festive season may have the edge when it comes to intensity of drinking occasions, but in terms of longevity and diversity, the opportunities of summer stretch out like an endless golden coastline for producers, retailers and consumers alike. 

Of course, there’s no guarantee that a UK summer will deliver the sort of weather everyone hopes for, but a gloriously warm and sunny Easter period will have boosted hopes for a summer brimming with picnics, barbecues, after-work gatherings and garden parties. 

The occasion that has been a rising star over the past few years is that of aperitivo, brought to the public consciousness largely by Campari’s Aperol and its classic spritz serve. It has become an Instagram hit and other brands have tried to emulate this success with their own spritz versions. 

London’s Doghouse Distillery co-founder Katherine Saunders says she and her Australian husband, Braden, originally put Aperol Spritz on a menu in their Brisbane bar back in 2011, “and nobody drank it”. But she points out that social media has changed dramatically since then and “if an idea catches on it just flies and goes global, which is what has happened with the spritz movement”. 

To which end Doghouse has launched what it hopes will be “England’s answer to Aperol” in its Doppelgänger aperitivo. 

“We’ve known of Italian aperitivo for a long time, but we really wanted to bring the British into it. Doppelgänger is kind of taking the inspiration from what the Italians have done. They create incredible liquids. The whole point behind an aperitivo is the fact that it is easy to digest, it’s the perfect thing to drink in the afternoon before eating – the herbs and roots in it are all helping prepare your body for a meal.” 

While Saunders points to the upcoming Jubilee and Wimbledon as key summer drinking occasions, she also believes that consumers are hanging on to some of the habits they acquired during lockdowns, such as “drinking at home and not feeling guilty about having an aperitif in their own garden”, and says a Brit Spritz is the perfect entrée to “set up the rest of your evening, whether that goes into a barbecue or out for dinner. It’s the perfect sunny experience”. 

COCKTAIL HOUR 

While many consumers have been seduced by the simple serve of the spritz, others have been discovering their inner mixologist and will be looking to impress with their cocktail-making skills during athome summer celebrations, and this is certainly a trend that’s been seen at Master of Malt. 

Head of brand Giovana Petry says: “Just in the month of April, Master of Malt’s ‘Mixers’ category has seen sales grow incredibly, leaning into the at-home cocktail-making trend. Interestingly, vermouth has seen steady growth throughout the year, with a notable spike in sales on the week of March 22 when the UK experienced unseasonably warm weather. While vermouth is a crucial ingredient in many cocktails, it’s also a great low-abv option for people looking to have lighter serves or spritzes, explaining its popularity. 

“At Master of Malt we place emphasis on different spirits depending on the time of year. Recently, and looking forward, we have been and will be placing a larger focus on rum in Master of Malt campaigns, as well as cocktail components and recipes, all of which are in high demand as the weather gets warmer and people look to socialise. 

“Our Easter Landing Page showcased three cocktail recipes in video form, helping people prepare and get inspired for the bank holiday weekend, while we’re also sharing more and more cocktail videos on our social media channels. Master of Malt is also prioritising bundles, particularly those comprising cocktail ingredients. Again, since the beginning of April, sales of bundles have not only been steadily rising, but look to be remaining high.” 

There are still plenty of consumers who prefer the convenience of a ready-made cocktail, and Petry says: “The more the year goes on, and the closer to summer and warmer weather we get, the larger spikes we’re seeing in RTD and pre-bottled cocktail sales – the Jaffa Cake Negroni was recently launched to great success, and many others are following suit.”

For many years, gin has been another popular summer drink, so it’s no surprise that producers like to release seasonal editions. Among them this year is Martin Miller’s, which celebrated its dual Icelandic and English roots by releasing on April 21 – the first day of summer in the Icelandic calendar – a limited batch Summerful gin, which includes a distillation of botanicals from England and Iceland’s spring and summer seasons, Arctic thyme and rosemary.

Kirsty Loftus, West and North Europe area manager for brand owner Zamora Company, adds: “We are continuing with the season in late May with our World Bee Week activation, which sees us set up initiatives with bars and restaurants in London, Manchester and Edinburgh around our Bee’s Knees signature serve for Summerful. Each city will see honey supplied in the branded cocktail kits from local honey producers.” 

She says that the strategy is to filter down from cocktails in bars and restaurants to purchases from retail, and recreating the moment at home. 

“Every Bee’s Knees serve given will be accompanied by an information leaflet and complimentary thyme seeds for customers to plant at home and encourage their own thriving bee community.” 

While gin is, of course, still wildly popular, there are signs that the saturated market is now levelling out, with Oxford Wine Co head of buying Aljoscha Wright saying: “We have actually seen a significant decrease in sales of gin, I think we are down 37% on gin sales, so we are trying to wrap that category up a little bit.” 

But does he expect summer to change that? “The pessimist in me thinks not. I’m certainly not seeing a lot of uptake in interest at all.” 

Wright adds that the company has recently been promoting rum through Zoom and customer-facing tastings and has seen quite a spike in sales. He says: “We are very much focused on the at-home drinking occasion, whether it be an after-dinner sipping rum or something to mix into a cocktail at a barbecue or a picnic.” 

THRILL OF THE GRILL 

While it is generally associated with the cooler months, whisky has been carving out a niche for itself when it comes to barbecues. 

Lauren Priestley, Diageo head of category development, off-trade, says: “Research has shown that whisky and food occasions are growing, with whisky becoming more accessible to a wider range of consumers as people explore pairing whisky and food. Pairing Bulleit bourbon, for example, with a steak, burger or vegetarian alternative, or enjoying a glass of The Singleton with chocolate or a dessert as afters, can add something special to your barbecue.” 

And Dan Priseman, Whistle Pig Europe and UK brand steward, says: “With the summer approaching, we are expanding into barbecues and garden parties for consumption. For summer serves, rather than concentrating on traditional whiskey cocktails, we are driving more highballs and refreshing, long drinks. 

“We are seeing that the at home cocktail trend is continuing to grow – Covid really cemented the concept for quality drinks being enjoyed at home and now people don’t want to go back to drinking something that isn’t premium.” 

So, it seems all the signs are pointing to a summer of home drinking occasions in consumers’ lockdown-improved surroundings.

 

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