Article By: Aimsel Ponti
Still the primary focus.
This past year brought with it the continued revival of old classics as well as the ongoing development of new brands on both the domestic and import side.Think the economy has industry folks worried?
The over-whelming sentiment is that spirits are cloaked in recession proof armor because there’s only so much consumers are willing to sacrifice. Although 2OO7 saw a slight decrease in overall sales the glass is certainly half-full. From in-depth discussions with brand managers to impromptu chats with bartenders, some things are still for certain: Death, taxes and cocktails!
Fun, flavor and color.
DeKuyper still dominates on the domestic side and they are never ones to rest on their laurels. Jill Nelson, Associate Brand Manager of DeKuyper for Beam Global Spirits walked me through a plethora of activities that the brand has been up to lately. We’ll start in February 2OO8, when DeKuyper announced what Nelson describes as a breakthrough approach to organizing the category based on how consumers shop and use liqueurs.“We reorganized nearly 6O products into five flavor and usage-based families to make it easier for consumers to understand the category and retailers to stock their shelves,” explains Nelson. The new families – DeKuyper Luscious, DeKuyper Burst, DeKuyper Pucker, DeKuyper Signature, and DeKuyper Flavored Brandy – are based on flavor profile and whether the liqueur is used as a mixer, sipper, shot or after-dinner drink. But this isn’t where the story ends. Last July, DeKuyper announced a new product line with the tagline of “Open, Pour and Party!” “DeKuyper Burst Bar Shots are pre-mixed shots containing all ingredients in one bottle,” says Nelson. Another feather in DeKuyper’s cap came last August: “We reached a brand milestone and celebrated the bottling of the five millionth case of DeKuyper Pucker Sour Apple,” says Nelson.
For advertising, Nelson says they took the traditional trade route and spread the word on new packaging that hit stores last March. “This new look supports the distinct usage and feel of each family.
Nelson was the first brand manager of many I spoke to for this article who acknowledges the national economic downturn yet also remains confident about her brand. “Alcohol sales historically have been resilient during economic downturns, when consumer discretionary spending is typically affected,” she asserts. Although the brand is seeing some slowing consumption at bars and restaurants, Nelson says there are more people buying at their local liquor store. She also says that DeKuyper has been the exclusive cordials sponsor of the Flair Bartenders Association (FBA) in 2OO8 and sponsored four competitions in 2OO7.
They got the fever for the flavor.
Cort Kinker, Brand Manager for Hiram Walker Cordials at Pernod Ricard USA, began our conversation with a flavor launch refresher. “Hiram Walker has been on an innovation path for the past few years and has launched a number of high quality all-natural flavored liqueurs and schnapps.” Pomegranate Schnapps was launched in the fall 2OO6, followed by Pear and Pink Grapefruit Schnapps in spring 2OO7 and White Peach and Blueberry Passion in spring 2OO8. Additionally, three all-natural schnapps flavors were brought over from the Fruja line: Tangerine, Mango and Raspberry. Kinker says this gives Hiram Walker a broad range for “Flavor-tinis”. Hiram Walker also launched Melon Liqueur in fall 2OO7 at “the request of our distributor partners,” adds Kinker. Pumpkin Spice came out in fall 2OO7 and was followed up in 2OO8 with Gingerbread Liqueur. So how did all this activity impact sales? Kinker breaks it down: “Hiram Walker is off to a good start for our 2OO9 fiscal year that began last July. Current Nielsen numbers are positive, with volumes up 3% over the last 52 weeks (ending 1O/18/2OO8) and +2% in the control states. On-premise volumes are a bit depressed given the economic environment but our overall business is growing.”
On the advertising front, Kinker illustrates their two-tier approach. “Hiram Walker uses two vehicles to communicate: trade advertising and the internet.” The online campaign has also been ramped up. “We have been reaching out on the internet to our consumers and improving our search results and making our site easier to navigate, and we have been speaking directly with the blogging community who write about cocktails.” Hiram Walker has also made efforts to improve online recipe offerings. Kinker says that there haven’t been any significant changes to their target consumer. “Hiram Walker has a ‘split’ personality in that we offer so many different categories and flavors. Our Schnapps line continues to target the younger crowd; our classic Liqueur line is broadly appealing, while our Flavored Brandy line is typically targetedata more mature consumer.” The economy has a lot of people singing the blues, but not Cort Kinker. “I would have to say that Hiram Walker might be a beneficiary of the economic difficulties. Our Triple Sec business is up due to our 6O proof product’s quality and favorable price position. Our Peppermint Schnapps is a great value as well when compared to Jagermeister or Southern Comfort.” Going forward with the brand, Kinker speaks of the retail strategy. “Hiram Walker is currently getting out our new Simple-tini Center racks into over 1OOO accounts nationally. These permanent racks allow retailers to offer up to 16 different flavors to their consumers in a unit that very clearly explains how Hiram Walker is used.” Using a simple mix, shake and pour approach, Kinker says the take-away recipe cards gives consumers a few example recipes and directs cocktail lovers to www.SimpleTini.com and Hiram Walker.com to get more recipes. “These Simple-tini Centers are a great opportunity for retailers to generate additional un-planned sales and solve a common issue consumers have of what do they do with this stuff once they buy it.”
Kinker ended our chat by pointing out the pitfalls of the flavored vodka trend and what he thinks consumers should take into consideration saying, “Flavored vodkas have eliminated some of the need for Schnapps and Liqueurs in some cocktails.” But Kinker notes where he feels the flavored vodkas fall short: “What they lack is the color and the ability to modulate the amount of flavor depending on the other ingredients used. So while flavored vodkas are easy, they aren’t always the best solution for making the best tasting cocktails.”
Such coffee achievers.
Stacey Simmons, Senior Brand Manager for Starbucks Liqueurs at Beam Global Spirits, focuses on the brand’s on-going concept of “shared discovery”. “Many of our marketing activities focus on consumers who share their experiences and lifestyles and want to share their discoveries, like Starbucks Liqueurs, with others.” To that end, last year Starbucks Liqueurs announced a new consumer ad campaign in Boston, New York City, Seattle, and Los Angeles.Starbucks also streamlined their drink strategy to focus on cocktails that are relevant to the Starbucks Coffee consumer. “These advertisements show consumers that their coffee choice in the morning can inspire their evening cocktail choice. In essence, consumers can enjoy their Starbucks Gingerbread Latte in the morning and their Starbucks Liqueurs Gingerbread Lattini in the evening,” affirms Simmons. “These consumers are extremely familiar with the assortment of lattes that are available at Starbucks cafes. While these drink offerings change seasonally, they are always based on core-drink platforms (i.e. latte, frappuccino or espresso drinks),” says Simmons.Cocktail wise, Simmons appreciates the importance of schooling. “Drink recipes are a critical element in educating bartenders and consumers on how they can enjoy Starbucks Liqueurs, especially as home entertaining becomes more of a focal point. This approach has put us in a position to be successful in both the on- and off-premise. Our ongoing focus on bartender education will ensure that Starbucks Liqueurs continue to remain relevant as consumer drinking trends shift for years to come.”
With regard to the recession, Simmons too remains upbeat. “Alcohol sales historically have been resilient during economic downturns, when consumer-discretionary spending is typically affected.” Simmons also mentions a new mile high venture: “Starbucks Liqueurs has been available on both United and Delta Airlines as of November 2OO8 allowing consumers the perfect opportunity to sample the product.”
The obtainable luxury.
St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, in its Art Deco bottle, was launched in March of 2OO7, and has since been the media darling and shining star born out of hand-picked flowers grown in a specific region of France. My interview last year with Robert Cooper, creator of St. Germain and President of Cooper Spirits International, told the story of how he was served a cocktail in a London bar about nine years ago that contained a handmade elderflower simple syrup and how that moment revealed his destiny which became St. Germain. When I spoke to Rob Cooper for this article, his tone was one of overwhelming disbelief and gratitude. “I cannot believe that such an esoteric and unusual artisinally produced spirit is doing so well in this age of modernization,” he says. Cooper also says that he very much underestimated the validity of the product within the mainstream. “I think that’s b een one of the bigger surprises over the last year.” The diverse demographic also surprised Cooper because he originally thought St. Germain would be something that would appeal to just the most enthusiastic spirit connoisseurs and young professional women. “It’s gone way beyond that from middle-aged men all the way to 21-year-old college girls to older women. I mean it runs the gamut, so that’s been really amazing.”
The brand continues to sell well but don’t expect it to be mass produced – that’s not Cooper’s goal nor is it logistically possible. “We’re limited in terms of capacity so we can’t sell a million cases. But you know, we do have the ability to make some juice so we’ve been working really hard. The spring 2OO8 harvest was clearly our biggest yet; we harvested a large quantity of elderflowers successfully and made an even larger quantity of the liqueur.” Cooper also speaks of an unusual component of St. Germain: “The baseline objective of major spirits companies with liqueurs is to be interminably consistent and stable. To have this kind of product that always stays the same is, I think, a universally important factor for most liqueur producers. For me it’s totally out the window, it’s not a possibility whatsoever.” Cooper states his product is much more similar to a wine in that respect. “Each year the flowers are slightly different and therefore the liqueur is slightly different. The flowers are actually affected, primarily by weather conditions so if we have an ideal weather pattern in advance of the harvest, we can have unusually flavorful harvests, and it’s usually directly related to the size of the flower.” As an example, Cooper says that if there’s a lot of rain in the late winter followed by a lot of sunshine the elderflowers are much larger in diameter and much more flavorful as a result.
Cooper would rather not think about the economy but knows where he stands on it. “It’s a bit difficult for us to allow that to be a part of our kind of metrics in that we’re growing so much as it is. They say the spirits industry is impervious to economic swings. I don’t know if that’s 1OO% true. I think with a product that’s an obtainable luxury like a St. Germain, maybe we even realize a little bit of an increase because people can’t go out and buy a pair of diamond earrings for their wife but they can sure as hell spent 35 bucks on a bottle of St. Germain.”
The marketing of St. Germain is where old meets new.
“Obviously we have a pretty unique campaign in terms of marketing. Our process is to be a conduit between sort of quirky French vintage culture and the American consumer so we’ve continued to focus on that as well as cocktails,” says Cooper. “It’s not just about the economics for us, it’s about creating an environment for our consumer to kind of have an experience that they find memorable and enjoyable.” This approach is the cornerstone of the brand’s campaign and Cooper remarks they are going to continue to build upon that in the coming year.
Cocktail wise, I wondered aloud if the original St. Germain Cocktail made with St. Germain, Champagne and sparkling water, could ever be topped. “I would say the one drink that has really stood out the most to me, is a drink called La Rosette. It’s a half ounce of St. Germain topped with a Brut Rosé Champagne, so like a dry rosé sparkling wine in a flute,” explains Cooper. Another cocktail which Cooper says is very apropos for the fall/winter season is called the Elder Fashioned. He says it was originally created as a kind of a distant riff on the classic Old Fashioned. He was quick, however, to point out how the Old Fashioned has changed. “Originally it was whiskey and sugar and bitters and that’s it, with a lemon twist, and then it kind of got bastardized over the years with muddled orange and maraschino cherries and shouldn’t be an Old Fashioned at all.” The Elder Fashioned honors the original recipe. “It’s the traditional template of the Old Fashioned using a nice bourbon or a nice dry whiskey, a half ounce of St. Germain and some angostura bitters. It’s stirred and then served on the rocks with a lemon twist – it’s such an awesome drink.”
The red stuff is in the black.
Over the course of writing this article, more than one person I spoke to mentioned the continued popularity of PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur, released in 2OO6. So I went right to the source and spoke to Joshua Hafer. He’s the Corporate Communications Manager at Heaven Hill Distilleries, producers of the crowd-pleasing red elixir. He sums up the past year succinctly saying: “PAMA Liqueur has been a real success for us on-premise. We are quite proud of our sales team and their ability to continue the momentum of the brand. As a result, we have managed to produce meaningful growth.” A key marketing angle has been the leveraging of the “Pomegranate Perfected” tagline which Hafer says is used across all sales and communication vehicles. “The brand is perfect for a variety of occasions and experiences, including Valentine’s, New Years and personal occasions. Each campaign uses the mixability and sophistication as key promises,” says Hafer. Recipe creation has also been important to the brand. “We have regularly employed some of the finest mixologists in the country to create event specific recipes.” Another recent PAMA promotion has taken them into the publishing and movie business. “We partnered with lucky magazine and Warner Brothers. to promote the product via the new film, “She’s Just Not That Into You”. Hafer sees nothing but blue skies for PAMA as the brand has clearly survived its temporary new brand explosion and is headed towards being a mainstay. “The brand is still so early in its growth that we expect great things to continue,” he concludes.
The organolyptic effect.
Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur held onto its number two spot behind Jagermeister as the best selling import. It grew 1.2% last year to reach 1.4 million cases. Peter O’Connor is the Brand Ambassador and Vice-President of Baileys. He’s been with the brand since 1981 and spends much of his time helping the new generation of marketers and PR professionals to understand what the brand is all about and how it works. “I am very proud of its success so I want it to continue into the future way beyond my retirement time which is a long way away by the way,” says O’Connor.O’Connor’s timeline recap mentioned the 2OO6 launch of Baileys with a Hint of Mint Chocolate and Baileys with a Hint of Caramel as well as last year’s launch of Baileys with a Hint of Coffee. “About four years ago we started looking at the whole of Baileys flavor at the time when Smirnoff vodka was launching very successful flavors as were quite a few others drinks in the marketplace.” O’Connor said they were reluctant to go that route with Baileys because the actual taste and the organolyptic effect of Baileys Original is so special and it is what consumers really enjoy. Organolyptic what? Suffice it to say, I needed an explanation of this and O’Connor was happy to oblige, offering a detailed description: “When you drink Baileys the following happens: first the cream melts on your tongue at body temperature, releases the alcohol, you get the taste of whisky at the back of your tongue but you also get a warming sensation from the whisky which goes down to your tummy, warms up your tummy and it makes you feel good,” he explains. O’Connor crystallizes the effect in three phases: “The physicality of your taste buds working, the sensations that are delivered by the alcohol and the cream and the overall emotions. That’s called the organolyptic effect and every product has a unique organolyptic effect.” When Baileys launched the three flavor extensions, the goal was to maintain the integrity of the original Baileys organolyptic effect while adding a little extra piece of flavor.
Speaking on the current economy, O’Connor conveys that cordials aren’t part of anyone’s belt tightening plans. “We’ve grown the past year and we have no worries about hitting our target for this year.” He says that macro expenditures like cars, gentlemen’s suits, holidays, etc. may be put on hold for a while but the little indulgences that people have in life likely won’t be affected. “If they want to give themselves a little bit of a bonus for all of the work that they’re doing, they’re not going to be stopped because of the recession.” O’Connor also says that he’s personally witnessed four recessions over the course of his tenure at Baileys. “In all the recessions, I haven’t seen any decline in Baileys, in fact we’ve grown through all of them, and I have every confidence from the trade that I’ve met in the United States that we will actually deliver and again we will grow this year.”
An affordable luxury.
The third ranked imported liqueur has been busy with the ongoing launches of flavor extensions. Kahlúa Hazelnut and Kahlúa French Vanilla came out in 2OO7 and Kahlúa Mocha was released in 2OO8. “All three flavors are natural extensions of the Kahlúa trademark and are among the most popular flavor choices of coffee drinkers throughout the country,” says Andy Nash, Brand Director for Kahlúa at Pernod Ricard USA. “Since Kahlúa Mocha was the most recent of the three, we spent some more time on it. Mocha launched nationally in June 2OO8 and has been extremely well received by the trade and consumers. It is made with a rich blend of 1OO% Arabica coffee, natural vanilla and real dark chocolate,” explains Nash. He adds that the launch of the flavors is Kahlúa’s biggest innovation in the last decade and a top priority since the brand was acquired by Pernod Ricard in late 2OO5. “All three flavors have added to the momentum of the brand over the last 18 months,” reports Nash.
Consumption-wise, Nash says that there have been two primary occurrences. First there’s the current and one-time Kahlúa consumers who have returned to the cream-based cocktails including White Russians and Mudslides. “But we have found that younger consumers are open to new ways of enjoying the brand by adding other ingredients and flavors.” Nash says one example is Kahlúa Sparkling Iced Coffee, a cocktail made with Kahlúa and sparkling water. “As such, we have developed a new seasonal drink strategy where we are actively promoting specific cocktails that compliment the season and expand how consumers think about and drink Kahlúa”
With regard to advertising, Nash says that in 2OO8 Kahlúa focused their efforts on two key strategies; increasing awareness and interest in the brand through an aggressive TV and print advertising schedule centered on the “Explore Your Curiosity” global campaign that launched in 2OO7. “During the September through December period 2OO8, Kahlúa invested unprecedented levels – among the highest in the category – to help drive consumer interest and retail sales during the critical holiday period. Our second key strategy is to increase trial on-premise through an integrated sampling initiative in our five primary target markets – Boston, Broward County Florida, Chicago, Denver, and San Diego.” Nash says that in each of these markets the Kahlúa team (Pernod Ricard USA and Legacy Partners) will execute approximately 2OO bar night events across 25 key accounts that help generate awareness and trial of the brand and the new seasonal Kahlúa cocktails.
Nash did express concern for the economy: “Although the economic climate does not look promising as we head into 2OO9, brands like Kahlúa are holding their own as current consumers remain very loyal and new consumers do not have to break the bank to treat themselves to an ‘affordable luxury’ by enjoying a Kahlúa cocktail.” He says that the brand’s 2OO9 plan is to continue to focus investment and efforts on driving awareness, interest and trial through aggressive media spending and on-premise sampling events. Nash points out a shift in demographics. “We have adjusted our target consumer from primarily women to 5O/5O men/women ages 35 to 49. The loyal, traditional consumers are both men and women and our seasonal drinks strategy offers new ways to enjoy Kahlúa that appeal to both men and women.
When desserts and cocktails collide.
Michelle Beauchamp, Senior Brand Manager and Brand Manager Valerie Fender filled me in on a recent new program involving B&B. “We launched it in September of 2OO8. It’s a new dessert pairings program and we call it ‘Manhattan Nights’,” says Beauchamp. Noted author and spirits expert Gary Regan developed all the cocktails that are paired with a series of desserts that were created by pastry chef Martin Howard from Manhattan’s Brasserie 81/2. With names like the Bewildered Beauty, Belle of the Ball, Bohemian Breeze, and Babbling Brook, all of the cocktails were created in a way that allowed Howard to use some of the spices and botanicals within B&B to help really bring out the flavor and enhance the pairing. Beauchamp says her favorite is the Botanical Breeze that’s made with Bombay Sapphire, B&B, St. Germain, fresh lime juice, and kiwi. Fender’s more of a Bewildered Beauty fan. It’s made with B&B, rum and fresh raspberries. Another cause celebre for B&B is the fact that the brand will be celebrating its 5OOth anniversary in 2O1O and the kick-off starts this year. “I believe that Benedictine is probably the world’s oldest liqueur that’s still in production.
At 5OO-years-old we certainly have an extraordinary claim to fame,” says Beauchamp. B&B targets males 35- to 45-years-old. “They tend to be more urban dwellers. We kind of coined a phrase – we call them metropolitan influencers,” says Beauchamp. She offers further explanation: “They have slightly
higher household income, they’re more financially established but they’re not wealthy. They pride themselves on being sort of individual, confident. They appreciate the classics.” She adds, “You’ll find Benedictine and B&B cocktails on the menu in some really trendy bars where you have mixologists that are embracing these sorts of authentic and classic brands.” Beauchamp says the other target is the over 5O males who are considered to be traditional cordials and liqueurs consumers. “They have been very loyal to the brand and they consume it in the traditional sense, like more of an after dinner drink,” says Beauchamp. “It’s our challenge and our opportunity to open up our existing consumers to different types of occasions and consumption opportunities for these brands,” concludes Beauchamp.
A big makeover.
The big news from Drambuie is the launch of a new package says Brand Manager Valerie Fender. “The traditional short bottle with the red cap is going way. We’ll start shipping the new bottle to the US at the end of May. It’s a little bit taller; it’s a little bit thinner and the actual glass is clear so people can see the liquid now for the first time.” Fender explains that the reason for the bold move is an attempt to revamp the brand. “We did a lot of research with our core consumers and our target consumers and everyone was really responsive to the new package,” said Valerie Fender.
“It’s very much in line with the target consumer. It’s sleek, very masculine looking, very modern. One of our goals is to contemporize the brand among core and target consumers. The color of the liquid has always been part of the brand’s beauty and it’s always been sort of obscured behind a dark bottle. Now we’re able to bring that to light,” adds Senior Brand Manager Michelle Beauchamp.
This past August brought with it the arrival of Café Bohême to the Massachusetts cordials market. It’s a coffee crème liqueur, imported from France, made with a blend of gourmet coffee, premium French vodka, crème, and a hint of vanilla. A conversation with Brand Manager Tina Fabiano from the Kobrand Corporation brought me up to speed on what’s been happening in the Boston area and if the economy has reared its ugly head, among other things. Tina Fabiano says that Café Bohême is sponsoring an upcoming day trip for bartenders from the Boston area at the MGM at Foxwoods where they’ll have a day of brand education and a chance to compete against each other in making Café Bohême cocktails. In terms of economic impact, She says that the average retail price for a bottle of Café Bohême is $21.99 making it more accessible. “Café Bohême is an affordable indulgence. There are so many ways to serve Café Bohême you don’t need any other ingredients to create drinks.” There are however no shortage of cocktail recipes to choose from: “The Café Bohême Espresso Martini is the most popular. Others include the Tiramisu and the French Kiss that combines Café Bohême with Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole,” notes Fabiano. As for the reception here in New England, Fabiano says it’s been incredible.
What’s love got to do with it? Everything.
Michelle Beauchamp, Senior Brand Manager says that Amaretto Disaronno pays close attention to advertising. “We launched a new ad campaign this year for Disaronno that really is designed to talk to consumers about entertaining at home and creating cocktails at home which, as you know, is kind of a trend that’s happening, given the economy.” For a new cocktail suggestion, Beauchamp suggests what she describes as the unbelievably delicious Disarrita. “It’s basically replacing the traditional triple sec in a margarita with Disaronno,” says Brand Manager, Valerie Fender. Another cocktail Fender described is the Frost Bite. “It’s kind of an updated take on your traditional Disaronno Sour. Instead of pouring the sour mix in with the amaretto, you actually freeze the sour in an ice cube tray. You use that as your ice cubes and you just pour the Disaronno on top. As it melts the drink turns more sour,” says Fender. “Valentine’s Day also is a key time period for the brand given its history in passionand romance,” explains Beauchamp. Lest anyone forget, a student of Leonardo da vinci’s fell in love love with an innkeeper’s daughter and painted her image
on the frescohe was commissioned to paint. To return his expression of love, and as a gift for her beau, she created Amaretto Disaronno. “It’s a really fun promotional time period for the brand because we’ve create cocktails that are made for two – the one we’re promoting this year is with Martini & Rossi Prosecco,” says Beauchamp. Fender also mentioned the Italian Embrace, a sparkling cocktail with made Disaronno and pomegranate.
Yes indeed, it was the night of a Madonna concert when I found myself plunked in the North End for some pre-show dinner. Given the pleasant climate of said evening, I slipped away from my friends for two pit-stops in the hopes of chatting up some bartenders. I found two who, in between mixing cocktails, welcomed my unannounced visit and offered some input from behind the bar. My first stop was at Strega Restaurant for a chat with bartender Cristina D’Amore. I asked her for a two minute commentary on popular drinks and she obliged. “I would say our espresso martini is very popular. It’s made with a shot of espresso, Frangelico and I put some Baileys in it and also a little vanilla UV vodka.” D’Amore says she also adds a little bit of Kahlúa for good measure. “I shake it up; it gets a little frothy on top and I put my little three coffee beans in there for good luck.” D’Amore also spoke of another creation. “I created something with creamy Limoncello (Limoncello di Sorrento) so we use that and I put Cruzan Orange rum and a little bit of pineapple juice and it tastes just like a Creamsicle. That’s one of our pretty popular things down here.” D’Amore went onto predict that XO Café Patron, the coffee flavored tequila, is destined for greatness. “We just got it. As soon as people start to know about it I’m guessing it’s going to be really big. People drink it straight up, they drink it with a little bit of milk sometimes.” D’Amore also says that her customers are still drinking pomegranate martinis made with PAMA liqueur. As for the cocktail trend’s sustainability, D’Amore spoke without hesitation. “Oh yeah, we got it. It’s alive and well.” Down the block at Nico Ristorante, bartender Denise Ferrara remarked on what’s been hot. “I think the most popular drink we have would be the Kogie Fever which is a shot of fresh espresso, Frangelico, Baileys, and Kahlúa that’s shaken and topped off with frothy foam and cocoa powder.” She also mentioned the Dancing Queen which is with Pama, Triple Sec and cranberries, and the Psychedelic Dream with Hpnotiq liqueur, Limoncello and Sprite.
I also reached out to Josh Childs, owner of Boston’s Silvertone Bar & Grill on Bromfield Street, to get his two cents worth on the past year as far as cordials goes. He offered a rundown of the popular ones that included Fernet, Branca, Chartreuse, St. Germain, Aperol, Patron XO Café, Mathilde, Framboise, and Peche. “The old standards seem to be dropping off, which I would attribute to the cocktail renaissance and customers’ interest in new, hand-crafted and esoteric products,” says Childs. “In that vein, we feature Negra Noche (XO Café, Cream Liqueur, coffee, with a coffee rim) and Montparnasse (St. Germain, Bordeaux Blanc, Calvados). The drink with the most outstanding name that Childs mentioned is called the Happy Meal # 2 which is, believe it or not a shot of Fernet with a Miller High Life. There was one old school cocktail however that Childs said did do well this year. Apparently, White Russians enjoyed a surge when the film The Big Lebowski celebrated its ten year anniversary earlier this year. In case you haven’t seen the film, two of Jeff Bridges’ “Dude” characters passions were bowling and drinking said cocktail. As for the economy, Childs contends that the on-premise market, at least from his standpoint, hasn’t suffered. “People still drink (maybe more) in a down economy, and are looking for something unique, not something they are used to making at home when they are out for the evening.”
AND NOW A FEW WORDS FROM RETAIL
I put a call in to Rich Daly, Manager of Andover Liquors for what’s become our annual check-in on cordials and liqueurs. The first brand he mentioned that has sparked consumer interest is the Baileys with a Hint of Coffee. From there he mentioned a personal favorite of mine. “There’s seems to be an uptake in Tuaca, I think that’s got something to do with some martinis that are happening right now.” He adds that much of the martini craze is pouring over into the cordials section. “They’re using them for martinis, chocolate martinis, so the Godiva’s picked up.” We also covered multi-flavor lines. “Up on the North Shore here the big cordial product in that category is Arrow. We carry the whole line of Arrow, a couple of Hiram Walkers and some of the DeKuyper.” Daly’s final comments were on the impact of the economy. “What happens is that people don’t spend on the high end, they’ll buy the less expensive stuff and sometimes when you get into that category the profit margins are smaller. But as of now we’re pretty much flat which is good. I think if you’re a bigger store you’re going to do all right.”
FROM THE CHECKOUT LINE TO THE PRIVATE PARTY
The word from Waltham. A call to Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquors in Waltham paid double dividends as I spoke with both the store manager, Michael McCarthy and Leslie Lamb, Beverage Catering Director. Each gave their take on the category from their perspectives. From the sales floor, McCarthy says that Kahlua and Baileys are staying strong, but not without exception. He adds that the Baileys flavors (Hint of Caramel and Hint of Mint Chocolate came out strong initially but have slowed down although Baileys newest launch, Hint of Coffee is faring better. Another big seller is St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur which McCarthy says is doing especially well with Lamb’s catering side of the business. “We’ve been having people requesting that at high volumes.” McCarthy also singled out Domaine de Canton Ginger liqueur as being a popular seller. It came as no surprise, given the state of the economy, to hear McCarthy speak of what’s been happening to offset that. “We’ve been doing very well with items that we call recession busters, like St. Brendan’s versus Baileys. The price is about half the amount and the quality is there. It’s not as good but it’s close.” McCarthy also mentions an overall surge in lower priced brands. “We have noticed a lot of items that are affordable for the consumer picking up quite a bit throughout the whole store.”
Turning the conversation over to Leslie Lamb revealed an immediate echo on McCarthy’s comments about St. Germain. “Everybody wants it for their holiday parties. It started being very popular a few months ago and people are really ordering it to make specialty drinks. They are mixing it with sparkling wine or club soda,” says Lamb. PAMA was the next brand underscored by Lamb. “For party drinks, it has been popular for quite some time. Its popularity has not waned, people still like it.” Lamb also makes a general observation about what she sees happening with catered events. “Most bars do not have cordials but when they do they always have Grand Marnier, Kahlua and Baileys, and usually amaretto. Some still have sambuca but not much. You don’t usually see any of the other types of cordials that perhaps you may have seen a number of years ago.” This led me to ask about economic impact and if Lamb has seen it rear its ugly head. “Absolutely; people are toning down their events. Either they’re not having them or they’re doing them a little more frugally which in some cases means cutting out hard liquor and just going to beer and wine,” she explains.
IN CLOSING . . .
“The flavor craze is growing as consumers continue to desire flavors in their cocktails. Based on this, classic cocktails have been updated with new twists on the recipes that have consumers drooling for more”– DeKuyper’s Jill Nelson. I couldn’t have said it any better myself. What I will add is that as far as the recession goes the cordials and liqueurs category should come out fairly unscathed.
At-home consumption will likely be stronger than on-premise, but in both cases, the forecast looks solid.
Although the same can’t be said in so many other arenas, it just goes to show that when push comes to shove and the dollar has to be stretched to its outer limits, most consumers of cordials and liqueurs will find other ways to tighten those purse strings.