A bit of all white

As the cocktail cognoscenti rediscovers the classics of yesteryear, so gin sees a resurgence in interest, as do stablemates rum, vodka and Tequila.

The drinks industry – and cocktails in particular – are looking back in order to move forward with the ever-increasing trend of seeking inspiration from the classics before giving them a modern twist.

White spirits such as gin and vodka, which have formed the backbone of many classics from the Tom Collins through to the Cosmopolitan, are finding themselves back at the heart of every good bar menu the world over.

While this was a trend which has its origins in the UK and US markets, the rest of the world has caught up and retro-modern cocktails are now the order of the day. Bartenders are now encouraged to give their own unique twist to age-old recipes and the results have inspired a new generation of experimental cocktail making.

Tim Stones, brand ambassador for Beefeater, sees the rediscovery of classics as a fundamental factor in the renaissance of the gin category in recent years.

“With the major rediscovery of gin in recent years, bartenders have become more aware of this spirit and the various flavours that different gins offer,” he says. “As a result they are becoming far more adventurous when creating gin cocktails.

“Specific cocktail trends really differ depending on how ‘developed’ the region’s cocktail culture is. Those with sophisticated cocktail cultures – such as the UK, US and Australia – are currently looking back to the classic gin-led cocktails and injecting contemporary twists on original recipes such as the Martini.

“At the same time, consumers have been looking for a more flavourful spirit for use in mixed drinks and cocktails. With their more adventurous approach, cocktail culture in the home has taken off.

“In regions with developing cocktail cultures – including Asia and Eastern Europe – there is growing demand for alternatives to the gin and tonic serve. Increasingly, tonic is being replaced with fruit juices and other mixers that enhance the range of botanicals in gin.”

The fact that Stones credits Eastern Europe as harbouring an “emerging” cocktail culture might cause some consternation among bartenders in the region, seeing as it is the opinion of some that mainland Europe is close to overtaking the US and the UK as far as innovation in cocktails goes.

Indeed, some European bars have already caught up with the UK in terms of cocktail-making innovation, according to Alex Turner, head of training at Bacardi Brown Forman. Turner, who trains the UK’s leading bartenders to expand and perfect their cocktail-making repertoire, told the drinks business that European nations have caught up thanks to their drive to produce vintage cocktails with a modern twist.

“On the whole the UK was out in front until around a year to 18 months ago,” Turner claims.

“We have been caught up now by other European cities such as Berlin, Paris, Lyon, Vienna and Barcelona, which allhave a very distinct style, as well as the US.

“There is some really interesting stuff happening in Europe, all along the same lines of producing vintage cocktails with a modern twist.”

Turner stresses that this doesn’t simply mean the addition of a new ingredient to a classic cocktail.

“Anyone can make a Manhattan, stick some Chambord in it and call it a twisted classic,” he maintains. “ But if you look at some of these European bars they tend to make a very cool style of drink in cool vintage glassware.

“They also make them in the kind of basement bars which make you feel as though you are in an environment totally focused on producing great drinks. There is a really modern, scientific application of modern mixology meeting the drinks of the 1830s.”

This renewed focus on flavour and quality has, perhaps inevitably, led to the premium end of the white spirits section becoming ever-more popular among discerning bar staff and drinkers alike.

While the likes of Smirnoff might still dominate the global spirits category in terms of sales, the reputation and awareness of the top-end has grown massively over the past decade.

“Premium vodka is the fastest growing sector within vodka and is currently in +12% growth,” affirms Simon Green, marketing director at Global Brands. “Both value and volume are growing at a similar rate as consumption increases, and this premiumisation trend is driven by consumers, who are becoming more aspirational when it comes to their drinks and venue choices.

“The slight lift in distribution for premium vodka across circuit bars also suggests that it’s not only the style bars and nightclubs that are looking to premiumise their offering to meet today’s consumer’s needs.”

“Elsewhere in the white spirits category, white rum has experienced a slight decline of 0.6% in the on-trade, yet continues to grow at +5% in the off-trade. However, the size of the white rum market in the off-trade is three times the size of that in the on-trade.”

“A select number of gin brands are leading the way and experiencing up to +12% growth in the on-trade. These are the brands that are actively differentiating their offering and providing unique ways of serving, as this appeals to today’s consumers, who always want to be seen trying something new or different.”

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