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Four key spirits trends for 2017

Spiros Malandrakis, senior alcoholic drinks analyst at Euromonitor, rounds up the spirits trends he predicts will shape the industry in 2017, from a greater appreciation of blended whiskies to the rise of Cognac in China.

1. Whisky – the beat of the dram

With the fumes of overproduction and commoditisation hanging menacingly over bourbon, scotch still struggling to find relevance with elusive millennial demographics and Irish belatedly taking a shot in the premiumisation narrative, it is niche offerings that hold huge leftfield potential.

World whiskies from as far and wide as Sweden, France, Australia and England will revolutionise perceptions, production techniques and positioning while terroir, single estate offerings and hyperlocalisation initiatives will shift the narrative further away from a monolithic age focus and towards a unique sense of place.

While single malts will continue capitalising on their established aspirational credentials, blended variants will come of age. And as non-age statements proliferate, a greater appreciation of the art of blending will alleviate some of the recent build ups of pressures on stocks while providing a template for radical experimentation.

2. White spirits – different shades of grey

The fortunes of vodka and English gin will diverge further as the former continues fighting a saturation induced hangover while the latter embraces ever more obscure botanical concoctions, small batch iterations and a clear premiumisation trajectory structured around signature recipes and a new generation of premium mixers.

With flavour fatigue leaving a bitter taste behind – as well as a cautionary tale for all other spirits segments – vodka will shift marketing focus back towards authenticity and provenance, spiced up by global initiatives and innovation focused on personalisation, hybrid and crowd-sourced initiatives.

3. Cognac – a tale of two countries

(Photo: Wiki)

As China overcomes its centrally planned crackdown on conspicuous consumption and lavish extravagance, cognac will emerge more versatile and less monodiamensional in its status associations and drinking rituals. Beyond the much vaunted trading down to more affordable VS and VSOP varietals signalling the transition away from investment vehicles or luxury gifting and into mass consumption, novel price points and ageing brackets in between traditionalist benchmarks will further expand the category’s reach .

On the other hand, the all-important US market will remain approachably aspirational while the category doubles down on its most recent efforts to connect to niche age, gender and cultural demographics. From celebrity endorsements to the – once controversial – embrace of the resurgent cocktail culture, the category will continue shaking off complacency while creating the template for urgently needed further geographic diversification.

4. Microdistilling – big things have small beginnings

Boasting authentic stories, positive coopetition initiatives, enthusiastic physical and virtual communities and a de facto experimental modus operandi, micro distillers will solidify their place as the incubators of future trends and pioneering brands. As white spirits production provides the funding base for their future brown spirits ambitions, small independent distillers will make their presence felt beyond the metropolitan centres of their l US and Western European bastions.

As trade wars, sanctions and border taxes flare up, they will also provide the opportunity for aspirational trading down through providing sophisticated yet affordable options with roots in their respective communities.

On the other hand, and as ‘craft’ becomes painfully commoditised as a term, microdistilling will not reach the heady heights of microbrewing – signature and craftsmanship credentials within corporate spirits offerings tend to be genuine and the category’s behemoths will further underscore the point through special limited releases and a renewed focus on radical innovation in order to stem the micro tide before it envelops them.

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