A scotch whisky distiller, when asked recently if he made any blends, was gloriously sniffy and dismissive of blended whisky. It would have been interesting to see and hear what he would have made of the Johnnie Walker Directors Blends, which I got to taste last Thursday (November 28) in London.
Retailing in 50cl bottles from £9 to £12, each liqueur comes with a simple-serve cocktail suggestion, which will change every six months – so clearly the retailer has confidence in this initiative. Tesco’s Finest range of liqueurs went on the shelves pre-Christmas and the early signs are very promising.
“When it comes to liqueurs, retailers have not seen the potential – but there is a real opportunity out there,” says James Rackham from Emporia, the UK importer that supplies the Gabriel Boudier range. “This is clearly a development that has huge potential, as consumers are more prepared to make cocktails at home.”
This latest move marks an interesting shift in the liqueurs firmament where on the whole the bartender and mixologists have traditionally been the key target audience. This will not change, but also targeting consumers opens up a potentially massive new market for producers.
Of course, the big names in the liqueur world are the two giant Dutch companies De Kuyper and Bols, the French force Marie Brizard and the up-and-coming Dutch producer Wenneker Distillers. These operations wield huge ranges of liqueurs and in the main their target audience, by necessity, is still the on-trade rather than the consumer.
In this rather more mainstream world, competition is fierce and the need to find new flavours to maintain the competitive edge is a fundamental. Of late, Bols has demonstrated this effectively, with the launches of Bols Foam, and Bols Natural Yoghurt Liqueur.
“There are a tremendous amount of flavours being thrown at the market, but you wonder how long they will last,” says Bols CEO Huub van Doorne. “We are very active in terms of innovation, but the requirements for flavours differ from market to market.”
Available in six flavours, including Blue Curaçao and Amaretto, Bols Foam is a first for the category and at the largest Dutch on-trade fair, the Horecava, the company won the Innovation Award in the Food & Beverages category. “We are very proud of this, because it is a reward for one of the most important innovations in the centuries-old history of our brand,” says van Doorne. “It adds a whole new dimension to the cocktail and drink experience.”
Bols further reinforces its ties with the international mixologist fraternity via its Bartending Academy. Based in Amsterdam, this now boasts three full-time trainers and has recently taken a reservation for eight bartenders from the US, which underlines the growing reputation of the event.
On a different tack, but with the same goal to reinforce its position with bartenders, Marie Brizard hosts an annual cocktail competition and extravaganza. This year will be the 28th International Bartending Seminar, and it “provides a great opportunity” for the company to keep abreast of current and future trends.
“It has always been a key moment for the brand as more than 100 bartenders join us in Bordeaux to compete but also to understand Marie Brizard liqueurs, see our production facility and work with our product,” says Marie Brizard’s group marketing chief Aurélie Lory.