Last night (Tuesday December 3), I attended a tasting of Balblair vintages. We tasted five whiskies, 2003, 1997, 1990, 1983 and 1969, prefaced by a glass of Balblair’s base spirit.
These videos are then posted on Volare’s YouTube channel, Volare In The Mix, which made its debut last September and has received “great feedback” from around the world. In addition, an online cocktail competition using YouTube Volare and Angostura will be launched this year.
While overall it’s intensely competitive on the liqueur front, some pockets of the category are storming ahead, especially coffee liqueurs. While this segment is dominated by the Pernod-owned Kahlua, two relative newcomers are making headlines. Most recently Bols has entered the fray under its Galliano label with its recent line extension Ristretto – a coffee espresso liqueur. Initially concentrating on its home market Italy, the brand is already proving to be a success.
However, in terms of development, the plaudits have to commend the American Tequila force, the Patrón Spirits Company, which is enjoying growing success with its XO Cafe, a Patrón Silver Tequila-based coffee liqueur that is very more-ish and (mercifully) not too sweet.
“Patrón XO Cafe performed extremely well in 2011, with very substantial growth in markets outside the US,” says the company’s director of corporate communications Greg Cohen. “In total, the brand was up 29% in 2011 against the previous year. And internationally, including duty free, Patrón XO Cafe was up more than 83%.”
Patrón XO Cafe’s best developing markets are, in addition to duty free, South Africa, Australia, the UK, Canada, Malaysia, Bahamas, the Philippines and Trinidad – and it is gaining the attention of bartenders. “Because of its taste profile, the brand is quite versatile – it’s delicious on its own, over ice, or as a chilled shot, or in any number of cocktails,” says Cohen. “Use in cocktails is definitely growing, as mixologists across the globe are increasingly discovering all they can create with it.”
Indeed, the coffee liqueur has been so successful that the company is already planning a line extension – Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa, a chocolate liqueur, which is also made with Patrón Silver Tequila. This will be initially introduced in the US, but the hope is to expand into international markets.
“Until then, we’re focused on building distribution of the base Patrón XO Cafe brand into additional bars, restaurants, hotels and high-end retail establishments,” says Cohen. “We’re also focused on growing our other liqueur brand, Patrón Citrónge, a high quality orange liqueur. As margaritas gain in popularity across the world, our message to trade and consumers is to use an authentic Mexican orange liqueur in their cocktail.”
Liqueurs from Galliano and Patrón are arguably easier to market due the simple fact that they have appeal both to the on-trade as well as the consumer – in short they have the best of both worlds.
Indeed this was always the case with brands such as the triple sec Cointreau, the cognac supremo Grand Marnier, the Irish whiskey contender Irish Mist and the scotch whisky-based liqueur Drambuie, which are deemed traditional liqueurs – largely because their alcohol strength is equivalent to a spirit (40%).
These were the brands packaged in their decanter style bottles which reigned supreme on the after-drinks trolley. However, drinking habits have changed: tougher drink-driving laws have made the after-meal drink slot less attractive, thus eroding the position of liqueurs in consumers’ drinking repertoire.
But something had to happen to improve prospects, and once again it was the cocktail which proved to be the catalyst for growth. But while Grand Marnier forged a bridge into the world of cocktails and a place in the bartender’s mind without changing its presentation, both Irish Mist and most notably Drambuie have had dramatic about-turns. Through new packaging, both now straddle their respective spirits categories as well as their liqueur heritage.