The alcohol category might be ripe for disruption — just look at the names. There have been two dominant, some might say competing, trends in the spirits world.
The first is flavored spirits. After a decade of flavorlessness and clarity being the ultimate signs of quality in white spirits, we got bored and started adding new flavors back in. New flavors such as super fruits, desserts, savories and spices have joined typical flavors in vodka (and rum, and tequila and gin).
The second trend has been a return to classic cocktails. Cocktail menus have been beckoning with delights of decades gone by like the Corpse Reviver and the Aviator. More recently we’ve gone further to bring the past into the present with antique cocktails. Now, not only are the recipes from bygone eras, but they are being made with the actual spirits from that time — think Old Fashioneds with pre-prohibition liquor.
Our renewed appreciation for flavor, whether driven by modern experimentation and novelty or the desire for authenticity and craftsmanship, has shaped the category. Having had a good run, a look at naming indicates the trends might be on the way out.
As the proliferation of flavors has exploded, the bar for differentiation has soared. Flavored spirits innovations have made the shift from descriptive names (Raspberry, Whipped Cream) to the suggestive (Kissed Caramel, Atomic Hots). These names give cues of occasion as well as flavor.
Promising experience is a credible place for spirits names to play, but where to from here? As the flavor names become more evocative, are the spirits brands like Absolut, Smirnoff and Bacardi getting the credit in consumers’ minds for creating those experiences?
We’re about to run into a versioning challenge – not with product names, but the name of the trend itself. Once you have reached so far back into authenticity that you’ve gone from classic to vintage to antique, how much further back to inception can you go? It seems on this one we might have actually run out of time.
So one wonders if the era of flavor winding down. If it is, where will our desire take us next? Will we follow our senses, a more emotional need, or both?
Something to consider over a glass of holiday cheer.
Fell Gray is a Director of Verbal Identity at Interbrand.