The world's leading spirits producer Diageo has opened a new €420,000 (US$469,000) distillery in Italy and added a super-premium gin to its portfolio – Villa Ascenti.
The launch of Villa Ascenti follows the completion of the Distilleria Santa Vittoria, located in Santa Vittoria, Italy, and the refurbishment of a Frilli copper pot still, which dates back to the 1970s.
To begin with, Villa Ascenti gin will launch in 14 European countries from May – including the UK, Italy, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland and Poland – as Diageo aims to tap into the “fast-growing” super-premium gin market. Villa Ascenti will be part of the Diageo Reserve portfolio.
According to data from Nielsen MAT to 23 February 2019, as quoted by Diageo, the super-premium and ultra-premium gin sectors grew 38.6% in volume and 41.3% in value in the UK.
Tanya Clarke, general manager of Diageo Reserve Europe, said: “Gin has been the runaway success story of the industry over the last decade and its growth trend shows no signs of slowing down.
“Villa Ascenti Gin is rooted in provenance and brings local, fresh ingredients from Piemonte to life. Its use of locally grown ingredients from the foothills of Piemonte, alongside some of the more classic botanicals associated with gin, has allowed us to create a high-quality liquid, which we hope existing and new gin drinkers will love.”
To make the gin, Moscato grapes are harvested in August and September, and are then distilled three times.
Lorenzo Rosso, master distiller for Villa Ascenti gin at Distilleria Santa Vittoria, said: “On the nose, the mint and thyme are vibrant and refreshing alongside the spice of the Tuscan juniper berries, whilst on the palate, the Moscato grapes really come to life.
"Enhanced through copper distillation, the smooth, fruity flavour of this distillate rounds off zesty juniper notes to create a velvety, slightly sweet gin.”
Bottled at 41% abv, Villa Ascenti will have an RRP of £35 (US$45) per 700ml bottle.
Pernod Ricard's Irish Distillers unit has unveiled Redbreast Dream Cask Pedro Ximénez Edition, a limited edition 20-year-old single pot still Irish whiskey.
Released to mark World Whisky Day on 18 May, the new single cask offering follows the release of 32-year-old Redbreast Dream Cask last May, which sold out in six hours.
Created by master blender Billy Leighton in collaboration with blender Dave McCabe, Dream Cask Pedro Ximénez Edition includes four whiskey components aged for between 20 and 33 years.
The components have been vatted together and married in the Pedro Ximénez butt to offer a “unique interpretation” of Redbreast’s signature Sherry style. The components include: an Irish whiskey distilled in 1998, matured in an ex-Bourbon barrel and re-casked into a Pedro Ximénez Sherry butt in 2012; an Irish whiskey distilled in 1995, matured in an ex-Bourbon cask and re-casked into an oloroso Sherry butt in 2012; an Irish whiskey distilled in 1985 and matured in a second-fill ex-Bourbon barrel; and an Irish whiskey distilled in 1997 and matured in a second-fill ex-Bourbon barrel.
“Rather than try to seek out another extraordinary cask from the Midleton inventory like the inaugural Redbreast Dream Cask, we set out to create a new Redbreast Irish whiskey like you have never tasted before,” said Leighton.
“The coming together of three exceptional casks, originally destined for Redbreast 21, and a rare Pedro Ximénez butt is a first for Midleton, and the careful balance of sweet, spice and sherry flavours offers a new and complex take on the classic Redbreast Christmas cake flavour profile.”
It is described as a “smooth and rich” Irish whiskey with “assertive spices and sweet, ripe fruit that slowly evolves into exotic fruits and berries, reminiscent of the classic Redbreast character”.
Bottled at 52.2% abv, Redbreast Dream Cask Pedro Ximénez Edition is limited to 924 bottles and is available through the Redbreast online private members' club, The Birdhouse, from 3pm on 27 May at an RRP of €380 (US$424).
The US has come to an agreement with Canada and Mexico to repeal retaliatory tariffs on American whiskey exports to both countries.
Canada introduced a 10% tariff on American whiskey on 1 July 2018 in response to US president Donald Trump’s 10% and 25% import taxes on aluminium and steel respectively.
Meanwhile, Mexico slapped a 25% retaliatory tariff on American whiskey from 5 June 2018.
Chris Swonger, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council, said: “With this critical issue now resolved, we look forward to joining the various efforts to support the prompt congressional passage of US-Mexico-Canada agreement, which includes important benefits for our industry.
“We are very encouraged by today’s news and we hope the US and our trading partners can build on this positive momentum to resolve all of the remaining retaliatory tariffs that our US distilled spirits exports face, particularly the European Union’s 25% tariff on American whiskey.”
The Distilled Spirits Council has voiced concerns over the retaliatory tariffs in the past, and said small distillers had been hit particularly hard by the tariffs.
A report released by the Distilled Spirits Council in March this year showed the “negative impact” the tariffs had on American whiskey exports.
The data showed that American whiskey exports dropped 8.2% between July and November 2018.
For the entire year, American whiskey exports were up 5.1% and reached a record US$1.18 billion. However, this was a “significant deceleration” from the 16% growth in 2017, the Distilled Spirits Council said.
Exports to the EU, where tariffs are still in place, grew 33% in the first half of 2018, but fell by 13.4% in the second half of the year after tariffs were introduced. American whiskey exports reached US$704 million in 2018, up from US$667m in 2017.
Earlier this year, Brown-Forman estimated that retaliatory tariffs could slice US$125m off its 2019 financial results.
China is also embroiled in a trade war with the US, dubbed the "largest trade war" in history. The country responded to president Trump’s additional US$34bn worth of tariffs on Chinese products with a 25% tariff on American whiskey, along vast quantities of other US-made goods.
Accolade Wines is tapping into the trend for pink gin with the launch of a new Echo Falls expression under its Summer Berries line.
Bottled at 37.5% abv, Echo Falls Summer Berries Pink Gin has been created to “respond to the huge popularity of gin”, particularly the flavoured gin category.
Launching at the end of this month, the new gin is made with a base of summer berries and is described as having a “strawberry-led aroma”.
The release of Summer Berries Pink Gin “comes just in time for the summer” and follows the “hugely successful” launches of Echo Falls Summer Berries Vodka in November 2017 and a rosé wine and gin fusion in March this year.
The launch will be supported by five drinks recipes, which will be promoted across wider consumer PR, digital and social media.
David White, marketing director at Accolade Wines, said: “We are always looking for a way to bring new news to the drinks market and research shows that the Echo Falls consumer is eager to try out novel and exciting products.
“With the gin market growing at pace, it was a natural choice for us to develop a new product which combines the Echo Falls hugely popular signature flavour, summer berries, whilst simultaneously responding to the overwhelming popularity of gin in the UK.”
Echo Falls Summer Berries Pink Gin has an RRP of £16 (US$20.40) per 700ml and will be available from more than 700 Tesco stores, Bargain Booze and other convenience retailers across the UK.
The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) has launched its Level 3 Award in Spirits in response to demand for “advanced” and “brand neutral” spirits knowledge.
Bookings in the UK and US are now open for the WSET Level 3 Award in Spirits, plans for which were first announced last year.
Building on the WSET’s Level 2 Award in Spirits, the course will cover a “broader spectrum of world spirits", including shōchū, baijiu and soju, and will “provide greater detail” on production processes in spirits and their impact on style and quality.
The course, which requires a minimum of 84 hours of study time, will offer “in-depth coverage” of the Scotch, Cognac, Armagnac, Caribbean rum, Tequila, mezcal, vodka and gin categories.
The exam will include a blind tasting and written paper comprising multiple choice and short written answers. The course is being led by Nick King, WSET product development manager, spirits and sake.
He said: “The spirits industry has been crying out for a more advanced qualification in spirits. Candidate numbers for WSET spirits qualifications (Levels 1 and 2) have grown significantly in the last 10 years, from 540 in 2009 to 6,600 in 2019, and are now taught in 33 countries worldwide, reflecting growing global demand.
“We are delighted to now be able to offer the industry a Level 3 Spirits qualification that develops candidates’ knowledge and understanding of the category in great depth and also builds their tasting skills, teaching them to identify the structural and aromatic elements that make up a spirit and to make a compelling quality assessment.”
The WSET recommends that Level 3 candidates first complete the Level 2 Award in Spirits.
The Level 3 Award will take place at WSET’s London school on 21-26 October 2019, 10-15 February 2020, and 22-27 June 2020.
WSET’s Chicago school in the US will hold the course on 26-31 August 2019, its Las Vegas outpost on 4-9 November 2019, and its New Orleans office on 20-25 April 2020.
In the 2017/18 academic year, the WSET witnessed a 21% increase in diploma graduates, who collectively hailed from more than 40 countries. The WSET celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
On the surface, Geneva is a bourgeois Swiss city, housing world organisations and luxury shops. But dig a bit deeper and you’ll find a whole host of gritty bars and rousing nightlife, as well as classy cocktails, writes James Lawrence.
There are few destinations in Europe as widely misjudged as Geneva. For a start, it’s often believed to be Switzerland’s capital (that title belongs to Bern), probably because it is home to the likes of the World Trade Organization, World Health Organization and The World Bank, along with luxury hotels, restaurants and cocktail bars.
But don’t be fooled into thinking Geneva is merely an anodyne pit stop for the world’s dignitaries. Beneath this flawless exterior lies a fascinating and contradictory rough-cut diamond. Visitors are initially lured in by Geneva’s stunning alpine lake scenery and endless opportunities for outdoor pursuits, but then revel in the city’s grittier side. This reaches its apogée in the Pâquis district, a former industrial area that now bristles with clubs, bars and alternative venues – some not so squeaky clean as those found in the centre.
This is the Geneva of the ‘real’ Genevois… or as close as you’ll get to it. Geneva is something of a chameleon in the nightlife stakes. La Rue de l’École-de-Médecine (Medicine Street) is student central, but don’t let that deter you – there is plenty of fun to be had in its lively alfresco bars and cafés in the summer months. Meanwhile, tourists flock to either the glamorous hotel bars in the city centre or the Place de l’Ile, an island in the middle of the Rhône that offers great views and several high-end (and pricy) drinking options.
Many of the city’s most talented bartenders reside in Geneva’s luxury hotels. But, for something different, check out the Carouge district or the infamous Pâquis area. It’s sometimes hard to believe that this neighbourhood, home to both Geneva’s Red Light District and several excellent bars, is in the same city that houses more luxury brands per square mile than any other in Switzerland. A tale of two cities, indeed.
Click through the following pages to see our top bars in Geneva, Switzerland.
La Verre á Monique
Rue des Savoises 19
Half retro, half sci-fi and tucked down a side street in Geneva’s art district, Le Verre á Monique inhabits a parallel dimension where Mad Men meets Blade Runner.
On a 1950s terrazzo floor sits a large central copper bar with columns of vintage crystal glasses – take a seat and pick up a blue snake-skinned cocktail menu.
Each drink is designed to bring something new to your tastebuds: The Smokey Bear takes black truffle-infused Cognac, strawberry and mandarin and pairs them with the perfumed smoke of flamed oak moss.
Le Bar Des Bergues at Four Seasons Hotel Des Bergues
Quai des Bergues 33
Geneva’s most convivial meeting place features an all-day menu of imaginative light fare, supremely attentive service and the welcome talents of Sophie Larrouture, awarded the title of World Class Switzerland Bartender of the Year 2016.
Her Manhattans are dangerously addictive.
Rue de Lausanne 24
The Pâquis district’s pride and joy, Scandale is conveniently located by the train station, and is considered the place to go to for a nightcap.
The atmosphere is fun and lively almost any night of the week, while the basement is given over to raucous karaoke. Perfect for big groups, Scandale also serves up Geneva’s best pizza.
La Petite Reine
Place de Montbrillant 15
You cannot miss La Petite Reine, with its signature bicycle on the grey outdoor wall right behind the train station.
It’s simply Geneva’s friendliest neighbourhood bar, with a nice terrace that is always packed in the summer months. Gallons of locally brewed IPAs are its raison d’être.
22, Rue du Cendrier
Newly opened, Voodoo Reyes serves some wickedly tasty potions, charms and cocktails created by bar manager Katalin Bene, World Class Switzerland Bartender of the Year 2018.
Expect smoke and mirrors and spellbinding drinks served to a great soundtrack. Our top choice is Crocodile Tears, served inside a smoking glass cage.
New rules over the definition, description, presentation and labelling of spirits have been written into EU law, providing increased protection for the sector.
Following years of negotiations, the 28 EU member states settled on the updated set of regulations at the end of last year.
These regulations have been published in the EU's Official Journal today (17 May). The majority of the new rules will be applicable from 25 May 2021, while certain provisions on geographical indications (GIs) will apply from 31 May 2019.
Trade body the Irish Spirits Association (ISA) has welcomed the adoption of the new laws, claiming they “will ensure better protection for Irish whiskey, Irish cream and Poitín into the future”.
The regulations will see “an increase in the harmonisation of standards across the EU”, in addition to “clearer and more consistent” labelling for spirits.
GI statuses will also benefit from an additional seven years of protection, while “more traditional production methods” will also be preserved, which is expected "to clamp down on fake GI spirits”.
Vincent McGovern, head of ISA, said: “Ireland’s spirits industry is an important and growing indigenous sector, with products that stand out on the global stage as a result of their heritage, quality and authenticity.
“With growth anticipated to continue, increased protection for our spirits industry is very important and these new EU rules really help.
“While benefitting Irish producers, the new rules will also be good for consumers, who will be better able to make informed choices, as there will be more uniform labelling requirements across the EU.”
The ISA has been involved in a two-year lobbying campaign to improve the regulations for spirits, tackling laws that “undermined Irish GIs”.
International fair ProWine Asia has reported a 4% increase in trade visitors to its second Hong Kong exhibition.
Following its debut in Hong Kong in 2017, ProWine Asia returned to the territory on 7-10 May, when its exhibition space increased by 20%. ProWine Asia alternates between Hong Kong and Shanghai as its setting each year.
More than 340 exhibitors from 28 countries and regions participated in ProWine Asia 2019, compared to 310 in 2017, marking a 9.6% increase.
Meanwhile, 12,716 trade visitors from 62 countries and regions attended the event, up from 12,184 in 2017 – a 4% increase.
A total 36% of the visitors came from outside Hong Kong, predominantly from southern China, Macau, Taiwan and Korean, marking a 8.4% increase in international visitors.
“As one of the most open and economically vibrant regions, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is definitely the buzzword in 2019, [and] Hong Kong plays an important role in this initiative,” said Bastian Mingers, global head of wine and spirits and director of ProWein.
“Four days of business opportunities and rewarding interactions between producers, importers, distributors, key buyers and industry experts proved again that ProWine Asia 2019 in Hong Kong is well positioned as the strategic gateway to tap into the Asian wine boom.”
Mingers succeeded Marius Berlemann in the role on 1 April this year. Berlemann stepped into the position of general manager of the Shanghai subsidiary of Messe Düsseldorf, the company behind ProWein.
ProWine Asia was held as part of Hofex 2019, Asia’s leading food and hospitality trade show. The exhibition is jointly organised by Messe Düsseldorf China and UBM Asia, organiser of Hofex.
In March, Düsseldorf’s ProWein event achieved a record number of visitors and exhibitors for its 25th anniversary.
Fast-growing mixer brand Fever-Tree is set to enter the ready-to-drink market this summer with the launch of bottled gin and tonics.
The range will consist of three expressions: Premium Indian Gin & Tonic, Refreshingly Light Gin & Tonic, and Elderflower Gin & Tonic, which will all be packaged in 275ml glass bottles.
The bottles will be available to purchase from Tesco stores across the UK from 20 May, targeting picnic and party occasions. Each bottle in the range will be priced at £2.75 (US$3.50).
Fever-Tree, the UK’s leading premium mixer brand, worked with Thames Distillers’ Charles Maxwell to create gins that complement the respective mixers.
For the Premium Indian Gin & Tonic and Refreshingly Light Gin & Tonic a “juniper-forward” London Dry gin has been produced. Meanwhile, for the Elderflower Gin & Tonic, a “lightly floral” gin has been used.
“The continued popularity of the G&T is drawing in consumers in ever greater numbers and our new ‘ready-to-drink’ range provides consumers with a convenient way of enjoying a perfectly paired G&T without having to compromise on quality,” said Rose Cottingham, senior innovation manager at Fever-Tree.
“The range has been inspired by our favourite flavour combinations and reflects the same commitment to the highest quality ingredients, botanicals and taste that is at the heart of all of our products.”
The range has launched at a time when gin sales in the UK are at an all-time high. According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, UK consumers purchased £1.9 billion (US$2.4bn) worth of gin in 2018, the equivalent of 28 million bottles.
In 2018, Fever-Tree reported 40% revenue growth to £237.4m (US$313.5m), boosted by the UK market. The brand is seeking to reach new audiences by increasing the variety of its line, including a range of ginger ales for dark spirits and a tonic made specifically to pair with Patrón Tequila.
The collapse of the merger between Republic National Distributing Company and Breakthru Beverage Group means Southern Glazer’s reigns supreme in the US. The Spirits Business discovers what this means for brands big and small.
*This feature was originally published in the May 2019 issue of The Spirits Business
Consolidation has become a ubiquitous buzzword in the US distribution belt. Just a year after US$17.5 billion giant Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits (SGWS) was created, Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC) and Breakthru Beverage Group, the second- and third-largest wine and spirits wholesalers in the US, revealed plans to merge and form a US$12bn company in November 2017.
However, almost 18 months after announcing their intentions, the two firms ended discussions following a “protracted review” by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It seems regulators are acknowledging concerns expressed by industry stakeholders over many years: that America’s distribution tier is being squeezed to the point of suffocation. According to Ian R Conner, deputy director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, the government agency was concerned about “likely anticompetitive harm if the transaction were completed”.
There were fears that the deal “likely would have resulted in higher prices and diminished service in the distribution of wine and spirits in several states”. At the time of the announcement, Conner said: “The transaction likely would have adversely impacted suppliers of wine and spirits that depend on these distributors to promote and distribute their products, and retail and foodservice customers that purchase those products from RNDC and Breakthru.”
RNDC was formed in 2007 following the merger of the Republic Beverage Company and National Distributing Company. Breakthru Beverage Group is result of the 2015 merger between Wirtz Beverage Group and Charmer Sunbelt Group. Commenting on the abandoned deal, Greg Baird, president and CEO of Breakthru Beverage Group, said: “While disappointed, we are glad to put the uncertainties and demands of the FTC process behind us, and focus our resources, time and energy toward moving Breakthru’s innovation platform and operating model forward.” Baird added that the merger was an “opportunity to become even more efficient and responsive to evolving trends and demands”. He said the company has not ruled out any future deals and is “constantly evaluating opportunities”.
The proposed merger was intended to compete with SGWS, which became the market leader after the merger of Southern Wine & Spirits and Glazer’s Inc in July 2016. With operations in 44 US states, as well as the District of Columbia, Canada and the Caribbean, Southern Glazer’s has annual sales of US$17.5bn, according to Forbes. The rampant merger and acquisition activity in the US distribution business has been a key challenge in the industry, many claim, especially for smaller brands. Margie Lehrman, CEO of trade body the American Craft Spirits Association, notes: “Anytime there’s any kind of consolidation, it’s one less avenue to get your product to market, and especially for ‘craft’ spirits producers who have limited capacity.”
However, Simon Ford, co-founder of The 86 Company, producer of the UK’s Ford’s Gin, believes the deal would have enhanced competition by challenging Southern Glazer’s dominance. “When any industry monopolises then you lose competition. Seeing Breakthru and RNDC break up means that it lessens the number of true competitors. If they had merged, they would have become the bigger challenger to Southern Glazer’s.”
He also believes consolidation of big distributors is giving opportunities for younger, smaller companies to represent ‘craft’ spirits. “As a smaller brand, you want more intimacy from your distribution partner, so being with a smaller company and having available smaller companies to represent smaller brands is not a bad thing,” says Ford.
There is a need for more distributors in the US, but Ford predicts the number will grow. “As ‘craft’ spirits grow and there’s less consolidation because there’s more choice, then that’s going to trickle into the distribution network, without a doubt,” he insists. “Two things will happen: the big guys will build new divisions to tackle that need, or nuanced entrepreneurs or new distributors will emerge.”
More recently, a number of distribution companies have unveiled new units dedicated to artisan spirits. Two years ago Breakthru launched its Trident subsidiary for ‘craft’ and emerging brands, and on 1 April Empire Merchants in New York City launched its Independent Spirits division. For James
Chase, founder of UK-based farm-to-bottle Chase Distillery, the US’s famous three-tier distribution system – in which every bottle passes from distiller or importer to distributor or wholesaler to retailer or bar owner – “can really limit some brands’ efforts to get into the market, compared with the UK”.
Chase adds that the immediate negative is that big distributors rely on huge brands “with a lot of money” and are less likely to focus on their smaller brands. And keeping brands happy is the biggest challenge, according to Ford. He says: “The more brands the distributors take on, the harder it will be to hit everybody’s goals and hit those commitments. That’s the challenge they address on a daily basis.”
But the three-tier system does come with its benefits in the on-trade. “When you have a rep in place and you’re only allowed to be with one rep, it almost regulates it and makes it a bit more structured,” says Chase. But pricing can be a challenge for smaller producers, with more ‘craft’ offerings sold at a higher price. “We need to make sure we keep our high price, otherwise we won’t make any profit on our product,” notes Chase. “There are a lot of brands now, like Tito’s, that are so much cheaper than premium brands like Grey Goose.”
For Breakthru, the biggest challenges facing the US distribution belt are “e-commerce, omni-channel integration and shifts at retail and on-premise”.
Baird says: “Today’s on-demand economy increasingly puts purchase decisions outside of traditional channels. A surplus of choice and a diminished loyalty to individual brands all has a trickle-down effect. We see a great opportunity to capitalise on these insights to maximise performance.” Brandy Rand, US president of IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, said a number of factors have “put pressure on the legal and regulatory infrastructure of the three-tier system” and created a “more competitive environment” as innovative offerings and ‘craft’ brands enter the market.
She said: “The US beverage alcohol market has changed rapidly over the past decade due to the rise of e-commerce, growth in direct-to-consumer shipments, recreational legalisation of cannabis, the increase in the number of distilleries, breweries and wineries, changing tastes, and the number of new brands in multiple categories.
“It is much harder to get distribution and, more importantly, consumer pull-through than ever before.”