Pot of Gould – The cocktail: shaking up the market
Marketing spirits as constituents in new or popular cocktails has been a feature of the spirits category for years. And the growing emphasis on attracting younger consumers has meant the cocktail has become even more crucial to spirits marketing strategies. So much so, Patience Gould writes, that even Cognac now sees the cocktail as a key element in its growth plans.
Evidently the cocktail has a lot to answer for - and over the last ten years it has been both the saviour of many drinks and the catalyst for the ongoing development of others, notably vodka.
The one big positive the cocktail offers is that it brings new consumers to a spirit that, unmixed, might be challenging. Scotch whisky immediately springs to mind and, faced with the perennial challenge of attracting younger consumers - notably in the US and the UK - Scotch producers are beginning to latch on to the mixing mania.
This is particularly true when it comes to the new generation of blended malts that are coming on stream, and the likes of William Grant's Monkey Shoulder is a classic example. The company is seeding the brand in key on-trade outlets using bespoke cocktails, like Blushing Monkey and Monkey Sour. So at a stroke, the company has cocktail barmen behind the brand, introducing it to the all-important under-35 age bracket.
Liqueur producers also have a lot to be thankful for: the traditional contenders, like Grand Marnier, were always sipped and savoured after a meal. But with ever tougher drink-drive laws coming into force in Europe and elsewhere, the after-meal drink is the first to be sacrificed. However, using the cocktail, Grand Marnier has formed a judicious bridge between its traditional consumer and the new. Aside from its own biennial cocktail competition, it now has bespoke cocktail lists in most of the top bars in major cities throughout the world.
However, one spirit that has singularly failed to capture the imaginations of cocktail drinkers - or makers for that matter - is Cognac. Steps taken back in the early 1990s tempted consumers to mix the eau de vie with, of all things tonic. It was not, and is not, a marriage made in heaven. But it was a big leap for Cognac producers who for too long have religiously kept their spirit in the confines of tradition: the snifter glass after a meal, no ice, no water and certainly no mixer.
Now, though, it seems Cognac is finally taking the plunge and has challenged the world's greatest cocktail creators to come up with a Cognac-based cocktail for the 21st century.
The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) is staging a major initiative in Cognac, with the world's leading mixologists from the US, the UK, Germany, France and Slovakia in attendance. Under the banner "Why Cognac is perfect for Mixology", the great and the good are mustering for the best part of a week and the hoped-for result is a Cognac cocktail for the modern era to rival the classic Sidecar.
The fact that Courvoisier has only recently launched its Exclusif VSOP, which made its UK debut in the late 90s, in the spiritual home of cocktails - the US - is some proof that producers are taking note of the mixing potential. But Exclusif is specifically designed for the mixing arena - and that is a bit like saying "don't mix the other qualities, they are too good!"
Over in Armagnac, some producers have gone one step further and introduced white, unaged eaux de vie, especially geared for use in cocktails. To this end, Armagnac producer Laubade has even teamed up with cocktail syrup specialist Monin, and Tariquet is taking similar steps. There are rigid AOC guidelines for producing Blanche D'Armagnac, which effectively closes the door on a flurry of producers entering the unaged fray - and of course safeguards the quality of the spirit.
While these initiatives are positive, one can't help feeling that, when it comes to both Cognac and Armagnac, tradition still overpowers the categories, but that's no bad thing either. Trying to drag the consumer to the cocktail bar brings to mind that old adage - you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.
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