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A Revolution In Spirits… London Leads The Way

Lucy Richardson, Associate Director

With London’s Artesian bar winning the prestigious title of the World’s Best Bar for the 4 th year in a row last Thursday and possibly the most successful London Cocktail Week ever taking place last week, it’s fair to say the UK is in the midst of a cocktail revolution at present. As a proud northerner, I’m loathe to leave out the rest of the UK but it’s fair to say that it’s London that is really driving the success of the cocktail scene in the UK; bartenders from around the world flock to our vibrant capital city to further their careers, attracted by the great talent and the plethora of bars already here, so it’s not surprising to see savvy spirits brands increasingly switching their focus to winning over London’s bartenders, a.k.a. the gatekeepers to the army of discerning drinkers in the capital.

“Spirits take only 24% of the alcohol market in the UK, compared with 36% in the USA”

Interestingly, we in the UK still lag behind our American cousins across the pond in terms of how much of the domestic alcohol market is taken by spirits, with only 24% compared to their 36% according to findings unveiled last week at The Publican’s Morning Advertiser’s Spirits Summit, leading Diageo’s customer marketing director to comment that the growth potential is clear. He’s by no means the only one to have spotted this opportunity – Brown Forman have been vocal in recent months about the potential for the American whiskey category in the UK and with growth in the super premium segment particularly strong, the future is certainly looking rosy for the Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve’s of the world.

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It’s a hugely exciting time for the cocktail industry in the UK at the moment and the progress that’s been made in terms of consumer understanding is immense. 20 years ago, a G&T would have been served in most bars and pubs around the country with a bit of rapidly melting ice, some cheap-as-chips tonic water and a slice of lemon if you were lucky, and guess what? Customers would have been fine with that. Fast forward to today and it’s becoming increasingly common for consumers to bar call gin brands (and tonic water – take a bow, Fever Tree) and bars are expected to have a variety of garnishes to hand depending on which brand the customer asks for (it’s pretty much sacrilege to be given anything other than lime as a garnish with a Bombay Sapphire G&T in my world). There’s still further work to be done though to convert more wine and beer drinkers into spirits drinkers but the signs are positive and spirits brands are certainly upping their game.

The brands that win the fight for the bartender’s recommendation are those that are likely to flourish in the years ahead and with so many spirits brands recognising this fact, it’s going to be interesting to see the different approaches brands adopt in the quest for improved bartender advocacy, a.k.a. the holy grail for spirits brands today.