(You have no idea how tempting it is when publishing a blog on April Fool’s Day to do something ….well, mischievous. While the column may seem a bit tongue in cheek, I assure you it is not. That’s just the way I write all the time. Sorry.)
In an effort to capture more market share or to breathe excitement into a mundane product line-up, some of our distiller friends have attempted to entice you with non-traditional offerings, and you have taken the bait, hook, line and alcohol.
Mostly the Millennial Generation (persons born in the 1980’s and achieving adulthood around the year 2000) have veered from the conservative path set by their parents, Baby Boomers or Generation X. Who the hell comes up with these identifiers? And how do we stop them before they do it again?
Anyway, the importance of the Millennial cannot be overstated. That’s because they are the largest age grouping of Americans ever. They are a bigger group than the Boomers who are actually entering the sunset of their years and so their prime purchasing days are in the past. Yes, these are generalizations so please don’t write and let me know that this is wrong as it applies to you or your Uncle Fred.
Anyway the direction of staid, always-been-the-same spirits has moved a notch a two toward non-traditional. The leader of the trend was vodka. And two things took place with vodka. First, the packaging became quite trendy and elegant, and secondly, the actual spirit changed with the addition of flavors.
First things first – vodka is an extremely inexpensive spirit to produce. Yes, you can run it through the distillation unit forty times and then with a whiz-bang marketing campaign convince consumers that all the production processes really make a tremendous difference. (Think men’s and lady’s razors that contain multiple strips of blades. Even as we speak, some marketing guru somewhere is having a fight with himself as to whether to increase the blade total to 10 or just leave it at 6.) Actually after about four times through the distillation unit, maybe five, not much changes from that point that we humans can detect. But you are the judge of what you like and that’s that.
What occurs is that one of the least expensive spirits to manufacture is put it into a bottle that by itself cost more than ten times what the liquid costs. In marketing parlance, value has been added to a product that is in essence not complicated nor expensive from its origination. And many of you have indeed decided to pay more for a package so you can make a statement to your friends when you pour a drink. As is said, “whatever floats your boat.”
After the package has been transformed into something appropriate for the Paris Fashion industry, now comes the product. Since the product is what it is, how about adding some flavors and, thus, colors? Are you a North Huckleberry sort of drinker? Hemp seed? Maybe just an orange? Basil? Oh, yes, cucumber? Melon? Black truffle? Raspberry and Chocolate? Chipotle and Chili? Pineapple? And so many others, all fully integrated into vodka.
Suddenly your cocktail mix palette has expanded, and at the same time contracted. You have some friends over and you offer them a concoction of which you are justly proud because it’s your creation. Excellent. Fun. And then after a few of your drinks, someone wants something different: their usual choice. You are now going to have to access another bottle of vodka to accommodate. For many generations before you having one bottle of vodka sufficed and now you need at least two, maybe more, some flavored and others not. Oh, my!
The same flavored phenomenon has struck the whiskey industry. Marketers are challenged to find a way to sell more booze at a time when overall consumption is not on an upswing. The solution is to create new flavors and sell those to your best, brand-loyal customers, who are also going to continue to purchase their old standards. It’s exactly what the brands were counting on. Seems to me that we consumers are about to run out of shelf space in the bar area.
This does not even begin to cover the topic of making your own beverages. Taking something fresh that you have grown or purchased at a farmer’s market, you yourself can infuse the flavors of your fruit, vegetable or spice into a vodka of your choosing. You can allow the flavors to “steep” until the desired flavor goal is reached based on your palate. And you don’t have to convert an entire bottle of spirits into your personal concoction. Do as much or as little as you want.
A local distillery, Atelier Vie, located under the Broad St. Overpass (yes you read that correctly) has developed Buck 25, a 125-proof vodka especially designed and distilled to be infused with whatever you wish. The thought here is that the higher proof helps the infusion process move along quicker. Why wait three weeks for your own recipe to “cook” when six days is plenty?
And so while we are impressing our friends and drinking buddies with the fact that the cocktail you created actually does taste like mountain lilacs in the spring (as if anyone would know what that really does taste like), there appears no true end to this trend of dousing formerly straightforward spirits with off-the-beaten track flavors. As long as we continue to be amazed with the aromas and flavors, commenting on how real they are, there will be another sensory experience right around the corner, built around a previously mundane liquid.
Oh, and it will likely be in a very pretty and expensive package.