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This monthly summary highlights some of the most interesting product launches in December, with a focus on the direction the alcoholic drinks industry is taking in terms of innovative developments.

Victoriana: Sharpening the focus on heritage

Pop culture references, macro-economic parallels and sociological hints can provide a unique vehicle for innovation and category growth. Such clues tend to take the form of mostly implicit, subtle undercurrents but their impact can end up having seismic repercussions once they enter the mainstream. It’s the stuff that trends are made of.

Take the case of bourbon. Interest in the category was already gaining traction back in 2007. Neo-prohibitionary rhetoric and the Great Recession guaranteed an ideal setting for the iconic American tipple to cement its leading role within the spirits arena. Then, TV series like Mad Men and Broadwalk Empire provided more than the jazz soundtrack. Old-fashioned cocktails became ubiquitous yet again. And hence, bourbon had its story and is still riding the 30s chic, Americana wave to this day.

As gin and scotch whiskey are struggling to find new ways to reinforce and communicate their quintessentially British heritage, Victorian recipes and designs will anchor nostalgia and funnel the nascent retro trend into a much more focused and recognisable proposition. The story is already there and the end of the Jubillee and London Olympics year sounds like the perfect time to seize it.

Cream gin from Master of Malt

Based on a seemingly long forgotten Victorian recipe and created in partnership with Fluid Movement, which owns inventive London cocktail bars Purl, The Worship Street Whistling Shop and Dach & Sons, the product involves “a secret combination of ingredients” – including fresh cream – being macerated with a “citrus-forward” gin and then cold-distilled. In contrast to the original Victorian recipe, which saw gin mixed with cream and sugar before being stored in a barrel- presumably as a way to soften the harshness of the gin- this modern method uses cream as if it were a botanical rather than a straightforward infusion.

Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary Edition from William Grant & Sons

Unusually for Glenfiddich, master blender Brian Kinsman has created a peated expression to recreate the way whisky used to be made in Speyside in the Victorian era. The bottle features a copper-topped cork and is presented in a gold coloured presentation tin and will be retailing for GBP70.

Rise of the hybrids

As the simplistic, unrealistic and ultimately marketing-spin induced stereotype of male blue-collar workers quaffing pints after a hard day’s work at the factory takes its rightful place in the dustbin of history, beer’s definitional shackles are gradually becoming obsolete. Positioning, brewing techniques, advertising and targeting are progressively losing their almost totemic character.

Taboos are broken; Apparently, women can embrace ale- shockingly it does not even have to come in pink hues or end up fortified with saccharine flavourings. Dark beer can mature in bourbon casks. Fermentation can result in double-digit abvs. And wine can be more than an inspirational arch-rival. It can even provide for a bit of sophistication, character and headline-grabbing controversy.

Mature markets are in dire need of such attributes. According to Euromonitor International, total beer sales in the US, for example, declined by 2% in 2011. This was the third consecutive annual drop and 2012 is not set to usher in any great surprises either.

The craft segment might indeed be backing the trend yet it merely represents a lone bubble of fizz in an ocean of stagnant swill. Perhaps wine, posting more than 1% total volume growth in 2012 in the US and boasting a much wider range of drinking occasions, innovation initiatives and cross-generational followers can finally be part of the brewing formula. Some will call such launches heresy. Visionary is probably a more appropriate term.

Vintage Ale from Blue Moon

At 51 percent beer, 49 percent wine, this daring hybrid is 8.5 percent alcohol by volume, launched in the innovation (and novelty) thirsty US market and will retail for about $10. Keith Villa, the founder of Blue Moon Brewing, now part of the SABMiller empire, has confessed working on these alcoholic “ligers” for 17 years. What was apparently considered to be far too avant garde back then is fittingly capturing the adventurous zeitgeist of an industry in flux today.

 

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