The Juniperlooza session during the recent Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans demonstrated one of the reasons gin is making headlines and making headway with American consumers these days. Representatives of four gin brands— Plymouth’s international ambassador Simon Ford, Beefeater master distiller Desmond Payne and moderator Ryan Magarian, a partner in Aviation, along with Phillip Duff, brand ambassador for Lucas Bols —presented an informative, educational and at times raucous session in which they each discussed not only their own brands and styles, but paid homage to the established and new brands now making the scene. In short, there was no vying for position or even a sense of competition among these spokesmen, but rather pure passion for gin and a sense that they were comrades in arms, on a shared mission to spread the word of gin and convert the masses to the venerable spirit.
In an industry where brand competition can be fierce if not brutal, this was refreshing. What’s more, it’s likely doing the gin category plenty of good. While they explained the stylistic differences between them—Beefeater the quintessential London Dry, Plymouth a unique expression of London Dry, Aviation as part of what Magarian calls the New Western Dry style and Duff on the Genever style—one came away with the sense that in their efforts to bring consumers to gin, they didn’t care which gin was first sampled, so long as someone was willing to try the spirit. From there, they’d inevitably be delighted and then experimentation with the various styles is inevitable--especially when in the hands of a learned barkeep—giving each brand an opportunity to win loyalty.
The reason for the cooperative effort among gin brands is obvious: there’s power in numbers. Many of the newer brands, including Plymouth and Aviation, do zero to minimal advertising, opting instead for grassroots marketing spearheaded by bartenders enthusiastic about the brand. For the larger, more established brands such as Beefeater, which is remaking itself with a new bottle and hipper positioning, joining the “cool gin” crowd will go far in updating its image and appeal. Working together, the brands can grow the overall category more effectively than if they tried to do it solo.
Could this strategy work for other categories? Would we ever see such cooperation and mutual admiration on display among vodka marketers? Highly unlikely. But, why not? In this age when every spirit would love to steal vodka’s thunder (i.e., its volume), perhaps working together to demonstrate the stylistic differences among vodkas could promote and reinforce the overall category. Interestingly, many top mixologists and bartenders today openly pooh-pooh vodka as a boring spirit that consumers turn to for alcohol delivery, not as a flavor or character enhancement to a cocktail.
At the same time, they’ll wax prophetic on when to use a potato-based vodka versus a wheat-based on in cocktails. Hmmm…perhaps learned mixologists and brand ambassadors getting together to demonstrate the varied nuances of different vodkas and their appropriate uses is a worthy endeavor. And now that boutique vodka brands are flooding the market, the big brands might want to showcase the character attributes that earned them their incredible share of market. Remember, complacency is dangerous as it invites competition. Just a thought. Now I have to go back to sipping my Gin Gimlet.