Innovations in flavour are opening up exciting new ways for using vodka, reports Mark Ludmon
From chocolate raspberry to tea and chilli, new flavoured vodkas are arriving in the UK to open up ideas for simple mixed drinks and cocktails.The latest addition to the Absolut Flavours range is Wild Tea, which brings together the dark tones and richness of black oolong tea and the delicate character of Nordic white elderflower, with additional hints of red apples and citrus.This builds on the trend for bartenders in Britain to infuse vodkas with tea themselves, says Absolut’s marketing manager Adam Boita of Pernod Ricard UK.“We were pioneers in the on-trade and we are building on that heritage with innovative bold new flavours, with more innovation in the pipeline.”
Adam says there is great potential for developing flavoured vodkas, particularly among consumers aged 25 to 34 who “are more mature in their taste and want more sophisticated – but uncomplicated cocktails”. Supported by Absolut brand ambassador Bex Almquist, Pernod Ricard UK is promoting new serves with the flavours, focusing on simple cocktails.The number-one Absolut flavour in the UK is raspberry but others are growing rapidly such as Citron, up 137 per cent year on year, and Vanilia, up 74 per cent, while Berri Açai was on trend launching last year. “Innovation is important as consumers are always looking for new ways to consume vodka,” Adam adds. Globally, SPI Group has developed an extensive range of flavours for Stolichnaya for different markets, and the latest to be introduced into the UK is Chocolat Razberi. Produced using Stoli’s four- stage filtration process, it delivers notes of rich deep chocolate and warm vanilla- cocoa accents followed by a delicate hint of fresh raspberries. It joins the line- up of Ohranj,Vanil, Razberi, Citros and Gala Applik, distributed by Maxxium UK.
Diageo GB is investing £1million in a heavyweight outdoor advertising campaign to drive further awareness of Vanilla Smirnoff, which joined its Lime, Green Apple and Blueberry flavours last September. It aims to educate consumers in how to drink flavoured vodka, promoting long mixed drinks such as combining Vanilla Smirnoff with cola. Smirnoff is driving the growth in flavoured vodkas in the UK on-trade, according to research group CGA, with the four-strong portfolio adding £30.2million to the on-trade last year and growing by 169 per cent. Smirnoff Lime and Smirnoff Green Apple account for just over half of the volume in the on-trade for flavoured vodka, with one in three outlets adding a flavoured vodka to their offering since 2009.“The launch of Smirnoff Vanilla was particularly exciting as it broadened the appeal of Flavours to a spectrum of different consumer tastes,” says Smirnoff Flavours brand manager Joanna Andrews. “Flavour technology experts have previously identified four main consumer flavour profiles relevant to flavoured vodka:‘sharp and acidic’ such as Lime Smirnoff; ‘fresh and cleansing’ such as Green Apple Smirnoff; ‘sweet berry’ such as Blueberry Smirnoff; and ‘sweet and flowery’ which is where the opportunity for new Vanilla Smirnoff lay, as a perfect complement to the existing flavours. Licensees should take advantage of this profitable opportunity by training staff in recommending the different flavours available as well as long mixed drinks to customers.”
It is not just the larger brands that are tapping into the thirst for flavoured vodkas.
Square One organic vodkas, produced in Idaho in the US and imported to the UK by Eau de Vie, offer interesting alternatives such as Basil, Cucumber and Botanical, – a gin-inspired flavour made from fruit, floral ingredients and herbs.Also from the US, Hangar One offers unique flavours such as Kaffir Lime, Mandarin Blossom and Citron Buddha’s Hand.
Innovative new products have captured the imagination of bartenders, such as Babicka which is infused with thujone extracted from hand- picked wormwood – the same ingredient used in absinthe.This produces a distinctive and unique floral bouquet with a creamy flavour. Ideas for serving the vodka have been developed by the brand’s mixologist Zdenek Kastanek, from London bar Quo Vadis, with support from drinks consultant Michael Stringer. Babicka UK sales and marketing manager Justin Shore says: “Wormwood has been used for centuries in vermouth, gin and liqueurs – Babicka finds the wormwood adds a really interesting and unique taste profile to the vodka expressed perfectly in a Naked Martini.”
Michael Stringer is also working with Black Moth Vodka, which is made using the black European Périgord truffle. “Black Moth has become one of the most premium and most talked-about vodkas on the market,” he says.“This unique vodka is soft on the palate, delicately flavoured and subtly balanced. He joined forces with consultancy Hire The Barman to create a booklet of recipes that make the most of the full flavour profile of the truffle. Brand owner Paul Amin says: “Infamous for its rich, earthy aroma and distinct taste, the Périgord truffle lends tangible hints of freshly dug earth and spice, creating the inimitable flavour of Black Moth.”
Closer to home, Chase Distillery in Herefordshire has produced marmalade vodka and a smoked vodka made by smoking the water with English oak chips. In north London, Sacred Distillery produces a unique spiced vodka that is made with seven botanicals including Indonesian cubeb, angelica, nutmeg and frankincense, using the same techniques as its Sacred Gin. And from Scotland, supplier Master of Malt has introduced the super-hot 100,000 Scovilles Naga Chilli Vodka, infused with Naga Jolokia chilli peppers and named after the Scoville scale of spicy heat.
Poland’s Żubrówka Bison Grass Vodka has grown to become the number-one flavoured vodka in the UK thanks to Marblehead Brand Development, and is set for further growth with new distributor First Drinks Brands. Marblehead – a specialist in Polish vodkas is this year focusing on Davna Czeri Vodka which is made with fresh hand- picked cherries from Polish orchards using a traditional recipe.
Michael Stringer is a particular fan of Belvedere’s range of fruit flavoured vodkas.“They use only real fruit and a proprietary process of maceration to create amazing, natural flavours including black raspberry, pink grapefruit, citrus and orange,” he says.“It is not just the smaller, boutique brands which have the ability to create such fantastic flavours without the need for synthetics.” His favourites include Belvedere IX, blended with nine individually distilled ingredients, and Belvedere’s new Bloody Mary flavour which includes “a maceration of seven essential Bloody Mary ingredients, such as tomato, chilli pepper and horseradish”.
The most extensive range of flavoured vodkas in the UK comes from Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands. Its portfolio includes not only 42 Below from New Zealand featuring the four flavours of kiwi fruit, manuka honey, passion fruit and feijoa but also the wild berry-flavoured Eristoff Black and Grey Goose, with flavours such as La Poire. It also distributes Finlandia and its four Fusion flavours of grapefruit, cranberry, lime and mango which are currently experiencing good growth in the UK market, according to brand manager Chris Gately-White. He says the multi- award-winning Finlandia Grapefruit is the brand’s “hero flavour” a favourite with bartenders that is being pushed in 2012 through trade activity and PR.“In some respects, I think that the success of these products can be put down partly to their mixability,” Chris says.The simple serve of Finlandia Grapefruit with tonic is performing “really well” both through the off and on trade, he adds.“It’s appealing to vodka drinkers, but also to gin and tonic drinkers, who are looking for a refreshing alternative to their usual tipple.The flavoured vodkas now proliferating the market are offering consumers a fantastic choice of flavours, from grapefruit to mango, marmalade to spiced.”