We have seen brand design in the spirits sector evolve enormously over the past decade. But what about the words? Jamie Thorp, writer at verbal branding agency Reed Words, looks at how verbal communication strategies are starting to shift.
Gin, vodka, whisky and rum have made big gains over the past ten years. New distilleries have popped up at an unprecedented rate, and established brands are bringing out new products to stay relevant.
The sector isn’t slowing down, either. According to data analyst IWSR, the market value has risen by 12% to $1.17 trillion, beating its 2021 growth by a wide margin.
As the competition soars, so does the need for brands to stand out. The sector has got creative in capturing attention with its branding and packaging, and now, finally, the language of spirits is starting to catch up.
Here’s a snapshot of how spirits brands are using words to make their presence felt and their stories heard.
Softening vodka’s edge
For the longest time, vodka has been a cold, blue category. But things are warming up. Places like the US and Australia are bringing fresh grain types and distilling practices to the scene – and with them, a new flavour vocabulary.
Vodka is past being just ‘smooth’ or ‘clean’. It can be ‘spicy’ and ‘sharp,’ it can ‘linger like caramel’ and hit you with a ‘buttery finish’. Brands like Grainshaker and Tito’s are elevating their products from highball fillers to something you can appreciate on the rocks. They do that with language that captures the character of the liquid, and the land it comes from.
Today, vodka has got its own charisma, attitude and sense of purpose. It will be interesting to see (and hear) more of it in the future.
Gin brands seem to be on a mission to out-craft each other, and it’s starting to sound absurd.
Thankfully, some brands are bucking the trend. East London Liquor Company playfully frames its mission as ‘the fight for transparency’. Instead of mentioning purity or ancientness, Scapegrace creates its gin with ‘water hurled down New Zealand’s Southern Alps’. Neither brand talks about ‘craft,’ but their passion and expertise is as clear as the spirit they make.
Authenticity is key here. Gin-making offers distillers much room for variety and innovation. Why dilute it with generic, over-the-top language?
Creating new whisky traditions
Times and tastes are changing in the world of whisky, but its words have some catching up to do.
While liquid innovation is at an all-time high (think non-traditional barrel wood, wild ageing, blending with other spirits), its language hasn’t evolved as much.
The visual cues of stags, misty highlands and master-distiller signatures are slowly disappearing, and this will help bring in a new generation of drinkers. But until the storytelling of whisky reflects its new wave of creativity, it will struggle to keep them.
Focusing on rum’s provenance
Rum has been quietly helping itself to a bigger share of the premium market. From Jamaica to the Seychelles, this versatile spirit is going back to the land, the cane and the soil. These are rum’s real roots. And with bold flavour notes like ‘fermented banana,’ ‘meatiness’ and ‘funk’ to work with, copywriters are having a field day.
But the challenge is allowing rum to express its more premium side without sucking all the fun and approachability out of it. Duppy Share is a premium rum named after mischievous spirits from Caribbean folklore. It’s part of a growing wave of rums whose stories and credibility are grounded in a place as opposed to a general notion of the sea (looking at you, pirates).
The key point here is authenticity. If you’re a spirit brand, you can’t just call yourself ‘crafted’ or ‘artisan’ and be done with it. It’s not enough to simply share your story. You’ve got to make sure the language you tell it in is as expressive as the liquid itself. Refine it until it’s full of flavour, packs a punch and goes down real smooth.
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