Vodka in the US: Architect of Change

For Campari and Absolut, there are grape expectations. Sorry. 

In May, under the Skyy Infusions brand, Campari launched Moscato Grape, capitalising on the popularity the variety has been enjoying in the wine world. Incidentally, Beam also launched a Moscato wine under the Skinnygirl brand this year, but that’s for a different article. Campari’s Schuart describes Skyy Infusions Moscato Grape as the company’s “most successful new flavour yet”.  

She adds: “It captures a broad demographic of consumers with a complex yet approachable taste profile of Moscato by infusing vodka with sweet, luscious Moscato grapes. We found a way to capture that beloved flavour of Moscato, which is currently the hottest wine variety in the US, and make it perfect for cocktails that can be enjoyed in bars and nightclubs, or in easy-to-make drinks at home.”

Moscato madness

Earlier this year at London Wine Fair, Mintel analyst Jonny Forsyth claimed ‘Moscato madness’ in the US has led to a 33% increase in Moscato volumes. 

For Absolut, Sauvignon Blanc is the grape of choice and Absolut Tune took the US vodka scene by storm. For a start it’s wine-flavoured. Second, it’s sparkling. Now the US – and indeed the rest of the world – is no stranger to a new edition of Absolut but this one is really ‘out there’. 

Last month [September], the company announced a campaign with Swedish pop sensation Icona Pop. The nationwide roll-out of Absolut Tune coincided with the launch of a new ‘tune’ from the pop outfit’s forthcoming album. 

Kouchnir says of the partnership: “We’re excited to join forces with Icona Pop to nationally introduce Absolut Tune. “This blend allows us to experiment with new tastes and trends while offering consumers another delicious drink option, perfect for any celebratory occasion.”

Using pop stars to connect with consumers is great but, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 550,000 bartenders in the US – and the overwhelming majority don’t share Death & Co’s approach to vodka.  

Absolut has been reaching out in several different ways – Absolut Stuga, which was launched 18 months ago, is an immersive two-day experiential event in six US markets that brought Sweden to the US. The company also runs the Best Bloody Mary in America contest, which is now in its third year. 

“We just finished collecting bartender submissions, and received more than 1,400 unique Absolut Bloody Recipes from across the country… The top eight recipes that garner the most votes online will earn a spot as finalists and will compete at the New York City Wine & Food Festival this month,” says  Kouchnir. 

Bartenders can also use vodka created specifically for them through Absolut Craft – a partnership with Nick Strangeway that allows the top bartender to develop new expressions. The first, Herbaceous Lemon, launched last year and was made available to “select bartenders in a handful of cities”. The company is now in the process of rolling out the second expression, Smokey Tea.

“We’ve been using industry events such as Tales of the Cocktail and Portland Cocktail Week to introduce these flavours to the bartending community. People are absolutely floored when they taste it,” claims  Kouchnir. 

 The Sazerac Company has also got bartenders on its radar with its relatively new Epic vodka. Epic is made with vodka imported from France and has quickly caught the attention of the trade and consumers for its “smooth taste and classic, yet current image,” according to Tracey Clapp, the company’s marketing director for vodka. 

“We are aware of the interest in classic cocktails, and vodka has many.  In fact, we are releasing several classic vodka cocktail recipes this fall for Epic,” she adds.  And, true to US form, Epic vodka comes in several flavours, including coconut, cake, kiwi-strawberry, cherry and whipped cream. 

There are approximately 160 different species of chameleon. That’s almost as many chameleons as there were vodka launches in the  US last year. Whether the spirit lasts as long as the lizard depends on its ability to adapt.