Getting on the list

Another way of supporting the trade and locking in sales is investing in bars. But not Ketel One. “Bartenders are the guys who do bars – it’s a different business and not one we’re interested in,” says Patel. But Bacardi is in discussions with a new bar in China that is hoped to bring more exposure to the brand in the country.  

At Beaufort Bar there is a plush drinks trolley that allows bartenders to ‘finish cocktails’ in front of guests. It was Moore’s idea and he who designed it, but the trolley nearly didn’t get commissioned. “The quote came back at £20K,” he says in astonishment, standing by his new trolley serving a Grey Goose cocktail. Bacardi ended up helping out.

Moore says his choice to stock Grey Goose is not just about the incentives but the liquid. “It’s not just because the price is right or they give me perks – although that’s nice – the spirit has to meet our standards,” he says. 

The culture in vodka is of incentives and extras, which offer value to the buyer without the devaluing effect of discounting the brand. For the on-trade there is no ethical dilemma – bartenders and bar owners are not independent figures. They are part of the business chain and require a good deal to make more margin or pass the saving to the customer. 

And if a supermarket charges for listings, why shouldn’t a bar? The on-trade does far more for a brand’s profile. But if incentives are all fine and above board, why are brands so coy about them? Would it hurt to know how much a vodka brand spends in a year on listings?

In the long term it could be that it is the vodka category that is paying the price. A culture of pay-to-play says one thing: vodka is about numbers first, liquid second. Regardless, this culture is entrenched and won’t be changed. 

Besides, it would be interesting to know what would happen if brands pulled their funding and to what extent bars have grown dependent. Without Atlas would the sky have fallen?