Craft Spirits City Debate

Authenticity, heritage and craftsmanship – those were the keynote themes of this year’s City Debate hosted by the Worshipful Company of Distillers.

A packed house, last Thursday (May 12) heard from  Chivas Bros CEO Laurent Lacassagne (pictured); Brown-Forman's executive VP brands & strategy, Lawson Whiting; craft distiller John McCarthy of Adnams and David Smith, founder of Craft Distilling Expo address the topic Craft Spirits – Friend or Foe of Global Brands?

Nomura analyst Ian Shackleton provided an overview of market performance and Ian Buxton; liveryman, brands consultant and well-known author, presided in the chair.

While there was probably more discussion than debate – and views tended to the ‘friends’ perspective – Whiting did suggest they were “competitors” keeping the global brands on their toes.  As David Smith was keen to point out innovations such as the re-birth of Old Tom and the arrival of cask-aged gins owed much to the smaller distillers.  And the biggest laugh of the evening came as Buxton summarised Laurent Lacassagne’s argument as “Thanks, craft distillers, we’ll take it from here.”

A lively Q&A session saw the capacity audience fully drawn into the discussion and question the value of much of the language surrounding the category, suggesting that marketers needed to come up with some new vocabulary.

As Whiting quoted the 1957 brand plan for Jack Daniel's as emphasising "authenticity, heritage and craftsmanship,” he noted that: “Brands will continue to be built over a long period of time. "I don't think there's a revolution in terms of marketing," while acknowledging that "these craft brands have shaken everybody up a little bit.”

Friendship carried the day, with a show of hands revealing that the audience had swung to a positive view of the relationship. What goes around comes around, it seems.