PHOTO COURTESY OF ALLIED
DOMECQ SPIRITS USA
As anyone remotely associated with the beverage alcohol industry already knows, vodka has clicked with consumers in a big way. The category dominates the spirits landscape, with vodka consumption now accounting for 26.6% of all distilled spirits sold in the U.S., at more than 44 million 9-liter cases. While interest in other spirits categories are on the rise, vodka clearly remains America’s favorite spirit.
The vodka category grew an impressive 6% in 2004, according to Adams Handbook Advance 2005, and is expected to maintain this upward spiral for several years. Large numbers of new entries still cross our shores in search of those precious few available facings. This steady stream of high-quality brands provides retailers and consumers alike the opportunity to enjoy the hunt for the next hot new vodka.
Ever wonder why? In a country that loves bold flavors, throaty V-8s and bone-crunching sports, how did something so pristine and subtle as vodka grab the limelight?
Diageo’s Smirnoff brand remains the best-selling vodka in the U.S., with sales of more than 7.25 million 9-liter cases. The brand’s Twist line of flavors has become particularly popular.
One driving force behind its market dominance is its mixability. The spirit is featured in more recipes than any other type of spirit, largely because of its unsurpassed ability to bolster nearly any combination of disparate ingredients. Armed with a top-shelf bottle of vodka even time-strapped professionals can become a capable mixologist.
High-end vodkas have fueled the decade-long cocktail culture so pervasive in American nightlife. There would be no Martini renaissance with the advent of high-end vodka brands. The Cosmopolitan wouldn’t exist without Absolut Citron. Kamikazes, White Russians, Lemon Drops and Bloody Marys all derive their spirit from vodka.
Today, vodka enthusiasts are savvier and more discerning. Judging by the rapidly expanding superpremium sector of the category, people have developed a taste for the good stuff. And as it turns out the good stuff is just about the most intriguing of spirits in the distiller’s repertoire.
Appreciating the impact appellation has on a spirit is readily acknowledged with malts and brandies, but it is only recently being applied to vodka. Just like when selling a bottle of single malt, piquing the consumer’s enthusiasm for discovery is a sure-fire way of bumping your sales up a notch.
Vodkas are the unique products of microclimate, technique and water. Their base commodities, be they grain, grapes or potatoes, are nurtured by the sun and soil. Distillation renders their essence into the lightest of all spirits, one unfettered by the weighty effects of barrel aging. The character of the water is a most telling ingredient, however. Water is what gives vodka its singular identity — its genetic fingerprint, if you will — which in respect to the top-end brands is why no two are alike.
Perhaps vodka’s ace in the hole is its perceived value. From top to bottom, the category offers consumers a lot of bang for their buck.
McCormick’s value-priced flavored vodkas increased sales volume by 51.2% in 2004, while the entire McCormick Vodka brand sawa sales increase of 7.3% in 2004 to more than1.93 million 9-liter cases.
Like whiskeys and brandies, vodka is a regional sport. Countries and regions develop their own distinctive styles and enthusiasts want a balanced offering of types and styles from which to choose. To that end, here is our scouting report on what’s happening in the world of vodka.
The best-selling vodka in the U.S. is Smirnoff, with sales of more than 7.25 million 9-liter cases in 2004. The brand has expanded its influence with the release of a broad range of dynamically flavored vodkas, the most recent being Strawberry Twist. Others include Cranberry Twist, Citrus, Orange, Raspberry, Green Apple and Vanilla. The brand recently launched a line of Prepared Cocktails, called Smirnoff Signatures, which include the Screwdriver and the Cape Codder, both $8.99 suggested retail for a 750 ml.
Pernod Ricard USA launched Seagram’s Platinum Select Vodka, at 100 proof, last year. Including its flavored versions, the brand gained a hefty 38.9% last year to 639,000 9-liter cases after just two years on the market.
Meanwhile fast-growing Skyy Vodka released a new base brand, Skyy 90, a wheat vodka made in a technologically advanced, 5-column continuous still, which ultimately produces the industry’s first 100% distillate. Sierra Nevada spring water is added and the spirit is bottled at 90 proof. The elevated alcohol content gives the vodka more tingle on the palate, an enhanced mouth-feel and a bold, yet accessible character. It retails for $30 to $35 per 750 ml bottle.
The distillery’s flavored medley includes Skyy Melon — a 70 proof spirit infused with an all natural blend of honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon — the most recent addition, Skyy Orange, as well as Skyy Spice, Vanilla and Berry Vodka, which joined their already successful Skyy Citrus Vodka.
Seagram’s Extra Smooth Vodka is performing increasingly well after entering the market two years ago. The 100% grain neutral vodka extended its line with the introduction of Seagram’s Orange and Seagram’s Black Cherry early last year. In addition, Pernod Ricard USA recently added to the line with Seagram’s Platinum Select Vodka, at 100 proof. Overall, the brand gained a hefty 38.9% last year to 639,000 9-liter cases.
The superpremium Absolut Level hit sales of 100,000 9-liter cases in its first year on the market.
Even the un-sexy, domestically produced, so-called value brands are doing fine. While they don’t have the pricing power, they do move cases. Among vodka’s top-selling 10 brands, McCormick, Popov, Barton and Gordon’s all sell 1.5 million cases and up. McCormick’s had a stellar year in 2004, gaining 7.3% to more than 1.93 million 9-liter cases. Successful flavor extensions have played a part in all these brands’ recent growth.
Shakers Vodka from Minnesota is making a splash among enthusiasts. The first ultra-premium American vodka, Shakers is distilled entirely from the heart of Minnesota wheat, which is fermented in spring water, distilled in a six-column still and meticulously filtered. Released last year, Shakers Rose Vodka is an 100% wheat vodka infused with elixir of rose. Shakers Rye Vodka, made from 100% Minnesota-grown rye, also belongs to the portfolio.
Two smaller American vodkas are gaining recognition. Liquid Ice Vodka is produced at the Silver Creek Distillery in Rigby, ID. The distillery also markets Blue Ice Vodka, a light, flavorful spirit made from Russet Burbank potatoes and Rocky Mountain spring water.
The Absolut Spirits Company has just launched its seventh flavor, Absolut Apeach. Like other Absolut flavors, Apeach contains all-natural ingredients and is 80 proof. It is available now in 50 ml, 750 ml, 1 liter and 1.75 liter bottles.
Oregon’s Spudka Vodka is distilled from potatoes in a 139-plate continuous still. It is then double-filtered through activated charcoal and diluted to 82 proof with glacier-fed spring water from Mount Hood.
Produced in Frankfort, KY, Rain Vodka is made from organically grown corn from the Fizzle Flat Farms in Yale, IL and Kentucky limestone water. The award-winning vodka is quadruple-distilled and filtered through activated charcoal and diamond dust.
And then there is the handful of U.S. artisan vodkas, such as Hangar 1 made by St. George Spirits in Alameda, CA; micro-distilled Domaine Charbay Dry/Clear Vodka, also out of California; Crater Lake Vodka from Oregon’s Bendistillery; the acclaimed Tito’s Handmade Vodka, made at a distillery located outside of Austin, the first and only legal distillery in Texas; and Triple Eight Distillery on Nantucket Island, the East Coast’s first micro-distiller.
Rich in natural resources, Canada is an ideal place to distill ultra-premium vodka. Made in the Rockies, Pearl Vodka is distilled in small batches from wheat and soft spring water. The brand has been successful in the U.S and is now growing at a double-digit pace.
Renowned Canadian distiller Corby’s produces Polar Ice Vodka, a value-laded spirit made from 100% wheat, and imported into the U.S. by McCormick Distilling Co.
In 2004 Absolut introduced superpremium Absolut Level, a 100% wheat vodka produced in Ahus, Sweden. The superpremium vodka benefits from the production process of continuous distillation and small batch distillation. A light vodka with texture and a complex taste is formed when these two are blended. Selling for between $25-$30 per 750 ml, Level had notable success in 2004, selling 100,000 9-liter cases its first year on the market.
Shaw-Ross International debuted Fris Apple Vodka last year. Fris saw an almost 20% sales increase in 2004 to 233,000 9-liter cases.
The Absolut franchise these days also means flavor and the company has launched another keeper. Following on the heels of Absolut Vanilia, and the 80-proof Raspberi, the company just released Apeach. Like the rest of the brand’s flavors, the vodka contains no added sugar and presents a vibrant, true-to-fruit experience.
Last year Absolut also launched Danzka Vodka, a 100% wheat spirit made in Copenhagen by Danish Distillers. The Danzka line includes the flavors of Citrus, Grapefruit and Cranberyraz, a combination of tart cranberry and sweet raspberry flavor.
Finlandia is produced in Helsinki entirely from premium, six-row barley and glacier-fed spring water. Like many distillers, Finlandia extended its range with the release of Cranberry Fusion, Lime Fusion and the latest Mango Fusion. Fast-growing Svedka Vodka has a new flavor, Citron, to join its other flavor extensions — Raspberry, Vanilla and Clementine, while FrÃ®¯s Skandia recently launched FrÃ®¯s Lime and FrÃ®¯s Ã®pple.