Craft and cocktail trends both continue to drive sales in the cordials and liqueurs category. These trends have also spurred producers in the category to come out with innovative takes on new products. Bottles now hitting the retail shelves include premium versions of standard brands, plus a bevy of flavorful styles.
At the same time, the classic brands remain as relevant as ever. The mixology movement has lifted cocktails new and old into the mainstream. Consumers are buying up must-own cordials and liqueurs for back bars and bar carts at home. After all, what’s a party these days without a craft cocktail station?
Driving all this is the modern consumer’s thirst for what’s new and flavorful.
“Millennials are especially seeking out new taste experiences and are discovering these fresh flavors by trying cordials and liqueurs in classic cocktails and newer innovations,” says Morgan Robbat, CMO of Hotaling & Co.
Producers back up their brands with modern marketing. These programs connect with consumers through trade, onsite and digital platforms. Craft cocktails fit naturally onto social media, so most brands now promote hashtag campaigns that encourage consumers to share the ways they mix these products. And digital video is as hot as ever.
Which is all to say that cordials and liqueurs remain very much in the limelight.
1) Vintage Cocktails
With the mixology movement in full swing, consumers drink classic cocktails today like it’s the 19th century. That has brought about good times for old brands.
Campari, the herbal fruity liqueur that dates back to 1860s Italy, had suffered stagnant growth in America for decades. But with classic cocktails back on the menu, and very much in consumers’ minds, the brand has found new life.
“Campari surged in the past five years on the strength of the Negroni and the return of classic cocktails,” says Melanie Batchelor, VP of marketing, Campari America. “It recently surpassed 100,000 cases in the U.S., after being stuck at around 50,000 cases just a few short years ago.”
The renewed interest in retro mixology has benefitted another brand owned by Campari America. “The cocktail renaissance has put bitter liqueurs in the spotlight, allowing drinkers to discover 150-year-old brands like Averna,” Batchelor says.
To capitalize, Campari Group will leverage Averna’s upcoming 150th anniversary to engage audiences and boost awareness of Averna’s Sicilian heritage. A series of global media and influencer events, content marketing and a limited-edition bottle will all commemorate the milestone.
Many brands have highlighted their long and interesting histories. These stories commonly get passed onto bartenders, who in turn educate consumers about these classic products.
“Consumers are learning more about what they’re drinking at the bar and then recreating it at home,” explains Robbat of Hotaling & Co.
The company’s portfolio includes the distilled cherry liqueur Luxardo. “Dating back to 1821, when Girolamo Luxardo founded a distillery to produce a recipe for Maraschino perfected by his wife Maria Canevari, Luxardo’s rich history adds another dimension to the brand and makes it even more appealing to mixologists,” Robbat says.
As much as the mixology movement is about the classics, it’s also driven by experimentation. Old drinks have evolved with new twists.
“We will continue to see innovation from intrepid bartenders who will substitute ingredients in classics, such as a ‘Black Manhattan,’ which is made with Averna instead of vermouth,” Batchelor says.
Emma Gardner, Chambord Brand Manager, points out that even staple cocktails can benefit from swapping in a premium cordial or liqueur. “Chambord’s versatility in a variety of popular consumer bar calls, such as the Margarita or Manhattan, offers a great opportunity to elevate these classics with a decadent French twist,” she says.
2) Unique New Releases
The mixology movement has given rise to innovative takes on mixed drinks, both old and new. This in turn has seen producers stretch their own imaginations with new releases.
In 2017 Luxardo launched Bitter Bianco. It’s a distilled infusion of bitter herbs, aromatic plants and citrus fruits in water and alcohol, the “first clear bitter in the U.S. market,” Robbat says.
“We’re continuing to tout this unique product through influencer/social partnerships and events, as well as working with trade on creative applications for Bitter Bianco, such as the White Negroni and the Bitter Bianco Manhattan,” she adds.
The classic herbal digestif Jägermeister, which traces its roots back to 1930s Germany, made history this year by launching its first ever premium-level liqueur: Manifest.
Like the original, Jägermeister Manifest comes from a blend of herbs, blossoms, roots and fruits. Beyond that, master distillers added even more botanicals to the traditional mix of 56 ingredients, and increased the number of macerates from four to five.
Manifest also undergoes a two-fold refining process in small and large oak casks for more than 12 months. “We set out to create something new and unmistakably ground-breaking,” says Willy Shine, Jägermeister brand meister.
Bold flavors were at the root of Manifest’s creation.
“Full-bodied and well-made liqueurs have proven to captivate the market and gain recent popularity, which is why Jägermeister focused on creating a spirit that would grab the attention of those who favor stronger flavor profiles,” Shine says. “Additionally, brands have gravitated towards creating spirits that ‘cross-pollinate’ between flavor profiles, the same way in which Manifest emulates the familiar characteristics of Jägermeister, with robust notes similar to that of a whiskey.”
To Shine’s point, there’s been a bevy of new cordials and liqueurs released in the past year that focus on strong and/or versatile flavors. These include Mango, Ginger, and Pineapple Chipotle Liqueurs from Lucas Bols; Marie Brizard Yuzu, Pink Grapefruit, Elderflower, and Jolie Cherry; as well as Bosford Rose Gin & Strawberry Liqueur from Bacardi.
“Bosford Rose is a sophisticated and light-hearted spirits brand, which boasts a fruity, balanced flavor, designed to thrill the palate of today’s sophisticated consumer who likes to explore new and interesting flavors,” says Lisa Pfenning, global VP, acceleration brands for Bacardi. Bacardi has marketed Bosford Rose, 37.5% ABV, as ideal for a spritz with lemonade, a cocktail with Martini & Rossi Prosecco and strawberry garnish or a twist to a classic gin and tonic.
3) Low-ABV Is In
As the positioning of Barcardi Rose shows, another trend now affecting cordials and liqueurs is lower-ABV cocktails. Today’s consumer is ever-conscious of healthier options, as well as drinks that are sessionable rather than overly strong.
This has helped generate interest in brands like Chambord (16.5% ABV). With plenty of raspberry flavor despite the lower alcohol content, Chambord is a natural fit for the trending category of champagne- and wine-based cocktails, Gardner says.
“We see that consumers are still seeking full-flavored spirits beyond bold bourbons and flavored vodkas, and great tasting liqueurs paired with sparkling wine and club soda satisfy that need,” she adds.
Along those lines, the Aperol Spritz has helped fuel more than 30% growth, month after month, for the aperitif, according to Batchelor of Campari America.
“This fashionable cocktail has been a huge hit in Europe for years and is just now really catching fire in the U.S.,” she says. “With the recent consumer trend towards low-ABV cocktails, the brand is perfectly poised to really accelerate growth.”
The Italian hazelnut- and herb-flavored liqueur Frangelico is only 20% ABV. With its unique sweet flavor, the Campari America brand has appeared in cocktails like the Frizzante, Batchelor says, a “very easy, low-alcohol option with Frangelico, club soda and a squeeze of lime.”
4) Innovative Cream Liqueurs
While Baileys Irish Cream continues to tower over this category, other brands have made headway with releases that tap into the craft and cocktail trends.
McCormick Distilling recently released Five Farms: a farm-to-bottle, single-batch Irish Cream. The company co-ops with five farms in Cork County, Ireland, to source the dairy cream, which is mixed within 48 hours of creation with triple-distilled Irish whiskey.
“The concentration of Irish whiskey also sets the brand apart,” explains Mick Harris, McCormick Distilling managing director. “Most Irish creams contain less than 1% Irish whiskey. The rest of the alcohol is neutral grain spirits. Five Farms contains 10% Irish whiskey. You can really note the depth of the whiskey content and the luxurious mouth-feel from the farm cream.”
The final product comes in a retro 1950s/’60s-era glass Irish cream bottle with a swing-top enclosure. “The movement towards premium quality is what this product is all about,” Harris explains.
McCormick is also behind the strawberry-and-tequila cream liqueur Tequila Rose. Launched in 1993, the brand has blossomed in recent time thanks to nostalgia mixed with a robust social media presence.
“People will tag their girlfriends in photos of Tequila Rose with the line ‘This makes me think of you’,” says Noelle Hale, McCormick Distilling communications director. “The brand has a very viral nature. That’s what’s kept up its buzz. People will post, ‘You gotta go try that pink tequila liqueur.’”
“It’s always had appeal for women as an easy-drinking way to participate in the tequila category,” Harris adds.
Since launching in 2009, the RumChata brand has remained strong and innovative. After eight years of growth, RumChata now comprises 16% of the U.S. cream liqueur category, the company says.
“Consumers are demanding flavor and premiumization in all areas,” says Charlie Maas, RumChata CMO. “They are continuing to look for great innovative new tastes, versatility and mixability. RumChata tastes great by itself or mixed with hundreds of other spirits.”
Many consumers first tasted RumChata in a popular cocktail shot that mixes the liqueur with Fireball cinnamon whiskey. That helped expand the product’s demo from women aged 21-39 to include the LDA-30 male shot drinkers. Maas also reports another target demo: 30-50 year-old women who sip RumChata at night to relax.
All this has helped the cream liqueur brand overcome a reputation of being a holiday-season drink.
Always innovating, the brand recently released FrappaChata. The blend of RumChata and dark roast coffee already has distribution in 46 states in accounts the size of Walmart, Meijer and Kroger.
RumChata also recently launched MiniChatas creamer cups nationally. These are in response to fans who used RumChata as creamer in coffee, tea and iced coffee. MiniChatas are 25- ml. peel-top cups filled with RumChata. Recent Facebook posts have generated over 12 million views, according to Maas, as this package “has taken on a life of its own with the consumer.”
5) Digital Marketing Matters
A common factor for the success of many of these brands has been the savvy use of social media. Digital campaigns behind these products encourage consumers to post their experiences with hashtags that generally reflect a carefree, adventurous lifestyle.
Campari America recently purchased the orange-flavored liqueur Grand Marnier (which dates back to 1880s France). Then they supported the purchase with the “Live Grand” campaign. In partnership with music-video director Joseph Kahn, the campaign encouraged consumers to #LiveGrand by “taking a good experience and transform it into a GRAND one.”
Chambord is supported by its global #BecauseNoReason campaign. This “invites consumers to turn ordinary moments into extraordinary occasions,” Gardner says. This year the brand will launch a creative extension of this mantra, “Toast Your Mademoiselles,” through platforms that uplift women and celebrate female friendships through various outlets including digital media (Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest), partnerships, trade and consumer programming, on- and off-premise POS, OOH creative and local events.
Many savvy brands have also tapped into the consumer preference for watching videos, particularly when those clips educate viewers about mixology.
“RumChata is versatile and user-friendly in creating great tasting cocktails year-round, as shown by the tremendous YouTube response to our recipe videos,” says Maas of RumChata.
Campari last year unveiled the Campari Red Diaries. This project reinveted the brand’s annual “Campari Calendar” as a series of short films. The lead story in the Campari Red Diaries series — Killer in Red — is a short film starring the actor Clive Owen. “The series celebrates cocktails as a powerful vehicle for expression,” Batchelor says, “and shines a light on what inspires bartenders to share their craft.”
Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece Is Craft Beer Approaching a Bubble?