And there’s still plenty of room for operators to grow the category further, providing they get their offer right, say drinks firms.
Steve Howard of flavoured vodka brand Keglevich, said he has been impressed by the premium spirits market in Scotland since Keglevich was introduced to the UK last year.
“From what I’ve seen I’ve been incredibly impressed,” he said.
“It feels like a vibrant marketplace where people are more positive than I thought they would be.”
Howard added that improvements in the economy have encouraged consumers to loosen their purse strings.
And he highlighted a demand for cocktails in “all levels of outlet” as an opportunity for publicans.
“For a bar, if you’re high-end you’re going to have a mixologist,” he said.
“For a lot of on-trade outlets, to be able to take Keglevich and mix it with products in the bar is very easy with no wastage of ingredients.”
Now may be the right time for operators to reassess their spirits offer and build a cocktail menu for the new season as the end of summer approaches.
“I think common sense says that most places will come up with a new cocktail menu in September,” said Howard.
“Cocktails change from the light flavours of summer to something a bit warmer.
“That range can be adapted, it doesn’t have to be product in, product out.
“I think if you can constantly refresh and rotate the range it means there’s always something new and different.”
Alec Morgan of Love Drinks, the firm behind Gosling’s Rum in the UK, also encouraged licensees to consider revamping their premium spirits offer in autumn.
“The lull between the summer season and the start of the festive period is the obvious time to review your premium spirits range and, when working with a quality distributor, take full advantage of category and brand training,” said Morgan.
“We see time after time that training can really help to boost sales and keep the team engaged through increased knowledge.”
Refreshing an outlet’s drinks range is more than a token gesture.
Bar staff like to be able to show off their drinks mixing skills and knowledge.
Terry Barker, director of marketing and sales at Cellar Trends, UK distributor for premium brands such as Auchentoshan and Suntory Hibiki, warned that licensees who don’t take the time to refresh their cocktail offer could lose sales.
“Regular customers need to be attracted with new offerings if they are to be retained,” said Barker.
“There are lots of bars who are doing just this and people do like to have a choice. It is also a way to get them to try spirits and spirit-based cocktails with which they are not familiar.”
A new drinks list can also help with staff retention, said Barker.
“Frequent changes to the drinks menu is also good for staff interest, adding experience to their individual drinks repertoire and improving their creativity,” he said.
“They like to be able to show off their drinks mixing skills and knowledge.”
There may be advantages to keeping things fresh, but Adolfo Comas of Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, the firm behind Bombay Sapphire Gin and Chambord, advised operators to do their research before making changes.
“The decision to change a menu shouldn’t be taken lightly, if you change your menu too often it could become confusing for customers but if you don’t change it enough customers can become bored with your offering, so it’s all about finding the right balance,” said Comas. “Research current trends in your area, post dinner whisk(e)y and gold rum cocktails are currently experiencing growth.”
Nick Temperley, head of Diageo Reserve Brands GB, whose portfolio includes Ketel One Vodka and Johnnie Walker whisky, also urged caution when reviewing a spirits range.
“With so many types, flavours and strengths available within the premium spirits category, it is easy to get carried away with trying to stock everything,” said Temperley.
“Operators need to be aware of this and narrow it down to a selection. It’s about stocking the right brands, not every brand, and an overcrowded cocktail or bar menu can be confusing for the consumer at any time of year.
“In general, it is important that every spirits category is covered but generally operators should select a few trusted premium brands from each category.
“The range should include brands that differ from each other and include a selection of flavours in relevant categories.”