Back bars are now full of every possible type of craft beer or spirits. In many cases they are sold more on how quirky and peculiar they are than any credentials for being a quality, premium drink. Richard Siddle assesses what is it about those crafty, but quirky beers and spirits that stand out and shine, and those that are here today and gone tomorrow.
Craft beers and spirits are one thing. Being quirky is another. Here’s what it takes to do both.
I recently heard someone being described as having an “interesting face” which sounded more like an exhibit in a museum than someone you might want to hang out with. But for some reason if they had been described as “quirky” they would have been a lot more intriguing, interesting even, to meet.
For it seems we are drawn far more to things that are “quirkily” different, rather than “interesting” which just sounds plain dull. Particularly so in drinks, and in spirits, where the quirkier a brand or a product is, the more mysterious and alluring they become.
That said it’s a delicate balance, for too much “quirkiness” can equally put people off and end up just being a bit weird and confusing. If you want to play in the quirky arena then you still have to stand for something, have a back story that is intriguing enough to make people want to find out more about you.
Plenty of drinks brands are now willing to play on their quirky, shall we say, crafty credentials. You only have to take a quick look down the average back bar to discover the drinking world’s equivalent to the Bash Street Kids all fighting for attention.
Crafty and quirky can come in many guises. Be it the label, the bottle, or the drink and its ingredients itself. The best are often a combination of all three where the rule book has been ripped up and the drinks producer has been able to run amok with new ideas and creativity.
The enormous rise in and interest in craft beers has helped transform, and in many ways, lay the ground for more quirky, left field craft spirits brands. The average drinker has become spoilt. They are used to and now expect to be dazzled and amazed by bar staff and the latest trendy conception on a night out.
The difficulty for all those new brands is making sure they don’t go the way of those craft beers that arrive with great fanfare and just as quickly disappear. Understanding what it is that helps a craft beer brand successfully breakthrough is the way to win the hearts and minds of a capricious spirits drinks, no matter how quirky you are.
Good for business
But looking and being different is one thing, being able to sell them is another, which is where the best quirky brands quickly stand out from the plain weird and not so wonderful. Busy bars and pubs don’t have time to explain a complex story, and are more likely to look to quirky brands that look fantastic, can make an immediate impact, taste great and are value for money.
Monkey 47 is a gin brand that has in its own short lifespan become iconic for all the right quality, and quirky reasons. A back story that takes its founder, Wing Commander Montgomery Collins, to the heart of Germany’s Black Forest via colonial India. A unique, secret recipe containing 47 ingredients that give it its name. But regardless of the number of botanicals in it, it’s the brand’s design, unusual medicine style bottle all packaged and backed up with memorable advertising, support and PR that has made it the success it has become. It’s a living breathing example of how quirky can be cool, but it can also be commercial.
Take Death’s Door and Brockman’s gin. Two brands at either end of the spectrum. One looking to stand out by its name and label, the other relying more on its traditions and reputation built up over a period of time. They both have instant appeal on the back bar but for two different reasons. They are relying on very different approaches to capture the drinkers’ attention.
Then there are the brands that stand out for doing exactly what they say on the tin. Like Brighton or Liverpool Gin. Both brands will clearly play well in their local areas, the trick is to find a brand that can work just as well outside of its own catchment area.
Playing with heritage
Take Wimbledon Brewery. Hands up who can say for sure when Wimbledon Brewery first started? Because of the power of the “Wimbledon” brand it immediately brings with it quality and premium attributes that say a beer from another London suburb just simply couldn’t. Croydon Brewery anyone? It just does not have the same ring to it. You might be surprised to hear that the Wimbledon Brewery has only been producing beer for the last couple of years, but it has been deliberately brought to market to look and feel as though it has been with us for over a hundred years.
Its website talks about the heritage of brewing beer in the Wimbledon area going back to the Middle Ages. There was even a Wimbledon Brewery formed in 1832 which stood proudly in the town with its five storey brewery tour until it burnt down in 1889.
A story that the founders of the new Wimbledon Brewery are quite happy to play on. The brewery’s logo features a phoenix rising from the flames from an old brewery tower, even though there is no connection at all between the current incarnation and the original brewery in the 1880s.
Mark Gordon, founder, of the new Wimbledon Brewery says it was important for it find a way to stand out in such a crowded market as local breweries and craft beer. It is one thing making good quality beer, but that is largely a given, the key for operators and pubs to take on your beer and make a success of it is for them to feel at home with your brand. The Wimbledon name, he says, has made a massive difference particularly in attracting interest from overseas and picking up prestige accounts such as with British Airways, British Polo Day and top Michelin star restaurants.
It is also working hard to have tie ins with craft and artisan food companies where again it can play on its Wimbledon credentials by having link up with Richard Barricks pork pies or the Millers Bespoke Bakery to make Wimbledon Beer Bread.
Bars and pubs can play their part too by taking a traditional drink and giving it their own quirky twist. Crown Cellars, the wine and spirits arm of Carlsberg UK, has recently released research that shows 78% of customers believe how a drink is presented is, after taste, the most important factor in creating the perfect drink. Just by using more unusual slices of fresh fruit or vegetables, or different shaped ice cubes can transform a standard drink and give it a more quirky appeal.
As drinkers become more discerning and demanding it is far harder to be truly outlandish. Many a brand has crashed and burned for trying to be too clever, or been seen to have as much backbone as the Wizard of Oz. But get it right and you can attract a lot of interest very quickly. The premium craft spirits market is one of the fastest and most profitable of the entire spirits category, accounting for one in seven new spirits launches anywhere in the world in 2015 (Mintel), and 39% of all growth in spirits in 2016 (William Grant & Sons).
- This is an extended and adapted version of an article written for Crown Cellars.