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Super premium reigns supreme
Consumers have high expectations for the spirits they choose to drink, which includes vodka. Christine Otsuka examines the role of vodka as a revenue stream
uper premium spirits are more popular than ever as consumers associate themselves with quality products. Super premium vodka is one of those products. Today, many consumers want to identify themselves as sophisticated and authentic. uite simply, you are what you drink,” says Sabrina Greer, head mixologist at the Toronto-based cocktail consultancy group, e Martini Club. “What’s emerged is a liquid identity.” But there’s a di erence between premium vodka and super premium vodka. What makes a super premium vodka deserving of its category name can be a host of things: A speci cation of one particular eld or region making it a single estate vodka, additional distillations or premium ingredients. “ ere’s an increase in control in the whole process from the grain to glass,” says Ryan Powell, sponsorship and brand education manager for Corby Distilleries Ltd. “Super premium vodkas attempt to deliver a smoother taste, as well as additional character and texture on the palate -- some vodka brands make true on their attempts, while other fall short. “
However, there is no discrepancy in the price. In Ontario, standard vodka retails for $22.65 to $23.50; premium vodka retails for $23.65 to $39 and super premium vodka retails for $39 and up. So why pay more for super premium vodka? “Super premium vodkas are in such high demand and have such an image attached to them that if a bar owner does not carry a super premium vodka, then many people will complain and not return to that account,” says Powell. “Also, bar owners are able to charge a higher amount for cocktails made with a super premium vodka, therefore have higher margins.”
Compared to most spirits, the di erence in taste between vodkas can be subtle but they don’t all taste the same. “Although the di erences may be more subtle than other spirits, there is de nitely a distinction between them whether that is crispness or clarity,” says Sabrina Greer. “A blind taste test of unchilled vodkas is easy proof of this.” Patsy Christie, Mixxit manager for
Maxxium U.K. Ltd. agrees. “ ere’s no doubt that many vodkas can be confused with one another on the palate, but don’t let anyone tell you vodka is odourless or tasteless,” she says. “With a spirit that can be made from virtually any sugar or starch on the planet, in any method possible, there’s bound to be nuances … sometimes they’re subtle and sometimes not.” Like other spirits, vodka will pick up avour characteristics throughout the distillation process. Whether it’s from the sugar or starch source, from the distillation and lter method, from the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) from o the still as well as from the diluting water used before bottling -- these may all have an in uence on the nal taste. “ e challenge for spirit admirers of other categories, is that the di erences are much, much more subtle compared to gin, rum, tequila, whisky or, cognac,” says Christie. “I’ve picked up avours of grass, earth, bread, sugar, honey, herbs, esh and citrus fruits, as well as sensations of so , sharp, viscous, prickly and thin in the many kinds of vodka I’ve tasted.”
Super premium vodka Guide
The most important factor with using super-premium vodka in cocktails is sticking to recipes that showcase the vodka. Try these on for size.
Cocktail Vodka Martini Glass Cocktail glass Ingredients 2 shot(s) super premium vodka Dry Vermouth rinse essential stir Method Stir spirit with ice for 20 seconds, strain into prechilled/frozen cocktail glass rinsed with dry vermouth Stir all ingredients with ice for 20 seconds, strain into pre-chilled/ frozen cocktail glass Muddle ingredients together in short glass, ﬁll with crushed ice, churn, top up with more crushed ice Garnish Lemon zest
Russian Old Fashion
2 shot(s) super premium vodka 3 dash(es) Peychaud Bitters 1 barspoon(s) gomme (sugar) syrup 2 shot(s) super premium vodka 6 wedge(s) fresh lime ½ shot(s) gomme (sugar) syrup
Source: Patsy Christie, Maxxium U.K. Ltd.
Guide Super premium vodka
TOP 5 SUPER PREMIUM VODKAS
BRAND Grey Goose Belvedere Ketel One Wyborowa Exquisite Chopin 2009 VOLUME (9L CASES) 128,995 19,607 10,172 2,554 1,643
*Note that Ciroc volume was 2,161 cases but brand does not meet technical standard for “vodka” under Canada’s Food & Drug Regulations. Source: Spirits Canada sales database
SUPER PREMIUM VOLUME
YEAR 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 VOLUME (9L CASES) 166,821 150,852 117 ,510 80,762 56,870 VOLUME ($) $94.0 million $81.4 million $61.3 million $40.2 million $27 million .6
Source: Spirits Canada sales database
e super premium vodka category has seen impressive growth over the past ve years. e most aggressive year-over-year growth was seen in the 2007/2008 when sales were up 44 per cent over the previous period, settling in the 2009/2010 period at an increase of 12 per cent. “ e high growth numbers in 2006, 2007 and 2008 were a result of vodka becoming a drink for the brand-conscious,” says Chris Layton, spokesperson for the LCBO. “Vodka became a drink of image and marketing. Extremely successful brands like Grey Goose, Polich Belvedere and Ketel One were all aimed at a connoisseur market.” “Beginning in November 2008 the e ects of the slowing economy could be seen and this negatively a ected this growth. e impact was even more noticeable in our sales to licensees as people chose to purchase for home consumption and entertaining rather than going out to restaurants and reduced their discretionary spending.” Compared to the premium vodka category, which is experiencing only single-digit growth, or for some licensees, a decrease in sales the super-premium vodka is experiencing the most growth.
P R E S E N TAT I O N
contribute to the image or aesthetic of the bar and intrigue a customer when highlighted on a back bar. “And if it’s important to the consumer, it should be important to the bar owner.” Here are a few ways to enjoy superpremium vodka • As a neat sipper, either room temperature, chilled or frozen, served with a side of matching temperature water and/or cubed ice and preferably a stemmed spirit glass. • In a similar style to whisky; served neat accompanied by a water dropper so a guest could add a teardrop of water to their precise preference. • As a highball mixed with carbonated mineral water and a fresh squeeze of preferred citrus (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit) to help bring the delicate citrus notes of the vodka to life. • As a classic vodka martini, comprised of a delicate mixture of vodka and vermouth that won’t camou age vodka’s so complexities.
I N N O VAT I O N
Bottle service creates an opportunity for increased volume for bar owners. As an example, a 750ml bottle of Grey Goose Vodka is sold for $46.95, but the same bottle may be sold for $230 plus taxes and gratuities in a bottle service program, according to Lisa Mazurkewich, group brand manager for Grey Goose. “It works because the consumer is looking for quality and luxury and they are willing to pay a premium for this experience, she ” says.
e presentation of super premium vodka is in the bottle itself. “ e bottle design is as essential as the liquid inside,” says Mixxit’s Patsy Christie. “ e best comparison would be to perfume where the bottle costs more to make than the product itself.” Image also plays a large part of the consumer draw. “ ere are a lot of vodka drinkers out there, many of whom can’t actually taste the di erence between brands let alone in mixed drinks,” she adds. “ and many consumer don’t taste around for comparisons so there’s a good chance their incentive to upgrade to a superpremium vodka is based on packaging and advertising, as well as brand loyalty and suggestion.” Packaging isn’t only important on the shelves of the liquor store. It can also
ere is no shortage of brands for super premium vodkas – in Ontario alone, there are more than 20. Recently there have been some notable entries into the category. ey include Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka, which was recently kept out of the LCBO as a result of its skull-shaped bottle; Donald Trump has a new vodka; and Kittling Ridge’s Eight below is a vodka infused with icewine. Smaller European brands are emphasizing authenticity and heritage to entice the curious consumer. “ e two most important words are authenticity and heritage,” says Sabrina Geer. “Products are made to an exacting standard using quality products with an emphasis on an authentic product. Geting the liquid on the lips of the consumer takes good marketing strategy, but bringing them back for more has much to do with the taste of the liquid inside the bottle.