Spirits have been around almost as long as beer ‒ the first distilled spirits were made from sugar-based materials and the early use of starchy grains can be traced back to the Middle Ages. So, how does one invent a new version of something that has existed for thousands of years?
Yet, recent changes in tastes have opened up an opportunity for new ‘craft’ spirit brands to gain a foothold on the market. And, indeed, those traditional categories have been growing rapidly (and improving) in the past few years. It seems that, although the younger generation is drinking less, they increasingly prefer higher quality from their purchases. Older, more affluent drinkers are also inclined towards more refined and complex flavour profiles, drinking their spirits neat or with a few rocks.
So, instead, we should be asking: How do we create something that is unique and premium? Here’s how we sought to answer that question and a few thoughts on bringing a unique spirit to market…
1. Feel Inspired…
If you’re looking for inspiration, turn to what you know and love. A product that is borne out of your identity and passions is the best way to ensure what you create is truly individual and unique.
For several years, I was spending 3-4 months a year in Venice doing research for a book. As I spent time on the Grand Canal and was even invited to a few parties in some of Venice’s grand old palaces, it was only natural to start imagining and visualising the lavish masked balls held by wealthy Venetian merchants. I began to ask myself: What spirit would wealthy Venetian merchants have served at their lavish masked balls in the 18th century? Our new spirit, Cadello, was born, and created, from the answer to this question.
Perhaps your passions won’t inform your choices in the same manner as others, or mine, but being inspired by your passions will provide a great starting point for a spirit and brand that is unequivocally yours.
2. Focus on Flavour
As you are developing your product and trying to create something that doesn’t yet exist in the market, it is imperative to experiment, test, taste and solicit relevant independent feedback (over and over and over again).
If you’re creating a spirit for the luxury end of the market, it is also essential to use the highest quality ingredients and the appropriate extraction method for each ingredient to get the right flavour characteristics.
Finally, in today’s highly competitive market, it is important for new spirits to be truly unique and, preferably, to have an interesting finish with multiple layers which take the consumer on a bit of a sensory journey. To bring your vision to life on the palate it is you’ll need to push the boundaries and try every conceivable (and inconceivable) combination of ingredients and flavours imaginable.
3. Decide on a Distillery
I would highly advise anyone looking to produce a quality spirit to find an experienced distillery that will work collaboratively with you to develop the appropriate production method and can advise on ingredients and flavours. Not only will your finished spirit taste better, but you’ll also save time and money refining your production process.
We spent 12-18 months doing due diligence and identifying a suitable distillation partner in Italy. My business partner and I each went to Italy on different occasions and met with around 15-20 different distilleries in total.
End the end, we selected Distilleria Pisoni and, over the years, have developed a strong partnership and friendship with the Pisoni family. Distilleria Pisoni employed its vast experience and knowledge to work with us over three years to perfect the recipe and formulation and to create a production process that is truly unique. Their contributions were invaluable to the creation of our new product.
4. Build Business Relationships
The supply chain of a spirit involves a number of businesses. You need to source your ingredients, distil your spirit, bottle it, add well-designed labels, export the spirit to a number of countries, and distribute and sell them within each country. That’s a lot that could go wrong.
To ensure the smoothest supply chain and best ongoing relationship, I recommend choosing each of your business partners based on three criteria:
- Does the person or company possess the best possible experience and skill sets?
- Are they passionate about my business and vision?
- Are they a person or company with whom we could develop a friendship with?
While the first two are critical (and perhaps a bit obvious), for us, the third element is equally important. You want to know that the people you are dealing with and relying on are people you like and trust.
Our partnership with the Pisoni family has developed into a friendship and we now go skiing with them every year in the Swiss Alps. We discuss business issues that invariable arise as friends, knowing that we can (and will) find a mutually agreeable solution to any and all situations that arise.
5. Consider Your Branding
Drinking a premium spirit is as much about the experience as the flavour. Consider what makes your spirit unique. What do you want to evoke as your customers drink it? Is it subtle or bold? You should also consider the textures on your label and the look and feel of any box that may accompany it. Make sure everything quietly screams your brand.
We didn’t just want people to enjoy the flavour of Cadello, we wanted every aspect of the experience to connect back to an 18th century Venetian masked balls ‒ from the name and the logo, to the bottle design.
I would recommend starting from basic principles: Why did you create your spirit and for whom? Then consider your brand as a whole, including your brand name, before drilling down into the specifics like the bottle and label design. Don’t get hung up on the details first, otherwise you’ll end up with a confusing brand design.
6. Test the Market
Finally, it’s important to test your spirit on the market. You may like it, but you’re also too close to be objective.
Ideally, I would recommend testing in your initial launch market, as tastes are different across different geographical locations. If this is not possible or you have a particular opportunity to test in a different region, use whatever is available. You should also be prepared to take on board feedback and develop your product or brand accordingly. It may feel like a sacrifice but, ultimately, you’ll end up with a better product for it.
For those willing to take risks and who love to experiment with new flavours and processes, I truly believe there is a bright future ahead. Customers are crying out for something a bit different, something premium yet accessible, and this is reflected in the market growth.
Market opportunity is one thing, creating a new spirit brand from the ground up is something very different. Hopefully, you can learn from my experience and advice to help you bring your new spirit to the market. Good luck!
About the Author
Matt Dunn is co-founder of Cadello, a new, category-defining spirit produced by a 150year-old family-owned distillery in Italy. A unique flavour combining eight ingredients, Cadello is perfect served neat or in cocktails.