Thinking Drinkers: balancing act

January proved another success for committed abstainers. Granted, it’s the grimmest month to endure without the occasional glass of whisky, but the brave few suffered for our sins, seeing it tee-totally through to February while simultaneously inflicting a short, sharp kidney punch to the industry. Well done them.

But fear not, for all the evidence from our travels indicated that these pilgrims of Dry January were making up for missed drinks and doubling down during the first weekend of February. Streets were suddenly alive with the merry many, vivid scenes of over-indulgers slipping and seething through rivers of spilt pints and laughing in the face of non-alcoholic cocktails. And as these thirsty enthusiasts savagely bit through the leash of their self-inflicted moderation, they plunged head-first into disgusting excess, making up for lost time with lost weekends. 

Herein lies the eternal problem with a concept such as Dry January. The idea that you can drink badly in December, quit in January, then go full tilt in February is nonsensical, and indeed unhealthy. In our tasting shows we have promoted the mantra “drink less, drink better” for 10 years, and while we’ve witnessed a sea change in consumer drinking habits, to the point where they might actually be listening and following the mantra, these extreme drinking patterns around Dry January prove there is still work to do. For some, the complete ban on alcohol for a month might work, helping them adapt their drinking for the rest of the year, but for most it’s no more than a temporary challenge, and when it’s achieved, it’s back to normal.

Which is why there is a widening space in the market for low-abv spirits. We’ve begrudgingly acknowledged the success of no-abv in the past and, while we once cast a cynical glance at these products, we do now take a more grown-up perspective and accept there is a place for them. Better though, is the move to deliver quality, tasty, lower-abv products. 

Of the more established brands, Ketel One vodka is embracing this space with Ketel One Botanical. At the base of the spirit is the vodka, a spirit with plenty of mouthfeel and character, which is redistilled with botanicals, as it would be when producing genever, but without the juniper.

What’s particularly pleasing is the product is clearly marketed as a botanical spirit. As gin battles with its imposters, we’re seeing new spirits that stray dangerously from the principles of gin. If the spirit is shunning juniper, it’s more commendable to present itself on the strengths of botanicals rather than erroneously label it as a ‘gin’. The description “botanical spirit’ is one way of combatting this.

But what sets Ketel One Botanical apart is that it’s coming in at 30%abv. The aim was to balance texture and flavour with a lower-abv spirit, so at 30% the abv is high enough to sustain the flavour and aroma, but low enough that, when mixed with ice and soda, it is less alcoholic than a glass of wine. 

The low abv nature will satisfy the growing trend for balanced lifestyles and provides the opportunity to talk up consistent moderation as part of a drinking pattern. Rather than drinking to excess in certain months and grinding to a halt in others, the ambition of any retailer should be to keep consumers spending through the entire year. And by addressing the trends for health and wellbeing by creating shelf space for lower abv alternatives, you have a chance to educate consumers and hopefully bring a bit of balance to the year.

Related articles: