Today the choice of what we drink has never been greater, from gins made with unusual botanicals to whisky from far-out places like, err, Norfolk. Why then, asks bartender Nate Brown, is marketing often so formulaic?
Making a product is only half the bottle (sic). Often, the real work starts when it comes to selling it. Thus, distillation complete, in steps the branding team (funding permitting), fresh with their focus group pie charts, jealous competitor analysis and creepy demographic detailing. It’s their job to create a connection with potential consumers amid a myriad of new releases. They try to put flavour and lifestyle into words. Sadly, they often employ a limited lexicon to appeal to as many people as possible. Rather than risk offence or isolating a portion of their audience, they use a homogeneous factory line of copy cats and safe bets.
So, here’s a fun game: read the back label from an anonymous spirits bottle and try and guess what it is. Chances are you’ll be met with a bingo scorecard of buzzwords. In order to help you through the word soup, I’ve provided this handy guide:
Artisan: This product has been made by someone with zero qualifications but it makes them feel better about themselves after a career in finance
Craft: Like graft, only without the attention to detail and the love. Craft means made. We know it’s made. It’s in our hand. Don’t celebrate craft, celebrate graft.
Foraged: We weren’t planning on using these botanicals but they’re free.
Founded by: Somebody whose fabricated story tentatively embodies what we want our product to be. We think that by having a face on the label you’ll find us more likeable. The founder is not real. Unless it’s your mate.
Fruity: A deliciously lazy catch all. It could be passion fruit, it could be tomato, or it could be that lovely pear top note you get from poorly-distilled spirits.
Handcrafted: Just like hand-cut chips, which are chips cut by machine with an on button pressed by a real life human. Handcrafted, when you think about it, is a little bit seedy and creepy.
Innovative: We came up with this idea almost all by ourselves. Almost. Besides, someone was already doing what we planned to do.
Smooth: Lacking bite, or possibly flavour. Or maybe structure. Or the finish. Or we’ve added sugar to compensate for its horridness. Or we have literally nothing else to say about this spirit.
Bonus points awarded for:
Water source: We have a reverse osmosis machine to demineralise and reduce our water to pure H2O (so does literally everyone else but we’ll just ignore that).
X years experience: We’re going to pretend that practice makes perfect, and that all the years we’ve served in this industry have somehow been building to this point.
These buzzwords suggest a dumbing down of our industry, but actually the opposite is true. We as customers are becoming more and more aware of the liquid in the glass, the words on the label should follow suit.
Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.