The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2011

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VODKA REPORT CharacterPreserved T REINVENTING OLD SCHOOL VODKAS HAS TURNED THE CATEGORY RIGHT SIDE UP by Hasse Nilsson raditionally, vodka has been viewed as a spirit with great charac- ter and variation. With the objective to make production more cost efficient, vodka producers during the past 150 years have strived to refine the distillation process in order to produce a distillate as high in alcohol as possible. The result is technically perfect spirits, but at the same time distillates so pure that they lack character and body. If this is the future, then it is justified to ask whether there is a need for more than one single vodka brand. Fortunately, we now see a development in the opposite direction. The recent trend is in favor of small craft distillers striving to create vodka that is the contrary of the commonly held view of vodka as being colorless, odorless and tasteless. The development is, to a large extent, similar to that of the micro-beer phenomenon that served to transform the U.S. beer landscape during the past decades. After a period of looking down at vodka, bartenders have rediscov- ered the category, and the added value that crafted quality vodka allows for the trend of more subtle cocktails. The Vodka Market The global vodka market has been growing strongly the last decades. Global sales in 2009 amounted to 483.5 million nine-liter cases, with Russia as the largest market (236 million cases), followed by the U.S. at 58 million cases. In the U.S., vodka has enjoyed long-term dynamic growth, and has continued to grow through the recent recession. However, in 2009, there was a significant shift in the dynamics of the market, marked by a widespread slowdown in the on-premise market, as consumers were cutting back on expenditures by going out less often, as well as down- trading to value brands. While pricing is an important instrument for many brands, by late 2010, there were also signs of an encouraging rebound when the longer-term trading-up pattern reasserted itself with super-premium vodkas returning to growth. According to the Distilled Spirits Council 2010 Industry Review, the U.S. vodka market increased in 2010 by 6.1% to 59 million cases, corresponding to 25% of industry revenues (or $4.8 billion). Within that, super-premium vodkas rose by 17.7%, high-end premium by 3.2%, premium by 8.9%, and low-price vodka by 3.8%. The super-premium tiers are relatively small, with a market share of 5.6 million cases, even though the U.S. remains the paramount market for luxury vodka, despite the recent economic downturn. Trade experts 98 / the tasting panel / october 2011

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