As we peer into our crystal ball for 2015, we see another wild and wonderful year for spirits . Although we see some of the trends from 2014 (be sure to read our recap of 2014) continuing into 2015, including the whisk(e)y boom, the vodka bust, Fireball’s dominance, and heavy millennial marketing, there are some game changers on the horizon that will dramatically impact how and what we drink.
The two things we think will have the most impact in 2015 is the opening of Cuba and a war on sugar. Both these things will deeply impact the rum industry in profoundly good and bad ways.
It’s been a long time coming, but the walls are now starting to come down with Cuba. While we don’t expect a flood of Cuban rum to hit the market right away, the sheer looming reality of Cuban rum coming to the US will deeply impact the rum industry. First, there will be fighting as Pernod Ricard, owner of Havana Club, will go toe-to-toe with Bacardi, who owns the rights to sell the Havana Club brand name in the US (even though what they have been selling doesn’t come from Cuba). The battle will be epic and will surely leave both sides battered and bruised.
At the same time we expect to see every island rum brand do anything and everything to get attention. It’ll be an hour of desperation as rums from Barbados, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Jamaica, Brazil (Cachaca), and Martinique (Rhum) all do anything and everything they can to remind drinkers that there’s more in the rum space than the previously forbidden fruit, Cuban rum.
The War on Sugar
In 2014, the movie “Fed Up” made its mark with a battle cry against sugar. The war against sugar will deeply intensify in 2015 with lawsuits, “Super Size Me” style movies, and an increasing number of experts reiterating just how bad sugar is. The most profound indicator of this is Coca Cola’s major move into the milk space with Fairlife, their new premium milk. Coke sees the writing on the wall and they’re making a massive bet on milk.
The impact of the war on sugar will be twofold. First, it’s going to have a real negative impact on rum. Even though the sugar is consumed in the fermentation and distillation processes, confused consumers are going to wrongly equate rum with sugar and opt out of having rum in their glass. Secondly, we expect to see more consumers look for “healthy” cocktail alternatives, with some bars adding calorie counts on their menus.
Pappy’s is Passé
While Pappy Van Winkle was the king of 2014, we expect the shine to start to wear off the penny and instead see the buzz shift to the next wave of American craft whiskey. Look for epic lines at distilleries with people camping out for days to snatch up the precious drops of some craft whiskeys.
We also expect more players to emerge in the ultra-premium whiskey space (like Barrell Bourbon), all in hunt of the mythical honeypot casks of American whiskey.
The Year of the Scandal
In 2014 the spirits biz was flooded with lawsuits, and in 2015 it’s going to be rife with scandals as illegal pay-for-pour schemes are uncovered and penalized with some shocking realizations about just how much money some companies are paying to have their products in certain bars.
While we expect Tito’s to survive the “handcrafted” lawsuit against them, we expect a scandal over some bombshells that will come out in the trial about exactly where they get their neutral spirits to make their vodka.
Finally, we expect a brewing scandal over at Whistle Pig to blow up, taking out Raj Bhakta in the process.
Focus on Fun
The craft cocktail revolution has been fought and won, and now it’s time for those buttoned-up bartenders to loosen their bow ties and roll up their sleeves, because in 2015 consumers are going to want to have some fun! Many craft bars act like Prohibition theme parks, and in 2015 drinkers will be hungry for new rides. This bodes well for other themed bars like Tiki, but we expect some wild and wonderful new concepts. Country and Western Craft? Mancave-A-Topia? Ringling Brother’s Drinking Circus? Expect the unexpected as talented bartenders spread their wings and try to bring going out for drinks in wild and wonderful directions.
Tequila – It’s Time to Party
The table is set, the players are ready, and 2015 is finally going to be the year that Tequila has a run. With a continued shifting focus on “fun”, drinkers (especially millennials) are going to look to tequila as the centerpiece of their fun-filled nights out. In 2015 it won’t just be P. Diddy running around saying tequila is cool: look for millennial-friendly stars like Usher and Iggy Azalea to declare their love for agave. Look for this tequila lovefest to also include the uber high end, as we see more and more ultra-premium options.
All this agave love could very much spill over to mezcal, which could take the renewed enthusiasm for agave and combine it with a compelling craft story. The combination might be just what the category needs to finally start breaking out.
Hello, American Brandy
While 2015 won’t be a big year for American Brandy, it’s going to be a very important one. Perhaps one of the most influential craft distillers in the US, Chip Tate, will be putting his craft whiskey wizardry on pause (until March of 2016) to focus on another great American spirit: brandy. Tate is the right person with the right microphone at the right time to get people to pay attention to the always overlooked American Brandy category. Look for his first bottle to become the “shot heard around the world” in a move that will begin the long march to American Brandy’s revival.
Craft’s Crazy Year
By the end of 2015, we expect most Americans to have consumed at least some sort of craft spirit, and you won’t be able to hit the end of 2015 without reading countless stories about craft distilling in America. But make no mistake, we expect 2015 to be a crazy year for craft spirits.
As some craft distillers begin to bottle “the good stuff”, we expect the frenzy around them to get to all new heights. At the same time we expect to see the kind of implosions and infighting that claimed the life of Balcones. Look for long-winded arguments over what exactly is craft, and big moves by major companies to cherry pick some of the best of the craft distillers out there.
2015 will end with some real craft success stories but also a good number of distilleries crumbling, some due to their success (it’s odd, but it will happen).
Oh, Yeah – Whiskey
Don’t think we forgot about whiskey, because it isn’t going anywhere but up, and fast. We expect 2015 to be another banner year for whiskey with enthusiasm starting to spill over to new high-end Canadian Whisky releases, smaller Irish whiskey brands, a dizzying array of new Scotch whisky offerings, and, of course, the big one, American Whiskey.
2015 won’t be a year of great shortages, it’ll be the year that we see even more unique offerings from the major whiskey producers. New Single Barrels? Check. Special Cask Finish? Check. Really, really old Whiskey? Check. Honeypot? Check. Also expect to see a ton of new +$100 offerings in the American Whiskey space.
Of course things can happen during a year that you just can’t forecast, but we’ll come back at the end of 2015 to see how we did (we have a good batting average).