3 x ways spirit brands are breaking category conventions

As in any saturated market, brands are forced to 'sink or swim' if they are to gain any kind of traction.

The spirits market, in particular, continues to grow rapidly. Thanks to the gin boom there are now 315 distilleries in Britain, more than double the number in 2013.

Each one is trying to stand out through locality, craft techniques, and experimental flavours. But how long will it be before the gin bubble bursts?

And how will these gin distillers, along with their whisky, vodka and rum counterparts adapt to ever-changing tastes and trends. Especially within the tightly-governed industry regulations?

It'll be interesting to see. But in the meantime, here are 3 x distilleries ahead of the curve (for now).

Empirical Spirits

A distillery created by two Noma alums was never going to be bound by stuffy tradition and convention. Copenhagen-based Empirical Spirits approaches spirit making by questioning everything in the rulebook. And in their quest to make new and interesting flavours, nothing is off-limits.

A spirit made from oysters? Sure thing. Tomatoes? You bet. Chicken skin? Why the hell not?

Photo credit: Wired
Photo credit: Wired

Lars Williamson and Mark Emil Hermansen saw an opportunity to take Noma's culinary ethos and apply that to booze. Looking at spirits from a chef's perspective led to their biggest breakthrough in the distilling process – turning the heat down significantly.

Alcohol is traditionally distilled at 85 to 90 degrees which can lead to lots of flavour escaping, but by reducing the temperature to 15 degrees in a customised closed-system still, Lars and Mark can encapsulate flavours that are much fresher (admittedly at the expense of time and sanity).

Photo credit: Punch Drink
Photo credit: Punch Drink

With no core range, the distillers choose to experiment with seasonal and unexpected ingredients which make for in-demand limited-editions.

With great names including 'Fallen Pony Blend', 'Charlene McGee Blend' (named after a Drew Barrymore character), and the non-spicy habanero spirit 'Fuck Trump and his Stupid Fucking Wall'. We'll drink to that!

Lost Spirits

Whilst gins and vodkas can be turned around fairly quickly, and react to trends and markets, aged spirits don't have that luxury.

Distilleries have to play the long game, gazing into their crystal balls and hoping their products and styles will be wanted. Or they may have the problem that Japan has, where their whisky stocks are drying out and it takes years to make more. Not ideal.

Photo credit: Spirited Biz
Photo credit: Spirited Biz

This is where 'mad scientist' Bryan Davies of Lost Spirits comes in. Bryan has been playing with rule-breaking innovations and upsetting the establishment since the early days of Lost Spirits.

For his smoky whiskies, he'd source peat from unusual locations such as Canadian forests or the Florida Everglades.

He also created the world's only whisky cemented in ocean water. But his best invention is the time machine: a radical hyper-speed aging reactor (known as “THEA”) which uses heat and light to create an award-winning rum that in one week tastes like a 20-year aged product.

The purists won't like it, but who can wait that long? If you're ever in LA, his Willy Wonka style distillery tour also looks like a lot of fun.

Photo credit: Capital FM
Photo credit: Capital FM


Despite the amount of new alcoholic drinks coming to market, recent studies have found that younger consumers are turning away from drinking. Reasons range from health to image, to cost. But it's hard to ignore, and it's created a gap that brands are eager to fill.

For every new high-ABV product coming to market, there seems to be a new low or no alcohol alternative.

Leading the pack for the last few years has been Seedlip - the world's first distilled non-alcoholic spirit.

Photo credit: Sloan Magazine
Photo credit: Sloan Magazine

On its third variant, 'Grove 42', Seedlip uses herbal remedies and a distillation technique that dates back to the mid-16th century. And it's been hugely successful.

The packaging and price point places it firmly in premium spirits territory, now featuring in over 250 bars and retailers across the UK and is breaking into the US as we speak.

As well as being consumed on both sides of the Atlantic, Seedlip is also being consumed above it. They have partnered with Virgin Atlantic to design the world's first 'No Lo' in-flight menu.

Photo credit: Seedlip Drinks
Photo credit: Seedlip Drinks

There has long been a stigma attached to drinking on flights, and many airlines are reducing their offerings, so this is a very clever move indeed.

Seedlip's founder, Ben Branson, hopes his products can help “Solve the dilemma of “what to drink when you’re not drinking”.

SEEN has been compiled this month by our Guest-Editor and LOVE Creative Head, Chris Jeffreys.

Want to say hello, ask questions or challenge his cultural knowledge? Get in touch at hello@lovecreative.com.