From locally-produced rums and soju highballs to an aperitif renaissance across Asia, prepare your palate for something different, says spirits specialist Joe Milner.
For hundreds of years, Asia has been importing products from Europe and the US and it’s about time the region started reversing the trend. Asia is vibrant, full of culture and unique wines and spirits that have a proven demand from Western consumers. Obvious categories like Japanese whisky have taken off, but that’s just the start. Products like Taiwanese and Indian whisky, gins with Asian botanicals, and locally-produced rums like Don Papa from the Philippines and Nusa Cana from Indonesia are steadily gaining ground – and for good reason. But that’s just the tip of the spear.
Baijiu, Soju & Sake
The three powerhouse categories from China, Korea, and Japan have traditionally been confined to local consumption. However, these products are steeped in distilling heritage and have the provenance and complex production methods to rival any spirits in the world. It’s only a matter of time before curious western consumers start experimenting with these new categories in their drinking repertoires. Baijiu and soju bars are popping up in major cities like New York and London and soju and lemonade is set to become the new bar call for savvy gents looking to diversify their palates.
Look Beyond Scotland
Traditionally, many consumers would associate whisky with Scotland. However, there has been an emerging trend in whisky production across the world. Japanese, American and Irish whiskies have really taken the lead to provide consumers with an alternative to Scotch. Irish whisky is a great example; whereas ten years ago there were only three distilleries in Ireland, today there are over 30 distilleries in production or construction. India is one of the largest procurers of whisky in the world, and it’s only a matter of time until domestic drams are available across the region.
Dust Off the Aperitifs
Aperitifs like vermouth are gaining huge popularity in cities like Hong Kong, Sydney, New York, and London. Complementing the trend towards lower alcoholic beverages, these aromatic fortified wines are starting to make their mark in many of Asia’s top bars. What used to be an old-fashioned drink that was sipped by your grandparents is now being consumed by hipsters and trendsetters alike. Probably the biggest phenomenon in the category over the last few years has been the Aperol Spritz, a timeless cocktail that now dominates many drinking occasions. In addition, the comeback of classic cocktails like negronis and martinis has really helped dust off previously obscure products and let them shine.
Sometimes I feel cynical about the gin trend, but it seems the gin scene is going to keep trending for the next ten years at least. The gin category slowly overtook vodka over the past decade, and now consumers can’t get enough. The variety in botanicals, and premium mixers like Fever Tree Tonic have played a big part in this continued growth. New gin styles, including flavoured gins like Tanqueray’s Sevilla, oak-aged gins, traditional-styled spirits like Lanley’s Old Tom Gin, and even edgier botanicals will keep savvy consumers engaged for years to come.
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