Often considered the underdog of the industry, liqueurs and speciality spirits are experiencing rapid growth. These brands are set for further success in 2016.

If you focus on the bigger picture, liqueurs are really starting to shine. For years, both volume and value have been quietly climbing – no surprise really when you consider how integral the category is to the global cocktail scene – and finally the category is beginning to shake off the stagnant, dated connotations it has (deservedly) accrued.

According to the latest Euromonitor stats, over the last five years volume increased by 8.8%, and value grew even more, rising by 9.3%. However, brands’ individual figures have not been quite so inspiring. Lubelska, for example, experienced a true fall from grace in 2014 after a three-year reign as our Liqueur Brand Champion.

After enjoying a monumental 27% growth spurt in 2013, the brand suffered a substantial loss last year, declining 22%. Volume sales for other international brands remained fairly stagnant across the Brand Champions data – in the same period, De Kuyper was the only one million case-plus liqueur name to post growth at all, at 1%. Disaronno and Cointreau both dipped by 1%, and Kahlua and Southern Comfort fell by 2% and 3%, respectively.

Despite a lack of movement from key players, a number of flavour trends – herbal notes, vegetal flavours, and “healthy” cocktails, for example – spiked consumer interest, inspiring new releases from cocktail liqueur-focused brands. Wenneker Distillery’s export director Richard Ridley reports that the brand’s new “crisp and earthy” Wenneker 24 Carrot liqueur has been “very well received” in its core Baltic state and Italian markets.

Bitter renaissance

Flavoured liqueurs aside, another key trend this year has been the resurgence of the bitters category. Campari backed 2015 as the year of bitter flavours by introducing three new amaro and vermouth expressions; the House of Angostura entered a new category for the first time in its 190-year history with the launch of Amaro di Angostura; and even Jameson stepped into the trend with the launch of Wild Sloe Berry Bitters, made from “hand-foraged” Irish sloes. This bitters renaissance is driven by a transformation in global cocktail culture, which experienced a drive towards experimental drinks throughout 2015, thanks in part to a closer association with the creative worlds of fashion, art and music. Bartending is back en vogue, and as always, where a fresh focus on flair, finesse and innovation is inspired, premiumisation follows. If Euromonitor predictions are anything to go by, liqueurs are set to see a drive in luxury expressions; value is set to rise by a whopping 18.9% in the next five years, compared to just 10.3% growth in volume.

This year saw Disaronno collaborate with fashion designer Roberto Cavalli and launch ultra-premium Disaronno Riserva, while Cointreau was the first spirit to be stocked by department store Liberty of London. It seems the luxury cogs are already spinning.

Read below to discover which brands and trends we have predicted will dominate the liqueur and speciality spirits sector in 2016.

The Negroni enjoyed a real revival and the aperitif was in fashion in 2015, which may explain why Campari reported a 2.5% uplift in H1. By celebrating its 150-year heritage with limited edition art-deco bottles, taking over East London with a series of trendy exhibitions and launching the recent Kate Hudson Campari Calendar, the brand remains effortlessly relevant and with classic Italian finesse. Expect more of the same next year.

New De Kuyper CEO Mark de Witte told SB earlier this year that part of his strategic vision for the company was to develop “ownership” of the cocktail. Striving to be “the cocktail leader in both the on- and off-trade”, de Witte plans to streamline operations, so we may see the brand cut down on some flavours in order to grow strategically.

Funded by Distill Ventures, the arm of Diageo that funds start-up companies, Belsazar’s Vermouth portfolio recently launched onto the UK market. And the brand has big plans to shake up the category next year. “2015 has seen a growing appreciation for the V&T, and we plan to build upon that in 2016, whilst educating industry and non industry folk about the importance of quality components,” says Maximilian Wagner, co-founder.

• As bitters continue to have their moment, so vintage Italian brands will shine on. The likes of Fernet Branca, Campari and Aperol will dominate aperitivo trollies and cocktail menus.

• The coffee hype will move into tea-flavoured liqueurs, dominated by Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchong.

• Apothecary-themed cocktails will thrive in the on-trade thanks to the rise of a diversified bitters category. Innovation has never been so playful – from Critter Bitters, which are made from crickets, to the entire Bitter Bastards range. Chipotle bitters, anyone?

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