Rowan Leibbrandt of Truman & Orange, a premium drinks company for disruptive brands like Malfy Gin, Beluga Russian Vodka, Godet Cognac, Fortaleza Tequila, Don Papa Aged Rum, Spytail Black Ginger Rum, Innis & Gunn Beers, among others, shares his insight into this thirst for unique brands and how it’s becoming a game-changer in the alcohol world.
“We are moving from a world that used to be dominated by big, single, multinational brands. Now that’s not such a sexy thing to be anymore. If you say, I’m the biggest brand in the world and I live in New York and London - 10 or 20 years ago, it was the sexiest thing you could say.”
But these days people are more attracted to the “uniqueness of the brand”.
“People want to hear an authentic story. Often, that means there has been some kind of handcraftedness gone into it. It suggests a care to attention in making something, which I think people like.
“We like to know where things are from now; we are attracted to the romanticism of going back to our roots and the authenticity that comes from saying, ‘This product comes from here and this is an interesting part of Italy’. We want stories now.”
He adds: “There has been enormous change in South Africa. There has been a lot of wealth created and we’ve been urbanised, with interesting cities. People want to enjoy the kind of things that people are enjoying in London and New York and all these other interesting places.
“We don’t now live in a world where you drink just one whisky. We want to drink several whiskies. South Africans are sophisticated and wealthy enough now to say, ‘I want to discover all these kinds of different whiskies. And I want to drink different whiskies at different times and I want to have different conversations each time I do it with friends’.”
Leibbrandt explains: “We’ve gone from just Gordon’s Gin to all these fantastic gins on the shelf. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that makes your 30 to 40-year-olds so much more aware and connected to what’s happening. They don’t need to wait for those interesting gins to come to South Africa. He or she knows that it’s already on shelves.
“They could have seen it on a Facebook post or various other ways. We don’t live in islands any more, we live in this big interconnectedness. There’s this sexiness there that we want as well.
“Yes, there’s an occasion for buying an inexpensive vodka at home. But there is another occasion where you want something special.”
This is where small premium brands make inroads in the market.
Leibbrandt points out: “Gin is an exciting product in South Africa. It’s brought so many women back to spirits. It’s quite fun and easy to flavour and make. Just add a bit of gin, tonic, a sprig of rosemary and black pepper and you have an instant cocktail.”
And South Africa’s Mediterranean climate lends itself beautifully to the consumption of refreshing drinks with mixologists playing a crucial hand in growing this trend.
“The gin emergence didn’t just happen. What happened, maybe about 20 to 30 years ago, was the global boom in whisky, most of them produced in the UK and Scotland.
“Whisky has this painful element where it needs three years in the barrel to mature. So as a young business, what do you do? What a lot of these guys did was they started running gin off their stills as it doesn’t need to be aged. So while the whisky was cooking there was a wash of funky creative gins on the market. That’s kind of what started it off.”
So what’s the next trailblazer in the spirit world?
“I think if you look at what is happening internationally, rum and tequila are going to do a gin next. They are going to kind of explode once gin runs its course. That’s my prediction!”