One thing remains constant in the RTD category in Australia – dark spirits rule and Wild Turkey is their king.
Last month, Campari announced that Australia enjoyed double-digit growth of 12.9% in the third quarter, with Wild Turkey RTD and Wild Turkey Bourbon among the top performers.
Premiumisation is also a key trend driving the RTD segment as consumers continue to trade up. In volume it is the equivalent of 212 million litres, up three million from last year. That growth is led by bourbon and whiskey, which contributed 76% to the category.
The resurgence in bourbon has been the most note-worthy, going from a -0.1% decline last year to a +6% growth this year. Wild Turkey 101 leads this race. It doubled in growth from + 8% last year to + 17% this year.
American whiskey becoming most popular spirit of choice in Australia
According to data collected by The Distilled Spirits Counciil, Australians are consuming 19 million glasses of American whiskey a month on average, taking total retail sales in Australia to $US1.34 billion, up 41% from 2005.
In 2017, US spirits exports to Australia were valued at $US127 million, with whiskey accounting for approximately 80 per cent of the total making Australia the third largest export market for US distilled spirits
“Premiumisation continues to drive whiskey sales in Australia with bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and American rye whiskey all enjoying a huge boom with imports up 34% from last year,” Robert Maron, director of international affairs at the Distilled Spirits Council, told Drinks International.
Eddie Russell, master distiller of Wild Turkey, spoke to Drinks Trade editor Melissa Parker on a recent visit to Australia and discussed how important Down Under is to Campari.
“Australia is the number one market and is one of the few places in the world we do the RTDs and it’s big business,” he said. “When I first came here with my father about eight years ago, I walked into our first event I thought everyone was drinking beer. I didn’t know what was going on. I knew we sent the whiskey over because we have a bottling plant here. I just sent the bulk whiskey over and it didn’t dawn on me that 90% of the people were drinking RTDs.
“There has since been a shift. There are still people drinking them but there is more of a shift to the bottles. We also have the Wild Turkey Adorers Club here, Wild Turkey collectors. I was in Sydney and members were driving four hours just to come and see us and have bottles signed. Those guys are just amazing, so I have got to know all of them well. It is always fun to come over here and see them. The love for Wild Turkey here is pretty neat. It’s amazing to see. Just getting here and talking about the history. That’s the thing that has changed about our industry. The bartending community wants to know what is behind this brand. It’s a wonderful place for me to come, and always important to us.”
Russell noted that the next biggest export markets for Wild Turkey are Japan, Canada and the UK, with Campari now seeding the brand all around the world in some smaller markets.
“This year I went to Hong Kong, Manilla, Thailand and I’m going to Russia and the Ukraine. I’ve been to Warsaw Poland, Austria, Switzerland. They are not big markets but they are growing really fast because of bartenders. They see what is going on around the world and they want to do the same thing. I was in Bangkok Thailand with 300 bartenders at a Masterclass and probably 90 per cent of them were under 35, men and women bartenders, and they want to know about Bourbon.
“It’s amazing to see what is going on. In my 37 years in Bourbon it has never been what it is today. I am sure Jimmy saw it in the beginning but in the 70s when the vodkas came out brown spirits weren’t doing so well.
“This younger community growing our industry – that 21 to 40 age group male and female – are drinking less but they are drinking better. When I was young we went to the liquor store to get the cheap bottle. They are looking to get the more premium Bourbon so it has sort of pushed our industry into the more premium brands – the Russell’s line, the Small Batches, the Longbranch.
“I love the Longbranch for a reason that it fits both categories. It is a premium Bourbon, its an 8 Year Old but profile wise for those who are trying Bourbon for the first time it’s going to appeal because it is lighter and has an easier taste but it is also for those looking for that premium end. Also 15 years ago everyone had the same bottle, it just had a different label on it. Now you have to have a nice package, you have to have something that catches the eye.
“The whole bartending community, my son a perfect example, would rather have three really good quality shirts than 10 decent ones. They would rather have something nice but less of it. That is going right along with what is happening in bourbon today. There are still lots drinking the 81 or 86.8 but then there are those going up the ladder to the more expensive. They don’t drink as much of it, so that is good on all fronts.”
Australia also a key market for Masters Keep
Hand-selected by Russell for its perfectly balanced flavour, Master’s Keep is the longest-aged whiskey released by Wild Turkey. Since Australia is such a huge market for Wild Turkey, it often gets the releases before the US, if at all!
“As I was coming through the distillery and working with my Dad, probably around the year 2000, he started releasing a limited time offering and that is what Masters Keep is – when it’s gone it’s gone,” Russell explained.
“The first ones only went to Japan because Japan was the only country that really sold that premium higher price Bourbon because they were a huge brown spirits market. Me and Jimmy were talking to each other and I kept saying why don’t we release some in the US as people will want to buy it. He did one called America Spirit and one called Tradition. They went over really well. We released some in America, Australia and Japan.
“And then on his 60th anniversary four years ago I came out with a product called Diamond, a tribute to Jimmy’s 6o years. It was a 16 and 13 Year Old blend and a beautiful package. It just dawned on me that I should bring back that tradition of doing the limited time offers. So as I looked around and I had this whiskey that was aged differently to anything I had ever done that was a 17 Year Old. I used that as my first limited release whiskey because it was so unique.
Russell then created one called Decades that was 10 to 20 years old. It came to Australia around May to June, but it didn’t get released in America until the following January.
“Our MD here said he wanted another one and although I usually don’t release two in one year I did one just for Australia called 1894. It was only 10,000 bottles and that was a year ago. 1894 stands for our original warehouse that was built in 1894. The reason that is special to me is because it is the first place I ever had a taste right out of the barrel and it’s the best taste of whiskey I have ever had.
“So I took this blend from six to 13 Year Old whiskey and we just released it in Australia. All the Americans got mad because they didn’t get any of it but Australia is our biggest export market. It is a great place for us. So I told him not to expect any more but he wants it again!
“I have already released another one in the States that will be here next year. We released Longbranch in the US in April so it was OK to release the next Masters Keep. It is going to be a very different product compared to what we normally do. I sort of stepped outside the bounds of what Wild Turkey is really about and did a finish in an Oloroso Sherry Cask. I think it’s fantastic. I did it with a 101 to pay tribute to Jimmy and it’s been very well received in the US. I am already working on the next one. In the beginning we thought maybe one to three years but now we are looking at doing one every 18 months.”
Click here to read the rest of Russell’s interview in the November/December issue of Drinks Trade.