Bombay Sapphire’s new master distiller Nik Fordham tells BeverageDaily.com it is an ‘exciting time’ for the Bacardi-owned spirit in terms of brand extensions, while the broader gin category is enjoying a renaissance.
Fordham is new to the position on one of Bacardi’s prestige brands – the world’s fastest growing gin brand by value and volume in 2011, and its second largest: IWSR data – and was responding to an interview question posed by us on how to ensure Bombay Sapphire’s continued strong growth.
Since its 1987 launch, Bombay Sapphire has been distilled by G&G Greenall in Warrington, UK, under license, but Fordham (pictured right) confirmed that production will stop there when the brand opens a new, purpose-built UK distillery at Laverstoke Mill, Hampshire in Autumn 2013.
“When Laverstoke Mill opens…it will probably be the most advanced gin distillery in the business. The site has a capacity of 3.5m nine-liter cases, significantly larger than Warrington,” Fordham told BeverageDaily.com.
‘Reinvigorating’ the gin category
Scotch whiskey and vodka have posted strong growth in recent years, yet gin sales are sluggish (Euromonitor International predicts flat global sales to 2016) and Bombay Sapphire executives talk of “reinvigorating” gin.
Bombay Sapphire sales have almost tripled in size since Bacardi bought the brand, but what did Fordham attribute the broader gin category’s struggles to? Were there too many economy brands, or was there too little trendy resonance with youthful consumers where Scotch and vodka had scored?
“Over the past two decades vodka and whiskey have received the most attention from the spirits industry. However, there are new signs of a shift in preference towards gin,” Fordham said.
A gin renaissance meant that numerous premium and super-premium brands were being launched, he added, with this process primarily led by bartenders moving away from neutral spirits to botanical flavors and production techniques they could learn and understand.
“Consumers have also shifted towards a preference of considered, elegant and quality brands, and authenticity is key,” Fordham said. “We have attributed this to the preference for quality over quantity in times of austerity.”
The Tennessee Honey halo effect…
So should gin distillers be providing new flavour profiles, more premium products such as Bombay Sapphire? And did Fordham envisage line extensions for his spirit, given the halo effect lent by products such as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey to its core brand? (N.B. Bombay Sapphire East was launched in the US in 2011).
“For Bombay Sapphire it is essential that we continue that we maintain the same high quality gin product that has been consistently delivered since its creation,” Fordham said.
In a market where an increasing number of brands were adding artificial flavours to their gins, Bombay Sapphire kept its integrity as a London Dry Gin, he added.
“On line extensions in the future, all I can say is that it’s an exciting time for us. I will be working with Ivano Tonutti, our Master of Botanicals, to see where the potential is,” Fordham said.
‘Custodial role’ as master distiller
Bombay Sapphire (based on a recipe dating from 1761) was the first gin to display the 10 botanicals on the bottle, Fordham said, and is distilled using a unique 100% vapour-infused process he said “inspired consumers”.
Rather than boiling botanicals directly into the spirit, they are held separately in perforated copper baskets; rising spirit vapors capture their flavors to give Bombay Sapphire’s broader, more balanced flavour.
Clearly, Fordham’s role involves ensuring continuity, in terms of Bombay Sapphire taste, but might the role of master distiller also involve tweaking the taste of a gin slightly, and what would he bring to the position?
“I see the role of the master distiller more as a custodial role ensuring continuity of supply and in conjunction with our master of botanicals, maintaining the quality and consistency of this iconic brand,” he said.
“Behind the scenes however I will be working to make sure that our supply chain, distilling and facilities are truly world class and we provide not only a great home for our portfolio but also a fantastic environment to visit and experience the care, passion and quality that goes into every bottle,” Fordham added.