By: Hanifa Sekandi
You want to be the life of the party, but you do not want the party to take the life out of you. So you are on the hunt for a middle ground where you can entertain and imbibe with friends yet feel refreshed in the morning. So far, you have tried mocktails and light cocktails with just a splash or two of tequila. Globally, you are not alone. Just like you, people are looking for lighter spirits that maintain a robust flavor profile. Luckily, the industry is catching on. Spirits, ready-to-drink bever-ages and beer brands create must-have light spirits and drinks to keep the party going without tip-ping the scales.
This change is a major innovation in an industry where consumers desire more than just the same thing packaged differently. Light spirits attract discerning beverage enthusiasts who seek a healthier lifestyle or simply to consume less alcohol. However, craftsmanship and ingredient still matter, and consumers are not ready to compromise quality. Brands who plan to enter this burgeoning, niche market must understand consumer demand and how and what to bring to the shelves.
What is a Light Spirit?
When discussing light spirits, it sounds like we are talking about the paranormal. Alas, we are not. However, it does seem like magic when thinking about a once hard liquor becoming less potent.
So, what is a light spirit? A light spirit, also known as a spirit drink, is an alcoholic beverage that contains a low alcohol percentage between 0.05% and 1.2%. This percentage scale is not consistent across the board and is dependent on the alcohol type. Some lighter alcohols are referred to as “re-duced alcoholic” beverages since they contain higher alcohol content than light spirits. Anything above a 5% ABV is considered a reduced or moderate alcoholic beverage. Moderate alcohol drinks contain approximately 9.5% ABV. This percentage scales up to 20% ABV for spirits, far below the higher alcohol range for spirits with a legal minimum of 40% ABV.
As the market gains momentum, lighter spirits will provide consumers an outlet to create and im-bibe quality cocktails and drinks that still taste as good as their full alcohol counterparts. One could consider lighter Scotches, whiskeys and gins as the rebellious offspring of the spirit world, having one foot in tradition and the other in modernity. An example is Scotlands’s Whyte & Mackay Light with a 20% ABV. This smooth, earthy spirit is aged in bourbon and Sherry casks. The fact that it can be enjoyed neat or over ice is a true test for a moderate spirit.
This trend has seen gains in North America and across the globe. A study conducted on alcohol consumption in the U.K. found that Brittons are either reducing their alcohol intake or opting for no or low alcohol alternatives. According to the study, by 2030, there will be a decrease in alcohol consumption per adult by 11 liters. The change is predominantly led by individuals 18-24 in the U.K. and 25-34 in the U.S.
The results provide perhaps an unexpected pivot from previous generations who viewed these years as a time when drinks were endless and throwing caution to the wind was the norm. The “vi-va forever” celebration no longer fits the ideals of many younger imbibers. Light spirits seem like an appropriate transition for these consumers, who have less desire for wild nights of binge drink-ing.
Globally, the light spirit trend is set to grow 34%, a significant marker since product selection in this category can be limited. This growth possibility opens the door for some brands to change fo-cus and become light spirits producers.
Two things that cannot be compromised when crafting lighter spirits are that they must be premium quality, and they must blend in. It is not about standing out. It is about being a welcome addition to a bar cart or restaurant menu selection. The pleasant surprise for a low ABV spirit should be that there is no compromise on taste, so much so you cannot tell the difference between it and its higher alcohol counterpart.
Taking it Light & Easy Around the Globe: South Korea
Change in every industry is inevitable. The transition to lower alcohol spirits has been slowly happening over the last ten years. Notably, in 2015, Diageo debuted a 35% ABV “spirit drink” – W Ice by Windsor – in South Korea. The spirit was the first low ABV whisky.
What spurred this change in South Korea? Simply, whisky is no longer the desired spirit. There was a time in South Korea when Scotch was the drink of choice and often used to make a popular drink called poktanju, a combination of beer and Scotch. Another reason for this change, similar to other countries around the world, is affordability. Younger consumers in South Korea want inex-pensive spirits. In addition, spirits synonymous with youth appeal to this generation. Although there has been a shift and the younger generation is finding interest in what was once considered an “old man’s” drink, the creation of spirits that appeal to younger consumers has taken hold as brands observe the popularity of vodka.
As a result, the goal of whisky brands in South Korea is to entice people to see it as a viable drink choice by lowering the alcohol content and promoting it under the guise of light and conscious im-bibing.
The Sensible Imbiber
Taking something old and giving it a new image needs to encompass more than beautiful packaging. A complete product delineation needs to be undertaken to make spirits appear new and fresh. The central premise must sit within the ideal of living a healthier lifestyle. Drinking just one glass of spirit neat or over ice and not feeling the effects also signifies the end of an era of binge drinking, ushering in a new time of sensible imbibing. For the light spirits consumer, drinking is about living life while not feeling pressured to be anything other than yourself. It is not about standing out or being the life of the party. Instead, it is about connection and requires one to slow down and experience moments that build memories worth remembering.