The spirits market is booming in Australia right now, with no sign of slowing down.
And although people tend to think the bright spot categories in Australian spirits are gin and whisky, one producer believes the time has come for vodka to step into the spotlight in a new way.
Ewen Pettit, Co-founder of Idle Hour Spirits, said: “I believe we are on the precipice of a vodka renaissance, and that’s why we’ve launched – we feel that there’s something about to happen.”
Idle Hour launched in 2020 and now has three rye vodka SKUs. There’s the hero core Filtered Rye Vodka, then the Unfiltered Rye Vodka and finally, the Kakadu Plum and Ginger Vodka. The goal of the range was to create a distinctly Australian vodka that redefines and rewrites what vodka should be.
Pettit said the opportunity for such a movement at the moment is great, to bring back some of the cultural energy that vodka has lost in Australia. He noted that although vodka sales haven’t faltered, many consumers have lost their connection with the spirit.
“What we’ve said from the very start of Idle Hour is vodka is still very valuable, it’s just not very valued. [When you look at the] Australian gin category in comparison – Four Pillars or Never Never or Brookie’s – these brands have fundamentally cracked what it means to reinvent a category or rewrite a category, essentially. Vodka doesn’t have that, and that’s why our intention has been to essentially redefine and recreate what vodka should be,” Pettit said.
“But I must say when we go to customers of ours, or we speak to our distributor, they’re still selling a lot of vodka. It’s just the cultural energy has kind of dissipated from the category.
“The old adage in vodka, and I hate saying this, is vodka’s vodka’s vodka. That makes it really hard for people to really understand the tiers or the levels of vodka. And primarily, again this sounds terrible, but people drank vodka for the flavour of the mixer, not for the flavour of the vodka. Whereas we don’t drink whisky like that, and we don’t necessarily drink gin like that.”
Learning from the success of other spirit categories is one of the things that Pettit said will fuel the vodka renaissance. This is something he saw up close in the US, when working as part of the original team that created White Claw, and analysing innovation in different parts of the industry.
At the time, Pettit said vodka as a category had a lot of momentum, but this was largely driven by the one brand – Tito’s. He saw that Tito’s had decoded what was happening in bourbon, another huge category for the US market, and applied the same principles. It leaned into its provenance and confidently started doing things differently, which really resonated with consumers.
Upon coming back to Australia and in the creation of Idle Hour, Pettit learned from other spirit categories too, something that he thinks will be key for the long term vodka revolution.
“Spirits have moments. I would say we are probably at the end of our gin mania… We’re probably a ways from vodka being the number one spirits in terms of cultural momentum and energy for a while, but I do think slowly but surely we will be and there are a number of brands globally [contributing to] this,” Pettit said.
“I do think we will collectively start to shift the perception or the expectation of what premium or accessible premium vodka is… I think there will be certainly a greater appreciation for this kind of revolutionised or reimagined vodka over the next five years for sure.”
In the upcoming December issue of National Liquor News, the vodka category will be analysed even further. Keep an eye out for this issue, which includes insights from Pettit and a number of producers from across the globe.