The SA liquor market is changing - these are the new favourites, says expert

The way South Africans are consuming liquor is changing from traditional, heritage brands to modern, urban, "idiosyncratic" brands, according to Rowan Leibbrandt, founder of fine liquor merchants Truman & Orange.

He says there has already been a shift in beer consumption away from 'megabrands', with unique craft beers becoming more popular.

The same trend can be seen in the consumption of gin, in his view. Consumers are shifting from traditional choices to "more interesting brands". "Today's gin drinkers are drawn to the quality of the small-batch liquids, and the beautiful packaging of these boutique brands. Gin is no longer the brand that your granny fished out of her handbag for an afternoon nip. It's the drink of choice for young, fashion-conscious drinkers and it's showing no sign of slowing down," says Leibbrandt. 

"While there are a huge number of male gin drinkers, the gin explosion has somewhat been a female story. The educated, opinionated, independent young woman of today make her own decisions on what to drink and has a much wider repertoire than her mom or gran did. She's totally in control of her choices, and Gin is one of the major benefiters." 

According to Leibbrandt, the shift towards brands that are seen to be more interesting, original, and authentic is also occurring among the so-called dark spirits, with increasing numbers of South Africans opting for these choices.

"In South Africa, men were typically raised to understand and enjoy brandy, and that gradually shifted to Scotch as SA opened up and the global economy came to our doorstep," says Leibbrandt.

"Scotch was drunk in similar ways to brandy, so it was a natural transition. But now, at the edges of the Scotch, brandy and Cognac drinkers, we are starting to see men exploring drinks that would've been considered unusual not even a year or two ago."

According to Leibbrandt, "the story" of the drink must be on the bottle. Consumers should be able to look at it and immediately understand what it is about.

As for rum, he says at the top end of the spectrum, super premium rum releases are successful because they offer drinkers alternatives to traditional luxury spirits at much more accessible prices. "According to the International Wine and Spirits Report (IWSR) data over the last five years, super-premium and above rum has grown by 17% compound growth since 2013 to over 1.1 million 9-litre cases," says Leibbrandt.

"South Africa is the fastest-growing market globally within this super-premium segment, with compound growth of 146% per year."

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