Spirits Brands Should Be Thinking Inside The Recipe Box

By Andrew Fox

On a hot summer evening, occasionally all you want is a frosty, frozen cocktail. With the record-setting heat waves of the summer, sometimes multiple weekends of multiple batches of frozen goodness (and giddiness) will drain your liquor supply of the usual icy-blended suspects – tequila, rum – and you’ll look at your bottle of vodka and think to yourself “Well, there’s always frozen cosmos”.

Hopefully, you have the knowledge on how to mix up a batch of frozen cosmos on your own. Because not any of the major vodka brands – not Stoli, Absolut, Smirnoff, Svedka, Grey Goose nor Skyy – will tell you how to make one.  In fact, Absolut is the only of these brands to provide any frozen cocktail recipes whatsoever – and while you can mysteriously learn how to make frozen margaritas and daiquiris (neither of which contain vodka) and 19 variations of cosmos with different Absolut flavors from various Absolut platforms including their forward-thinking Drinkspiration app, there is not one frozen cosmo recipe to be found. Of course, it is understandable why a premium spirits brand, such as a Grey Goose, wouldn’t develop frozen cocktail recipes: if you’re pouring a high quality, high cost ingredient into your sugary, too-cold-to-really-taste beverage, you’re wasting it. On the other hand, if a consumer wants to turn their priciest bottle of hooch into a boozy Slurpee, shouldn’t your brand be there to help them achieve their drinky desires?

As brands become content publishers, it’s imperative that liquor brands learn to think seasonally.  A food magazine would never dream of not having recipes especially suited to the flavors and weather (not to mention the spirit, no pun intended) of Thanksgiving, Christmas or the Memorial Day/4th of July/Labor Day social summer season. Food publications know that consumers are becoming locavores, and therefore taking seasonality into account in their eating habits, at ever increasing rates.  The foodservice industry knows it, also: the use of “local” in restaurant marketing has climbed 13% in the past year.  And it’s not just chefs who are thinking locally: the trendiest mixologists have joined their kitchen-dwelling brethren in embracing seasonal cocktail programs and showing off the finest, freshest flavors in their concoctions. Even T.G.I.Friday’s is doing it!

Anticipating and embracing the needs of your consumer is, after all, a basic necessity in business. Conversations in social media are about the moment, and if you have nothing timely to contribute, you’re left out of the discussion. Ignoring whole events or seasons only increases the chances that no one will be serving your spirit in the punch bowl or pitcher at their big holiday bash.  From a gin toddy to, yes, a frozen cosmo, seasonally-suitable cocktails are an easy way to vary the conversation around your brand and create opportunities for party-givers (born influencers) to provide you with some old-fashioned “What is in this punch? You have to give me the recipe!” word-of-mouth marketing.

Of course, thinking seasonally means you will have to adapt your recipe content strategy throughout the year to stay relevant. Dedicating yourself to year-round recipe content creation and publication will educate and engage your audience more, the way Patron is with their Patron Cocktail Lab on Facebook. While it’s odd that the app exists on its own page and not the brand’s pages, the app itself combines education (the brand – often via guest mixologists who act as judges of the challenge – provides new recipes built around the theme of the current challenge), UGC content (fans upload their own recipe creation inspired by the theme), hints with the viral (voting period nominates the finalists) and rewards (the brand picks a winner from the finalists and awards them branded swag).

Year-round recipe content creation will also allow you to respond quickly to mixology trends as well as to the greater cultural zeitgeist. On both her final season as well as the reality television show about her final season, Oprah, her best friend Gayle King and Oprah staffers are often seen and heard enjoying and extolling the pleasures of their (minty) version of a Moscow Mule, Oprah’s new favorite cocktail.  Fans often Tweet about how they are drinking classic cocktail while they watch the show, and if you do an internet search for a Moscow Mule recipe, the top article is from Oprah.com.  A year-round cocktail program would have saved you from missing an opportunity for your brand to leap on the great O bandwagon.

Any newspaper or magazine editor will tell you that it’s not the big stories that generate the most consistent traffic and engagement: it’s the recipes. Recipes are king: Google even created a recipe search engine just to harness the power of the insatiable hunger of the masses for useful, creative or ridiculously indulgent recipes.  Spirits brands are in a unique position: most other beverages, be it beer or soda or energy drinks, don’t need to educate the consumer: their products are self-contained experiences.  But check out the Facebook pages of Oreo and Ritz: products that are great on their own, but as equally good – and useful – as building block ingredients in a bigger culinary experience.  Ask anyone who’s ever used Oreo cookies in a crust or Ritz crackers in a casserole.  Educating and engaging consumers on how to incorporate your product (a product they clearly enjoy, as they have invited you into their Facebook newsfeed or Twitter timeline) into more areas of their life will only help sell more product. If liquor brands step-up their recipe programs, perhaps one day Paula Deen will ride a bottle of their booze – instead of a stick of butter – into internet meme history.