This week, the company owned by the Paris-based Pernod Ricard SA released Absolut Chicago, a limited-edition flavored vodka. It is the seventh in the U.S. line's "city-inspired flavor portfolio."The first was a mango-and-black-pepper vodka for New Orleans, introduced in 2007. It was such a success that the company has released a new city-specific vodka every year.
Vodka is now the most popular spirit in America, according to an analysis by New York research firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Vodka accounted for 31% of total U.S. sales of spirits, and flavored vodkas are in particularly high demand.
Unusually flavored vodkas have become a major draw for consumers, according to a report by the Chicago-based research company Technomic Inc. Flavored vodkas represented 28% of total vodka volume in 2012, and 21 new vodka flavors were introduced in the first quarter of 2013 alone.
Flavored vodka “is a great way to keep a brand fresh and engaging, both to the bartender trade and to the consumer,” Technomic senior director Donna Hood Crecca said. The range of flavors gives consumers more reason to keep coming back to a mature brand.
Absolut takes an unorthodox approach to its city series’ flavors, Crecca said.
“There are a lot of dessert-flavored vodkas out there -- citrus and raspberry remain popular, peach, coconut -- and in comes Absolut with rosemary, thyme and olive. It’s a little more complex, a little more sophisticated,” she said.
Pernod Ricard SA is one of the largest companies in the alcoholic beverage industry, with $8.58 billion in revenue in the fiscal year ended June 30. Of its 14 major brands, Absolut dominates sales, with 11.6 million 9-liter cases sold in fiscal year 2013.
The city-flavored vodkas, with a suggested retail price of $19.99, have brought in “a tremendous amount of business,” said Brett Pontoni, specialty spirits buyer for Binny’s Beverage Depot’s 29 locations, including five within the city limits.
Pontoni said he doesn't consider vodka a particularly Chicago-specific drink. Al Capone was associated with rye, The Berghoff is known for its beer, and when Frank Sinatra was in town, he drank Jack Daniel’s whiskey.
“A lot of the vodka consumed here is in martinis or on the rocks,” Pontoni said. “Chicago is a very traditional city.”
He thought the subtle Absolut flavor combination was appropriate for the Windy City.
“Chicago is nothing else if not understated, as far as a big city goes,” he said.