The Cocktail Lovers Magazine Issue 49



New year, big focus: why you’ll be hearing more from Distell in 2018

ByCocktail Lovers


Above: Fraser Thornton, European Managing Director, Distell

It’s nearly the end of the first month of the year – are you braced  for the rest of 2018? Distell definitely are. Here Fraser Thornton, European Managing Director and Joseph Walsh, UK Commercial Director, share their visions for growth and opportunities in the UK.

“Someone once said to me, people believe a believer and I think that’s true” – Fraser Thornton on the wider business…

Like all businesses, the big question we had to ask is what do we do to stimulate growth?

We’re the largest producers of South African wines, have a portfolio of Scotch brands and we’re in the cider category. We also have Amarula Cream. When we looked at our portfolio, our European business and the product categories that we’re in, we had to consider how best to drive the next wave of growth. Our view was that the UK represents the best chance to do that. Each of the categories we’re in are in growth and we’re a relatively small player in all of them in comparison to our position in other markets. That’s what drove us to into thinking that if we’re going to build these brands, let’s exit third party distributors and do the job ourselves; bringing in our own people and really taking ownership.

I passionately believe that opportunity comes through challenges.

Some people might say that this might not be the best time to concentrate on the UK market what with the Brexit challenges, or at least they might not be as gung-ho about expansion as we are. But I happen to think when you get this dynamic – having a small market share in a large market – then you’ve got the perfect opportunity to grow.

The best thing about coming into work is having a group of people who see themselves as winning.

We deliberately took an office that said ‘we’re growing’. When we moved into this building a year ago there were just four people and eight desks in the 4,500 sq ft space. Now we have 24 desks and the place is buzzing. As soon as you step in, you get this amazing level of enthusiasm – that’s the best thing for me. Seeing a group of talented people develop and wanting to do great things. Everyone here is so passionate and excited about their work – there’s a real energy and everyone feeds off it.


Five bottles from the Distell portfolio

We talk a lot about winning the last mile.

Which translates into how do we get as close as we can to the consumer? For us it had to start by owning trade relationships. That’s the thinking that got us our office – we want to attract the best people and I recognise it’s a competitive market so we better show that we want the best people by investing in our staff and the environment they work in. That way we’ve managed to attract genuinely engaged people who are willing to take ownership and drive the business to the next level.

We’ve built the infrastructure, our next job is to get Distell established as trusted suppliers and marketeers of brands to the trade

Once they believe and recognise us as a reliable and trusted leader, the growth will come from that. Of course we have to drive the right consumer programmes but in all honesty, I’m not worried about that – we don’t have brands that will disappoint consumers.

We’re relatively small but we’re thinking big

In the UK we have less than 1% share of the cider market; 4% of the South African wine market and 2, maybe 3% of the single malt market. At the most basic level, even if we double our market share, even if the categories themselves don’t grow – we’ll be doing well.

There’s a big part of the group that’s about doing the right thing – it runs deep in our DNA

We’re working hard on that in the UK too, looking at how we can better engage and support makers. The South African wine industry has had some challenges but we’re proud of our level of engagement with the farmers and supporting what they do. With Amarula, we do a lot of work particularly around elephant conservation and we’re looking at how we can bring that to life in the UK so people can understand what sits behind the brand. We’re also working with the Qhubeka cycling charity which gives bikes to underprivileged families. We have a strong moral code of conduct which is what drives our thinking and motivation.

One of the joys of the spirits category is it gives consumers the most fantastic choice.

Look at rum for instance, that category alone offers an entire spectrum of taste and flavours. And that’s exactly what is needed to really grow – lots of amazing taste experiences available to people. The best we can do is make our brands relevant so when that moment comes, we’re in the space they consider.

Joseph was the first person I recruited to build the UK business and I think he exudes the ambition, drive and commitment that we’re looking for.

Joseph Walsh

“The cocktail world is all about innovation and the spirits producers are becoming increasingly adventurous in their offering feeding this trend,” Joseph Walsh on plans for the spirits side of the Distell business in 2018

Bain’s is a genuinely exciting opportunity in the fast-growing world whiskies market.

We will focus on getting consumers to trial this exciting and versatile Single Grain whisky through tastings, where possible led by our Master Distiller Andy Watts.

Black Bottle has shown strong signs of growth in both on and off trade. We are working hard to build our presence in the premium on trade with strong portfolio based activity, and in the off trade we are focusing on added value activity such as on packs which highlight the great taste of the brand and its versatility

In terms of rum, there are strong indications that rum is to start a real revival in the UK with consumers. To drive this category further in London, we are now working with customers like Hoxley & Porter, German Gymnasium and High Water.

What are my predictions for what we’ll be drinking more of this year?

While we believe 2018 is going to be the year of blended whisky –  we used to think the older the better, but now premium priced quality blends such as Black Bottle are gaining traction. However, there are certainly strong indications that rum is going to take centre stage with consumers.  We believe it is premium rums, especially aged rums that are driving growth particularly in the on-trade.  We’ve seen real trade and consumer interest in our Angostura brand which is distinguished by a really strong heritage story and a collection of distinctive, multi award winning and exquisitely blended rums.  There is plenty of scope for development and experimentation here which is just what bartenders and drinkers are looking for.

I’m really looking forward to watching the team knit together and exceed our key targets for the year ahead.

And on a personal level, I am looking forward to visiting Trinidad in February for the 9th edition of the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge, which attracts the world’s best bartenders who compete to make the Best Rum Cocktail and the Best Amaro Cocktail for the coveted title of Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge Champion.

It’s going to be a busy year.

Look out for the Distell brands including:

Alto Estate Wine
Amundsen Extreme Quality Vodka
Angostura Caribbean Rum
Angostura aromatic bitters
Amarula Cream Liqueur
Bain’s South African whisky
Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky
Bunnahabhan Islay Single Malt Whisky
Deanston Highland Single Malt Whisky
Ledaig Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Nederburg South African Wine
Plaisir De Merle Single Estate Wine
Pongrácz Sparkling Wine
Savanna Premium Cider
Scottish Leader Blended Scotch Whisky
Stock XO Brandy

For more details, see


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The Cocktail Lovers are Mr G and Ms S, a man and a woman who share a passion for cocktails. (We also happen to be married, so we’re cocktail lovers in more ways than one…)


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The Cocktail Lovers Magazine Issue 49
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The Cocktail Lovers Magazine Issue 49
The Cocktail Lovers Magazine Issue 49

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