Posted on | June 21, 2013
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
Lucas Bols USA gains a stronger foothold in the American market.
The spirits and liqueurs of Lucas Bols are not new to the world—the company began distilling in Holland 438 years ago. They aren’t new to the U.S. market either, with representation from a handful of importers over the last few decades.
But the path ahead for this family of brands looks much different today than it did even a month ago, now that all the products in the company’s portfolio are under the control of Lucas Bols USA, the New York–based sales and marketing company.
“As a supplier, you want control over your destiny, and the ability to relay your passion for your products first-hand to distributors, bartenders and consumers,” says Tal Nadari, Managing Director, Lucas Bols USA, who came to the U.S. from Holland five years ago to lead this effort. At that time, he was a lone soldier, working to bring the brands back from separate importers. Today Lucas Bols USA employs a team of 23 people.
Beginning in 2010 with Bols Genever, Damrak Gin and Galliano—the revered Italian liqueur purchased in 2006—Lucas Bols USA has been steadily building a portfolio of artisan spirits, with the introduction of Galliano Ristretto and an aged expression of Bols, called Bols Barrel Aged Genever. This month, the company officially took back its successful line of Bols liqueurs. This in many ways marks the real beginning of the Lucas Bols story in the U.S.
Tradition Meets Innovation
Lucas Bols USA’s focus is predominantly on bartenders with a passion for the cocktail. “We have always believed first and foremost in the bartender,” says Jaron Berkhemer, Marketing Director. “We always look to introduce innovations—but not just for the sake of doing something new. We always ask ourselves if a new flavor or tool will add true value to a bartender or in a cocktail. If the answer is ‘yes,’ we are quick to bring something unique into the market. This is why we recently released Bols Yogurt Liqueur and in September will debut Bols Foam [see next page]. Being 438 years old, we pride ourselves on being the oldest distilled spirits brand while leading today’s trends.”
July marks also the inauguration of the Bols Bartender Academy: Brand ambassadors with mobile bars will travel the country illustrating the possibilities with Bols products. At Tales of the Cocktail this month, the Bols Bartending Academy will attempt to set the record for the largest pousse-café (a cocktail with separate layers) in a five-foot tall glass (the current record stands at 32 layers in a shot glass).
With a belief in the American bartender’s and consumer’s interest in quality products with an authentic story, and with their broad portfolio now under one roof, the Lucas Bols team anticipates tapping deeply into the U.S. market.
Reinventing Bols Genever, Holland’s Gift to Mixology
Most people aren’t aware that the British got the idea to create gin from Genever, the ancient Dutch spirit created 100 years before gin. Lucas Bols is determined to get the word out, however. “There are many producers making Genever within Holland, but we wanted to bring it back on a global scale,” says Nadari. Bols Genever has been distilled since 1664 and was introduced to the U.S. market in 2008. One year later, it won Best Spirit at Tales of the Cocktail, and has become the company’s most awarded product.
Genever lends itself to mixing in ways that gin cannot. Made with rye, wheat and corn, it behaves more like a whiskey with a lovely sweetness and viscosity. It shows much less juniper berry character than its English cousin, with softer, rounder botanical flavors. Bols recently introduced an aged Genever to the market—the only one of its kind.
Yet Bols is far from anti-gin: Their own Dutch gin, Damrak—a citrus-dominant gin with an excellent value proposition—is the fastest growing brand in their portfolio.
Bols Liqueurs: Adding Flavor to the World
First crafted in 1575 with exotic spices and herbs, Bols liqueurs have always been on the vanguard of innovation. Today that pioneering spirit continues with flavors like the just-released Bols Yogurt and soon-to-be-released Bols Foam, a foam liqueur which rests on top of a drink. Says Nadari: “In Asia and America, people eat a tremendous amount of yogurt so we set out to create a yogurt-flavored liqueur; it’s low sugar, made with real yogurt and doesn’t curdle like most cream liqueurs.” At the WSWA Convention in April, a Bols Yogurt cocktail took first place, on top of the brand new liqueur winning Double Gold and Best of Show in the Liqueurs category.
The Bols liqueur line officially joined the Bols USA portfolio on July 1st, kicking off with a new ad campaign, “Add Flavor to the World.” Nadari explains, “With that campaign, we want to express that we not only add the essential flavor to a cocktail with our Bols Liqueur range, but also to the entire category and the lives of the users of our products.” The 36-flavor portfolio includes bar essentials, store essentials and seasonal specialties like Pumpkin Smash and Hot Cinnamon. Among the best-selling liqueur lines in the country (at 400,000 cases a year), they are the most awarded as well.
“The liqueur category isn’t considered the most dynamic, but we design ours to compete against high quality stand-alone products like Midori and Grand Marnier,” attests Berkhemer. “The category is often a battle on price, a race to the bottom, and we want to step out of that battle.” Bartenders are taking note of this rare quality-to-price ratio: Bols Orange Curaçao has become the go-to Margarita ingredient for many, making it the fastest growing liqueur in the portfolio.
The Return of Retro: Galliano’s Comeback Story
Reinvigorating a brand like Galliano has its challenges—namely, that many bartenders aren’t quite sure how to use it. However, one obstacle the brand does not face is obscurity. “Everyone in the U.S. knows this brand,” says Nadari. A back bar staple in the 1960s and 1970s, owing largely to the popularity of the Harvey Wallbanger (a mix of Galliano, orange juice and vodka), Galliano declined steadily from a half a million case brand to under 100,000 cases.
Lucas Bols purchased the brand in 2006 and went back to Italy to track down the original recipe, created in 1896. “We realized that the former owners had played with the recipe—made it sweeter, added more vanilla—and we brought it back to its roots at 84 proof with more herbaceous flavors,” says Nadari. “We would not be attracting bartenders today had we not done that.” Almost immediately, the brand started go grow, and Galliano has been increasingly turning up in drinks across the country.
Nadari believes the cocktail culture, which had been obsessed with Prohibition era-cocktails, has shifted its attention to the retro drinks of the ’60s and ’70s—how else to explain the recent resurgence (the Drapers and friends sipped Galliano neat on the season premiere of Mad Men, and Harvey Wallbangers were in an episode of The Americans). Mixologists across the country are making their own twists on the drink, and creating new ones, using Galliano almost like Chartreuse. Lucas Bols has also launched a “Find Harvey” campaign, bringing back to life the cartoon character the brand’s ad agency used 40 years ago. Look also for the new Galliano Ristretto, a beautiful liqueur that tastes just like “ristretto,” a bold style of espresso the Italians love so much.