Import duty a case for concern
Despite the industry tirelessly lobbying for import duties on spirits to be either axed in line with the arrangements for wine, or at least reduced from the present painful 100 per cent according-to-value rate, there seems little immediate prospect of such a concession being granted.
Nevertheless, distillers and distributors of a wide range of spirits have opted to participate in VINEXPO Asia-Pacific 2012, and several are using the event as an opportunity to launch or showcase new products to buyers from around the region.
Although cognac is the dominant French brandy in all the Asian markets, Armagnac producers are keen to make their presence felt as well. China is forecast to become the leading export market for Armagnac both by value and volume this year, with sales of more than 250,000 bottles, up from 25,000 in 2010.
Armagnac house Janneau is releasing a range of 'Limited Special Edition' bottles, starting with three Dragon Vintages, named for the Chinese Year of the Dragon.
The three vintages - a 1988, a 1976, and a 1964 - are each from a different dragon year, 1988 representing the Earth Dragon, 1976 the Fire Dragon, and 1964 the Wood Dragon.
All are bottled at cask strength, and only one cask per vintage has been bottled. They are available in 70cl bottles and in 3x50cl packs. Each bottle is presented in a decorated wooden box made from the same oak used to age the spirits.
Other Armagnac producers participating include Castarede, Gelas, J Goudoulin, Larressingle, Samalens and Sempe.
Cognac, not surprisingly, is strongly represented, with high-quality names, such as Camus, Delamain, Frapin, Prunier, Remy Martin, Tesseron and Thomas Hine, all participating, while Roger Groult and Christian Drouin represent the noble Norman tradition of apple-based eaux de vie with a range of aged Calvados.
Interest in single malt Scotch whisky is growing in several Asian markets, particularly the mainland, while Taiwan is now one of the most important malt markets in the world.
'Boutique blends' are also establishing a niche market by appealing to whisky connoisseurs who enjoy the smoothness of blends, but are seeking a change from the established big brands, and producers in this field exhibiting at the show include Wemyss Malts and Glasgow Whisky.
Wemyss Malts will preview its new 15-year-old blended Scotch whisky called 'Lord Elcho' at the show. Packaged in a gift tube featuring a portrait of its historic namesake, Lord Elcho is bottled at 40 per cent alcohol by volume.
'Lord Elcho is a very exciting new addition to the Wemyss Malts range,' says William Wemyss, managing director and founder. 'It is being previewed exclusively at VINEXPO before its launch later in 2012.'
Other Scotch whisky companies exhibiting include Lombard Scotch Whisky, Angus Dundee Distillers, and McLeod Distillers, which also produces a range of gins, rums and vodkas.
Premium Russian Vodka producer Tovaritch! is using the show as an opportunity to introduce two of its products to the Asian markets.
Premium Authentic Russian Vodka is five times distilled and 20 times filtered through a special combination of birch charcoal and silver.
Red Russian, an infusion of Premium Russian Vodka and red berries intended to partner Red Bull or fruit juices, will also be introduced.
Also participating is Russia's White Gold Company, which will be presenting its White Gold, White Gold Premium and White Gold Black Edition vodkas, and France's Belvedere Group with Sobieski vodka.
Although vodka drinkers have for some years greatly outnumbered gin drinkers, a new generation of premium gins has produced a resurgence of popularity for gin-based dry martinis and the classic gin and tonic.
Companies bringing gins to the show include Hayman Distillers, which has been in business since the 1800s and is known for its London Dry Gin, Old Tom Gin and Hayman's 1820 gin liqueur.
Macleod Distillers makes London Hill gin, and although Macleod was not established until 1933, the gin was first distilled in 1785.
The company also produces Marlborough gin, Rostov vodka and the King Robert II range of spirits, widely available in Hong Kong supermarkets and convenience stores, which include Scotch whisky, gin, vodka and rum.
Those who are serious about rum will doubtless gravitate to the Mount Gay rum stand.
Mound Gay from Barbados, which claims to be the oldest rum brand in the world, has been in existence since 1703, and is a well-established favourite of spirit connoisseurs and mixologists.
A range of other spirits will also be featured at the show including tequilas, grappas, cachaca and a range of liqueurs - all of them unfortunately still liable for Hong Kong import duty at 100 per cent of the value of the bottle.
With nothing at all charged for wine it is time, surely, for this anomaly to be addressed.