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Daring to be Different: Regal Rogue – Native Australian Vermouth
May 1, 2015
“Vermouth is an old dusty category but in the world, in the last year there’s been about 50 new craft brands released, and in London alone, there’s been a 29% increase in the sales of the craft vermouth category,” states Mark Ward, founder of Regal Rogue – Native Australian Vermouth. He goes on to announce that “the vermouth and the aperitif category are just moving. It’s happening,” and he should know. Candid sits down with Mark as he takes us through this daring new vermouth’s journey and brand.
How long has Regal Rogue been around for?
We launched the first bottle in 2012 with the Bianco in a 500ml bottle in Australia alone. We did 250 cases and that was basically me doing it to see if there was an opportunity with the brand. I launched half of that in Australia and took the rest round the world to test it. We did the Imbibe Show in London and met with Dawn from Selfridges who wanted to order it then and there but we didn’t have the stock. Then we went to America and established that there was an interest.
I went back and launched the Rosso and Bianco in the 750ml in November 2013. In June this year we will have the Rosé and the Dry coming out and the whole portfolio will go back into a 500ml bottle, purely because we are an aperitif serve.
My background is in the alcohol industry. I’ve been in it for 17 years: I’ve come from bartending, went into owning a marketing company where we launched Hendricks and Sailor Jerry into Australia, and then in 2009 started looking into doing my own brand. I didn’t want to do a gin or a vodka for whatever reason and was playing around with these native herbs and spices with this guy called ‘The Bushman’ in Australia. I started mixing them with spirits and wines and by default ended up with a very bad homemade vermouth. That was really the trigger for me.
Can you take us through the general makeup of Regal Rogue?
There are three things that make vermouth, vermouth: 75% wine, abv. of 15-22% and it must contain wormwood. All vermouths are fortified with a spirit, and then they are flavoured with aromatics. Regal Rogue uses finished wines that we source from boutique vineyards. Each varietal has a particular wine that we’ve chosen to match with the herbs and spices. We then source our herbs and spices and make a blended extract, bring it together with the wine, sit it in stainless steel vats and then bottle. We don’t have any wood influence. It’s a fairly simple process and our production process is unique to us.
What wines do you use?
With the Bianco which we call the Aromatic White, it has a Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, sourced from the Hunter Valley. The reason for this is that my interpretation of the Bianco is citrus and floral. It is always going to be the sweeter white out of the varietals. We match it with lemon myrtle, desert limes, rainforest limes, finger limes, native thyme, camomile, elderflower, lemongrass, basil, sage, oregano, thyme, and vanilla. That gives a real freshness. We have 30% less sugar in our Aromatic White than other traditional vermouths which keeps it light and allows the aromatics to stand up naturally. Serves with this one is anything from grapefruit to apple to pear. Anything green: coriander, mint, sage, thyme, rosemary etc.
The Rosso is a marriage of the Sémillon wine from the Hunter with Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. We are one of the few Rosso vermouths that actually use red wine. It’s then mixed with pepperberry, wattle seed, cacao nips, cinnamon, star anise, clove, ginger, nutmeg, bitter orange, cherry and fig. The Rosso, lengthened with ginger beer, mint and orange is beautiful.
My thing is that we need to demystify vermouth. People need to know that it’s wine. We have a date stamp on our bottles so when you open it, you have to write when that was because it turns like a wine, although it has a longer shelf life because it’s fortified. Once opened and in the fridge, you’ve got about 6-8 weeks at its optimal flavour.
Take us through the design.
As I said, I launched Hendricks and Sailor Jerry into Australia and worked with Monkey Shoulder, which are very character-led brands. So when it came to me doing my own brand, I naturally fell into it being a character-led brand. Each bottle comes with its own wrap and this is for a couple of reasons: one is that it gives us a unique position on the bar but also because we use clear bottles, so the wrap actually protects it from the sunlight.
Regal Rogue is very much a character. The English seem to understand it more. It’s definitely a Prince Harry/Jack Nicholson-esque character. Regal is very much a nod to the tradition of vermouth and Rogue is to do with the fact that we are the rogue in the category, as we are New World wine with native Australian aromatics.
The design piece was all about having a brand that communicated heritage. We wanted for people who came across the brand to almost feel like ‘Why haven’t we found it before?’ We didn’t want it to look too contemporary. That’s where the shape of the label comes from and the detail. We have the seal wit the upside down crown, which is very much our sign to the fact that we are disrupting – we are the rogue in the hierarchy. The character is a traveller. It’s essentially me without me being on the bottle. He has a goblet on there, very much signifying that he’s travelled the world to find these herbs and spices and it’s a world of discovery and adventure, and that’s what Regal Rogue stands for; it’s very much about the character of the brand and the lifestyle that surrounds that personality. We are really a lifestyle brand as much as we are an alcohol one.
In July 2012 in Australian and then in September 2012 we won the Sydney Design Award for Best New Brand Design and got the High Commendation for the most votes. Last year with the Spirits Business in the UK we got Triple Gold for the Bianco, the Rosso and the brand for the liquid and packaging. It’s massive. It’s really amazing. You lose sleep – and hair – bringing a brand like this to life but when those things happen it’s a massive recognition for the team.
You say that you are a Lifestyle brand? How so?
Outside of the vermouth, we have our own signature pocket squares and neck scarves. We’re producing all sorts of things that really bring to life the more traveller-esque lifestyle and totally embrace anything craft and design. However, there’s always a nod back to the drink. My position on this is that we should always be educating what the brand is. So, on the material, we have the bush lemons from the Bianco; the olives with Aboriginal influence from the Dry; and the red pepperberries in the Rosso with the owl from the label’s feather.
There’s a neck scarf because a debonair traveller person would be driving through the countryside in an open-topped car and the idea is having that neck scarf influence from the Regal Rogue personality.
It must be fantastic seeing everything come together. How are you being received?
In 2011 I really had to give up everything to pursue this and make it work. It was a huge gamble but we’re slowly seeing how people are interacting with the brand and they’re loving it. People understand what we’re doing. The idea is to have the four flavours and then we’ll do couple of limited editions with one that’s been rested in wood. We don’t want to behave like a traditional vermouth so it is about drinking it neat and enjoying that more social, relaxed, lifestyle state. What that then means is that our brand and our craft is food-led, drink-led, design-led and it’s bringing all that together to create a world that the brand sits in.
Vicky Ilankovan – Lifestyle Editor