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Blending black: How Scapegrace distilled the world's first naturally black gin

You may remember Scapegrace gin as the New Zealand company formerly called Rogue Society that has an international scuffle with an American brewing company that had a beer called 'Rogue'. The company rebranded to Scapegrace, an 18th-century synonym for ‘rogue’. Now, after months of tinkering, it has created the world's first naturally black gin. In the wake of Scapegrace Black hitting shelves, we talk to the distillery’s co-founder Mark Neal about how the new gin reaffirms what the brand stands for while pushing innovation in the spirits industry.

It’s been a busy week for Scapegrace as the team has been tirelessly fulfilling all the orders placed for Scapegrace Black, a new black gin.

The spirit launched last week and exceeded expectations with its three-month supply selling out in the first day.

“We always knew Scapegrace Black was something incredibly special, but to sell out within a day was beyond our wildest expectations,” says co-founder Mark Neal.

Neal and his brother-in-law Daniel McLaughlin launched the distillery in 2014 and have since been making a name for themselves with Scapegrace Classic gin and Scapegrace Gold. The new Scapegrace Black is the third in its range.

Helping the launch is a digital social campaign by agency Motion Sickness, for which the brief was Stranger Things meets mad scientist, meets the natural world.

To achieve this, the gin was taken into the bush one night and shot being poured while a voiceover the explains the making of black.

“In nature, black is an aberration – existing because of what it isn’t, rather than what it is.”

The video also declares the new gin as “the taste of black”, while also showing how the gin turns into a shade of pink and purple when mixed with tonic.

Motion Sickness social strategist and art director Anna Maxwell says Scapegrace has a genuine, engaged community on social media channels, so communicating with followers helped to grow reach and hype for the product online.

“The magical quality of the colour-changing product naturally lent itself to a swarm of user-generated content. We leveraged this UGC in ads, validating the demand for the product and generating more buzz online. Together with the fantastic organic response, our campaign propelled further reach and engagement."

Founder and creative director Sam Stuchbury adds it wanted to create a campaign that not only launched the product but also acted as a brand building piece for Scapegrace.

“Scapegrace Black is such a ‘Scapegrace’ product to create – we wanted to make sure that their brand spirit came through in the content.

“During the strategy phase, we wanted to play into the hype of the product. Scapegrace is lucky to have some truly loyal fans, so we knew there was going to be a lot of excitement around the launch. Continuing to grow that hype and virality through our comms and social rollout was a key objective.

While he adds it’s still early days of the campaign, the team are stoked with the results they’re seeing.

As of 30 September, the video had approximately 67,500 views reach of 1.3 million, 495,000 impressions, 5,100 reactions, 700 comments, 236 shares on Facebook.

“We feel pretty lucky to be working with a brand like Scapegrace Gin. It’s a privilege to help get their name out on the world stage. Our social media strategy and digital advertising is one of the key drivers for our marketing work with Scapegrace. In this case, it is simply the most efficient and effective way to get this product in front of the world,” Stuchbury says.

Included in the comments were people making a connection between the All Blacks Rugby World Cup Tour and the Black gin. However, when asked about the timing, Neal says it was unintentional but is happy to see it being celebrated in that way.

Blending black

As Stuchbury says, creating a black gin was a reaffirming move for the Scapegrace brand and it’s going against the move to create a pink gin despite it trending.

The flavoured gin category is growing at over 154 percent annually and Neal says they were asked by distributors and retailers to look at branching out into something like a pink gin, but jumping on that trend wasn’t a fit for the brand.

“It didn’t suit our DNA to create a gin by just by adding an extract like raspberry or rhubarb.”

But that doesn’t mean colour, or the lack of it, was off the cards as it came up with the idea of a black gin.

And it wouldn’t just add an ingredient like charcoal to its existing blends either because to Scapegrace, making a black gin meant making black.

“It was about creating the colour of black – not just adding something that was black.”

With an understanding that black is the absence of colour, and is made up of red, yellow, blue, green, orange and purple, the pair spent months establishing which botanical extracts would contribute those colours.

Neal describes the process as “modern-day botany” and the results found aronia berry delivers red, saffron delivers orange, pineapple delivers yellow, butterfly pea is the blue and sweet potato delivers purple.

New name, same meaning

Launching the new gin comes off the back of a busy 18 months for the distillery as alongside the research into black, Neal and McLaughlin were also introducing a new name to the market.

Having launched in 2014 as Rogue Society, it only took a few years before it was winging its way to international markets such as Australia, the UK and America. However, when sights were set on the European market, it hit a roadblock. A similarly named US brewery forced it to decide between changing its name or staying local.

Confident in its loyal customer base, it unveiled the new moniker Scapegrace, which throws back to the original as it upholds the mischievous character as the 18th-century synonym for ‘rogue’. 

The rebrand saw Scapegrace lay everything on the table for its customers and be transparent through a spot explaining its dealings with the European Union and the consequential name change.

At the time of the campaign launch in March last year, Neal told StopPress the response had been “absolutely fantastic” and 18 months later that positivity continues.

“Since the rebrand – the brand heath and engagement has bloody soared,” he tells us now.

“It goes back to being honest and having a good story to tell that’s authentic.”

New Zealand on the world stage

Giving Neal and McLaughlin a boost during their hard work was the accolade of Scapegrace being named the Best London Dry Gin at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London.

The result saw it come out on top of over 600 gins from 90 countries. It was also the first time in the competitions 49-year history that a New Zealand distillery took home the accolade.

To celebrate, Scapegrace released a campaign about winning moments, comparing the win to being its Everest.

Reflecting on that, Neal says the award has helped push things along and that’s evidenced by the 35 countries it’s now stocked in.

“Five years ago, we had a vision to take a New Zealand spirit company to the world and we are doing that.”

In saying this, he celebrates all locally distilleries adding that it’s great to see so many other good New Zealand gins on offer.

When Neal and McLaughlin launched their brand, it was the second New Zealand gin and people thought they were weird to do so.

Fast-forward to 2019 and Neal says there are 38 New Zealand gins, with the category growing as fast as the new gins launch.

The increase in gin brands reflects the growing popularity of gin as more New Zealanders are indulging in the spirit.

Nielsen Consumer Media & Insights (period Q3’18 to Q2’19) show approximately 374,000 New Zealanders drank gin last month – an increase of 32 percent, or 90,000 gin drinkers, compared to last year.

The insight also shows that in a typical week, gin drinkers consume an average of four spirit beverages. On top of this, they are more inclined to consider themselves as foodies by regularly dining out every week, seeking out organic and fresh foods and paying more for top quality products.

So, where to next for Scapegrace?

Looking around the market, Neal says you have to stay ahead in terms of innovation because it’s that innovation that drives brand growth.

And with the Black Gin already making a splash in the market, Neal and McLaughlin have their foot on the gas to grow the brand and continue to innovate.

“We have pretty good ambitions after the first five years. The foundations are set so now onto the next five.”

This was originally published on StopPress.

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