Building Brand Mystique Not Hard for Absinthe Makers

Kubler, Other Marketers of Now-Legal Spirit Play Up Its Past

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Aspiring absinthe marketers spent the last few years trying to convince government regulators that the mystique surrounding the long-banned liquor -- cited as the cause of Vincent Van Gogh's madness and even linked to murders -- was mostly urban legend that ought to be disregarded.
Kubler Absinthe

Kubler is being pushed in a manner that will emphasize its European Belle Epoque origins.

More Photos From Kubler's 'Belle Epoque'-Styled Push


Now that the wormwood-based liquor is being marketed legally again, look for those same marketers to raise that mystique at every opportunity.

"People spend a lot of time and money trying to create a sense of mystery and lure around a brand," said Cory Isaacson, a principal at Walton Isaacson, agency of record for Kubler, one of two absinthe imports newly available in the U.S. "It's pretty easy to do that when you're dealing with a [spirit] that's been banned since 1912."

Artist associations
And so Kubler is being pushed in a manner that will emphasize its European Belle Epoque origins and associations with artists such as Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde and Pablo Picasso at a series of nightclub events in major metro markets that will attempt to re-create the era.

Although, as a spokesman for the U.S. Treasury unit that approves label applications for alcoholic beverages tells it, the absinthe brands currently on the market were never actually banned because they have levels of thujone -- the hallucination-inspiring chemical that derives from wormwood -- that are below the long-held government limit.

"When we tested these products, they came out legal," the government spokesman said. "There hasn't been any actual change in the law."

Nevertheless, label applications that had previously been denied due to their alleged psychotropic effects were suddenly being approved.

Kubler is the only Swiss absinthe currently available in the U.S.; France's Lucid is the other European import (a Brazilian brand is also available). A domestic version produced by California-based distiller St. George Spirits was also recently approved for sale in the U.S. after having seven label applications denied.

U.S. marketer
The Kubler family had produced absinthe for generations and resumed distilling it after the Swiss government lifted the ban on it in 2004. Eventually it hooked up with California-based Altamar Brands as a potential U.S. marketer for the product. Altamar is currently backing Right Gin, a brand striving to rejuvenate the struggling luxury-gin category.

Altamar is led by W. L. Lyons Brown, a former Brown-Forman executive who is a descendent of the Jack Daniels parent's founder.

Kubler has hosted events in nightclubs in Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York thus far. It plans to move into markets including Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, Texas and Washington by the end of January.
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