Luxury gin: Can brands such as Emma Watson's Renais take on tequila?

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Emma Watson's luxury gin spurs on US premium gin category

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Premium gin Renais – founded by Emma Watson and her brother Alex Watson – is expanding to the US. Will the brand’s luxury positioning help it take on trending categories such as tequila and mezcal?

Renais, the luxury gin founded by siblings Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame) and Alex Watson (who's already carved out a career in the drinks industry) makes its US debut this month. That follows its 2023 launch in the UK, where it was named in the UK’s 2024 Startups 100 Index this year.

But why are the duo backing gin? And in a market where celeb tie-ups are commonplace, how can it take on tequila, mezcal and American whisky?

Wine-inspired gin

Emma and Alex were inspired to create Renais thanks to the family vineyard, Domaine Watson, in Chablis: which was planted by their father, Chris Watson, back in the 1990s.

Encompassing that wine-making history, the gin is sustainably distilled from upcycled French wine pressed grapes, including those from Domaine Watson.

These are then married with all-natural botanicals native to Northern France, including juniper berries, grand cru grapes, cubeb berries, Kimmeridgian stone, acacia honey, linden flower, lemon peel, whole lime slices, angelica root, rock salt and coriander seed.

The brand’s commitment to sustainability includes carbon-neutral product status, a solar-powered distillery and use of 100% mycelium-based compostable secondary packaging from the Magical Mushroom Company.

Emma Watson shot to fame as Hermione Granger in the eight Harry Potter movies, and has since gone onto a variety of other acting projects; advocacy efforts for women’s rights and gender equality; and endorsement deals with brands such as Burberry. She's also become known for environmental advocacy, which is evident in Renais' credentials.

Alex Watson career included time with spirits giant Diageo before co-launching Renais with his sister in April last year.

Alex, therefore, brings the industry know-how from a background with luxury spirits, while Emma works on the creative side of the business.

renais us exclusive sleeve
Renais: With the US exclusive sleeve

In the UK, the brand’s launch strategy was all about getting the brand known by bartenders and trendsetters – and the strategy will be the same in the US, Alex Watson told us.

“We'll emphasize putting Renais into the hands of the best bartenders, local tastemakers and sommeliers, as we have in the UK,” he said.

“To celebrate our US debut, we’re also releasing a limited-edition sleeve, which showcases illustrations by Emma, referencing the iconography representing some of the botanicals found in Renais gin.

“Along with the refreshed packaging, our marketing efforts include brand building awareness through social media and public relations, as well as a campaign video directed and styled by Emma.

"The extended campaign video showcases the brand’s authenticity and inspiration.”

But the launch strategy will also be shaped around an appreciation that the two markets - the UK and US - are not identical. 

“In the UK, gin is deeply rooted in tradition, with a lot of competition from established brands and a sophisticated customer base,” said Alex.

“In the US, the market is definitely more varied, with a strong interest in new and unique products, so we feel strongly that providing best-in-class educational content is a great way to show value to customers. We have lots of cocktail recipes on our website and will be releasing more, specifically curated for the US audience."

Isn't the gin boom over?

But isn’t gin on the way down? While the category rocketed to success over the last decade – particularly in Renais' home market of the UK - that’s been followed by the inevitable question of how long success will last. The latest figures from IWSR show that gin volumes in the UK declined 14%​ in 2023.

In the US, gin looks somewhat lacklustre compared to the super-trendy tequila, mezcal and American whisky categories. Tequila/Mezcal sales were up 7.9% in 2023​, totaling $6.5 billion; while American Whiskey sales were up 3.8%,  totaling $5.3 billion, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the US.

The Distilled Spirits Council identifies 19.6% growth for super-premium gin​ between 2022 and 2023.

The gin market - if looked at as a whole - has declined 2.4% in value. But super premium gin is showing impressive growth rates. 

That’s where the opportunities lie, says Alex, who argues that in both countries the gin category remains 'vibrant and relevant', thanks to the shift towards super premium.

“Ultra premium gin is actually growing globally at a rate of 17.5 % which makes it one of the most dynamic spirits segments in the world," he said.

“And while ultra premium gin is relatively new to the US, its is expanding at a CAGR of 33%.

“We’re on the cusp of a premium gin revolution in the US, driven by an interest in cocktail culture, of which gin is the backbone of so many classics, and new exciting flavors.”

Investing in gin

aviation-gin

While there might be an abundance of celeb tequila brands - think George Clooney's Casamigos and Kendall Jenner's 818 tequila - Ryan Reynold's gin brand Aviation Gin​ has been a roaring success in the US and internationally.

Like Renais, Aviation Gin is positioned in the premium, luxury craft segment, although retails at a lower price point than Renais.

Diageo - which acquired Aviation Gin in 2020 - continues to have faith in the segment. It's eyeing up a 7% CAGR for gin globally - an equal second with whiskey and behind only tequila at 12%.

Meanwhile, Brad Pitt is behind The Gardener, a luxury French Riviera gin which draws on the wild juniper of Provence, bitter orange trees of Cap D'Antibes, Citrons de Menton, and the wild rosemary and figs of the Cote d'Azur.

That interest in ultra-premium comes with a wider interest in the provenance and authenticity of brands, says Alex – something Renais can offer in abundance.

“Renais Gin plays into the premiumization trend that is happening in spirits: drink less, but better. 

"It's easy to drink, yet it provides a luxury spirit experience that offers customers something new and exciting. I think more than anything, consumers increasingly care about where their products come from, how they’re made, and why - providing good answers to these questions, regardless of category, is key to building success and brand equity.”

Renais is available across 40 states and in select California retailers starting this month ($65). It plans to add additional retailers in new states later this year.

'A challenger, not a chaser'

The gin earned a gold medal in the 2023 Gin Masters and has sold more than 10,000 bottles to date over the UK, France, Italy, Germany and Australia. In the UK, it has reached more than 120 prestigious outlets, including well-known locations such as Selfridges, Soho House, The Savoy, Scarfes Bar and Gaucho.

Furthermore, the brand estimates a PR reach of 5 billion, and more than 200,000 followers across Renais and Alex Watson’s Instagram channels. And earlier this year, it was named in the UK’s 2024 Startups 100 Index, which identified the brand as a 'challenger, not a chaser'​ in a market of celebrity brands.