Sociologist Dr. Nicola Nice spent years doing market research and brand consulting for major liquor companies, and some of the same themes kept coming up when she’d talk to women in research groups.
The themes, at times, were so vexing…she ended up leaving the world of research, and a year ago this February (Feb. 7, 2017), she launched Pomp & Whimsy, one of the first companies to actively market a gin-based liqueur created in the United States. Not only did she invent and create a spirit that specifically targets women, but she has revived a whole category of spirits. Nice’s whole idea – nay, her whole company – is rooted in culture and steeped in history.
But back to that research project that inspired her to start her own spirits company.
“On one particular research project, I was talking to these (high-powered) women about what liquor products they celebrate with, and I remember this very successful lawyer telling me ‘When we close a big deal, we go to the bar, and all the male partners order whiskey, and I would be like ‘What can I have to make me feel like I’m participating in the celebration, even though I don’t care for drinking a flight of whiskey? I’m too embarrassed to order a vodka and soda so I end up ordering wine, and I don’t feel like I’m quite participating in the same way,’” Nice recalls. “I’ve heard this story over and over again.”
Nice often wondered why this particular consumer wasn’t being targeted. “It became more and more clear to me that this female consumer was not so much as being ignored, but not actively considered,” Nice says. “Brands that may have done better with a female audience never were actively positioned toward women, and it began to frustrate me. On a fundamental level, it bothered me, but on a business level, I saw it as an opportunity.”
Nice pointed out that for many years – decades, really – there has been a “huge unspoken rule that brands focused on women don’t succeed, that men don’t like to order them, and that bartenders don’t like to work with them.”
But the drinking culture has changed, and women are ordering a wide array of spirits, and women today don’t need to have men buy them drinks. “There was absolutely no reason why a brand that speaks to women should not be taken seriously,” Nice says. “It was not a matter of that it can’t be done, but that it hasn’t been done well.”
The problem, Nice says, is that many liquor brands geared towards women have been considered girly, with a very sweet formula, and men make the assumption that they can’t or shouldn’t be drinking them. “You can understand how these brands are not aspirational, and they’re not aspirational to women, either,” she says.
Branding and gender, she says, should be considered across a spectrum. “Many spirit brands either fall in the middle of that spectrum, or they are highly masculine,” she says. Some brands that do target women, like Bailey’s, tend to be more gender neutral, or they’re very pink like X-Rated Fusion liqueur.
“There really wasn’t anything in between (gender neutral and hyper feminine) space, with the right levels of femininity, with more of a sort of aspirational brand, as well as product experience,” Nice says. “I wanted to create something like that, something that didn’t immediately scream ‘I’m for girls.’”
It would also be a brand that targeted women singularly, without any reference to how or who women are related to men.
So that inspired Nice to start thinking about what such a spirit would look like and feel like, and historically, she went back to the Victorian times. Gin wasn’t bottled at distilleries – it was sold in barrels – and before it reached the home, it was often mixed up with flavorings and sugars, by the retailers, into various gin cordials or gin-based liqueurs. In fact, the original gin cocktails – the Collins, the fizz, etc. – those were made with cordials, not straight gin.
“I had to go back to that Victorian time when men and women were pretty equal in what they drank, and this is what they were drinking,” Nice says. “There was no reason why we couldn’t bring it back as a category, just updating it for the modern palate.”
So, Nice began experimenting with different recipes, and about the fourth try, she came up with the formula that became Pomp & Whimsy. Nice spent two years developing her spirit, and then she launched in February 2017 in Los Angeles. Over the past year, she’s expanded so that Pomp & Whimsy is distributed throughout the state of California, but more than a third of the spirit’s sales are online, as people from across the country are seeking it out.
In 2018, Pomp & Whimsy’s distribution will expand first into New York, then Texas, and by early 2019, it will be in Illinois (Chicago) and Florida. Since its debut, it’s been sought out as a sponsor to women-centric business and entrepreneurial events, and bars are asking for Pomp & Whimsy to sponsor such things as Galentine’s Day parties and especially Mother’s Day.
As a liqueur, Pomp & Whimsy isn’t too sweet, and it’s got 16 different botanicals so it’s quite fragrant. It’s been often used in French 75-styled cocktails and other champagne-based cocktails, especially for brunch in bars and restaurants.
“It’s also been really popular in place of gin in negronis,” Nice says.
But instead of Campari, Nice recommends using Aperol or a bitter orange amaro, and then using a mix of half sweet and half dry vermouth. Pomp & Whimsy’s also been used as a modifier in old fashioneds, martinis and other classic cocktails, too. “Even just mixing it 50-50 with cognac is delicious, too,” Nice says.
“What’s been really interesting is that at first, men don’t even realize we’ve created something actually for women – and I haven’t met a man yet who doesn’t like Pomp & Whimsy,” Nice says. “It’s not until they hear the story, hearing me talking, but then I’m asked ‘Does that mean I can’t drink it because you’re targeting women?’ And I say ‘Can I not drink Jack Daniels because it’s targeted towards men?’”
- 1 oz. Pomp & Whimsy
- 1 oz. bitter orange amaro
- ½ oz. dry vermouth
- ½ oz. sweet vermouth
Combine the ingredients in an old-fashioned glass filled with ice; stir to combine.
Garnish with a twist of orange peel.
More recipes: https://www.pompandwhimsy.com/tipsandsips/