As consumers continue to make cocktails at home, Rachel Badham explores which styles of liqueurs and vermouths retailers should be stocking
“The pandemic was a time of uncertainty,” says Max Whisker, manager of Latitude Wine & Liquor in Leeds.
However, the one certainty for Whisker was that Britain was becoming a nation of budding home bartenders who turned to the off-trade to supply the components of their favourite cocktails.
“Keep calm and stock up the home bar, darling” was the mantra of the pandemic, he says. And in a post-lockdown world, consumers are showing no signs of stopping when it comes to recreating cocktails in the comfort of their homes.
Despite the ongoing home cocktail craze, liqueurs and vermouth have arguably received less consumer attention than bigger spirits categories such as gin and vodka. Perhaps this can be attributed to a lack of consumer knowledge about the categories. While the majority of amateur home mixologists can probably name juniper as a primary ingredient of gin, fewer might be able to list the key components of vermouth.
However, Chris Seale, managing director at Speciality Brands, is hopeful that the nation’s love for home cocktails will see vermouth, in particular, secure a permanent space in consumers’ drinks cabinets. “The popularity of classics such as the Negroni and the Martini has driven a better understanding of the various styles of vermouth and how to use them, showing that vermouth is not simply an afterthought ingredient, but rather a key element to balance such cocktails,” he says.
And according to Luc Merlet, managing director at liqueur specialist Distillerie Merlet et Fils, harnessing the home cocktail trend could be the key to propelling both categories in retail.
“There have already been some efforts to promote new consumption modes, such as cocktail recipes promoted on-pack,” he says, adding: “There is still more to do. For example, retailers could create cocktail kits or set up cross promotions with different products used in cocktail making.”
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Providing plenty of offerings for budding mixologists is essential for retailers looking to cash in on the home cocktail trend, but the vast array of liqueurs and vermouths available to the trade might leave retailers unsure what to stock, particularly if shelf space is limited.
“The issue that is posed to all discerning home-bar owners is: how do I curate a wide and diverse menu of cocktails that I can make at home without having to buy 100 different bottles?” says Latitude’s Whisker, echoing the sentiment that the liqueurs and vermouths market can be overwhelming for the average home cocktail drinker.
For Sam Wilson, spirits expert at Amathus Drinks, providing cocktail-led consumers with a core range is the best starting point. “Every serious home cocktail set-up should have a red sweet vermouth and a dry vermouth (think Negronis and Martinis), a triple sec, Campari or orange bitter substitute, a coffee liqueur, a liqueur modifier (such as Chartreuse, Italicus or Strega) and one other liqueur, whether that be an amaretto, cassis, mûre or elderflower.
“With these in your drinks cabinet, you can make an incredible amount of cocktails.”
“Vermouth and aperitivo culture is becoming increasingly popular and the demand in the UK drinks industry for more bitter options has heightened,” adds Club Soda’s creative director, Noah Villeneuve, who highlights the importance of including bitters in every liqueur range.
And as inflationary pressures mount and consumers adopt a less-is-more approach to shopping, it seems that curating a streamlined yet highly-versatile range is the most effective way to cater to the masses.
To complete the core range, Villeneuve also notes low/no liqueur and vermouth alternatives as stock essentials. “Including a couple of alcohol-free options is definitely valuable in ensuring that you have something for everybody. If you have limited in-store space, look at small products such as Crodino, which comes in a pack of 3 x 17.5cl, or Wilfred’s, which comes in a tall, thin 50cl bottle”.
THE KNOCK-ON EFFECT
Looking ahead, Whisker sees a bright future for liqueurs and vermouths, as he notes a trend among consumers. “In most cases we find that customers will generally purchase the ingredients for their favourite cocktails and then look for variations on these cocktails or alternative uses for these ingredients, essentially leading to a web of sales.
“Another trend we are noticing, especially with liqueurs and vermouths, is that after customers try one product, they often return wanting to try an alternative. This isn’t because they didn’t like the first product – on the contrary, it’s because they enjoyed it so much they wish to broaden their horizons.”
For retailers looking to boost sales of liqueurs and vermouths, Speciality’s Seale highlights the need for continued consumer education to demystify the categories. “Hosting in-store events and tastings is a great way to teach drinkers about the various styles available and inspire them to use them at home.”