As we head for Christmas, Lucy Britner looks at how retailers can make the most of cocktail ingredients, with tips from industry experts
For the purposes of this article, we’ve taken booze out of the equation. We’re here to find out how retailers can help customers stock their home bars with mixers, syrups, garnishes and all the things that make a cocktail sing.
Perhaps the best people to ask about cocktails are bartenders – cue Thomas Pedley and Greg Adams from spirits shop Tipples of Manchester. Before opening the shop four years ago, the pair had racked up around 30 years of bartending experience between them. Pedley says that, while many spirits shops are whisky-focused, Tipples isn’t, which gives it an advantage when it comes to cocktails.
At the moment, he believes it’s wise to take into account that cash-strapped consumers don’t want to spend loads on ingredients they only need for one or two occasions. “Typically, customers come in with a recipe on their phone and we’re able to give them pointers and recommend the right spec,” he says.
“We often recommend shelf-stable or freezable ingredients because you have to think about how the customer will use them.”
He believes it is important to offer value for money and avoid waste. Tipples used to stock cocktail glassware, but Pedley says most customers now have the basics, such as rocks glasses, at home.
“We don’t want to sell people things they don’t need,” he adds. In terms of the business, most of Pedley’s customers come in search of a new gin or a nice bottle of whisky, say, but 5-10% now come to talk about cocktails. A number that will surely rise as interest continues.
Tipples also has a dedicated “cocktails at home” section on its website where links can be found to YouTube videos for cocktail demos.
At the larger end of the business, multiple retailer Marks & Spencer, too, is using the online space to educate consumers about cocktails. The store’s Instagram account includes recipes for drinks such as the Spiced Pineapple Mojito and a spokesperson for the retailer tells us that all M&S’s cocktail recipes are going to be on a new online M&S Recipe Hub from mid-September.
If you’re not about to start your own YouTube channel, don’t fear – there’s plenty of content available from brands. Some of it might be useful in terms of staff education, while other videos might help customers.
Zippy Bakowska, marketing director at Amber Beverage UK and Indie Brands, counts as part of her portfolio Master of Mixes, the off-trade product from the makers of bartender-facing Finest Call cocktail mixes, syrups and purées. Bakowska says the Master of Mixes video series demonstrates how to use products to make cocktails in a couple of simple steps.
“The content is short and snappy, and avoids being stuffy or strict by highlighting alternative ingredients,” she says. “Retailers could even replicate this in store, by combining a demonstration with sampling.”
She says retailers with limited floor space can focus on a few key elements to improve their customers’ experience.
“The most fundamental of these is providing product training to all staff, including tastings,” she adds. “It makes an enormous difference to a shopper when they can ask for advice and get personal recommendations from someone who can do more than read a back label. When staff have tried the product, can share ideas on how to use it, and especially when they take the initiative to learn about the customer so that they can tailor recommendations to their preferences, it makes a significant difference to the shopper’s experience.”
In Manchester, Tipples’ Pedley stocks Finest Call/Master of Mixes, as well as the William Fox syrups range, which includes the basics as well as the likes of Chilli, Chai and Watermelon.
It’s also easy to make you own sugar syrup, says Will Blakeley, manager at The Spirits Room by Caviste. Blakeley uses his experience from his days as a spirits advisor at Berry Bros & Rudd to advise customers on making cocktails. “I’m a firm believer in DIY when it comes to sugar syrup,” he says. “Use equal parts water and sugar, simmer and stir for about half an hour. If you want a fruit version, add in strawberries, for example.”
A basic sugar syrup can be used in classics such as the Whisky Sour or Daiquiri. As well as using his own knowledge, Blakeley calls on brands to come in and do cocktail demos, including reps from Michter’s American whiskey, who made Mint Juleps on Kentucky Derby Day.
Mixers are mainly used to lengthen a spirit drink and it’s no secret that the quality vastly improved over the years – and moved beyond the humble tonic.
Long Tail mixers co-founder Tom Wiggett says there has been a “notable change” in the type of spirits consumers are mixing with. “While this was previously predominantly light spirits based with a heavy emphasis on gin, consumers are now bringing dark spirits into their at-home mixology repertoire,” he says.
“The recent increase in rum sales (over £1 billion in 2022 [CGA/NIQ]) has been heavily influenced by the demand for dark spirits-based cocktails. Mixers that pair with dark as well as light spirits should therefore be considered.”
He mentions his own Island Spice and Ginger & Lime variants. Meanwhile, Pedley adds that Double Dutch has an interesting range of mixers – think Cucumber & Watermelon to suit summer spritzes, or Pomegranate & Basil, which is geared towards mezcal and vermouth.
With Christmas just around the corner, the key to cocktail success will be to make home mixing exciting, easy and affordable.
Making friends with the local greengrocer for some deals on citrus fruits could be a good idea – not only can the juice be used in many drinks, but peel and oils add to the visual and aromatic appeal of a cocktail. There are also shelf-stable garnishes, such as olives or cherries.
Tim Dunlop, European commercial director for Hotel Starlino Maraschino cherries, supplied by Biggar & Leith, says: “Cocktail cherries are a well-established component of classic cocktails and give an instant visual pay-off as they enhance the look of a cocktail immediately.”