As the home cocktail-making trend grows, Millie Milliken looks at some of the component drinks that are seeing an increase in demand
It’s not exactly breaking news that the pandemic saw a rise in at-home cocktail making.
While bars and brands quickly moved to bottled or vac-pack cocktails for consumers to enjoy during lockdown, cocktail ingredients beyond the core base spirits also enjoyed a rise in popularity as people experimented with making cocktails themselves.
In the year to September 2021, off -trade liqueur sales jumped 27% to reach £561 million, according to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association. IWSR predicts that vermouth sales will grow at a CAGR of 2.1% between 2021 and 2025.
Dawn Davies MW, head buyer at Speciality Drinks, got an insight into people’s at-home drinking habits from the company’s sales during the Covid peak.
“I could tell what every single person was making at their house,” she says, “Negronis one week, Manhattans another. It was the most fascinating thing I’ve seen; it was an anthropological experiment.”
Now, she’s seeing jumps in sales of vermouth and bitters, with many consumers buying more premium offerings of these products. New brands such as north London restaurant Top Cuvée’s house vermouth, the UK launch of Canadian bitters brand Bittered Sling, and Aker aperitif from Kent wine producer Chapel Down and Capreolus Distillery are all pushing to help make this a burgeoning space for British retail.
But both brands and retailers still have some work to do when it comes to selling these types of drinks. From in-store tastings, to retail displays, and brands making their products easier for consumers to understand through information on storage and usage, there are plenty of ways in which liqueurs, syrups, bitters, vermouths and aperitifs can be marketed to already-engaged consumers.
Here are three brands aiming to take full advantage of the home cocktail trend.
Vermouth was noted by Davies at Speciality Drinks as a main growth area in cocktail ingredients – and English vermouth in particular has created a sizeable following in recent years. One such brand is Vault, whose spirits range comprises gin, vodka and bitters, as well as vermouth, and goes under the umbrella name of Vault Aperitivo after founder Dan Joines joined forces with the people behind Victory London Distillery early this year.
“We saw a slowdown from online orders, which had done really well in lockdown and been our bread and butter as a brand,” says Joines. “We had a few months of that, and people were adjusting and then it started to pick back up again.”
The producer’s limited-edition vermouths have included a collaboration with the wine brand Mirabeau on a rosé, and one with urban winery Renegade to make a Champagne & Oysters version.
Joines says direct-to-consumer remains a favoured route over traditional retail. Vault’s products are also listed by Master of Malt and it is opening its own aperitivo bar which will showcase its wares.
The positive impact of bartender interest and its trickle-down effect to consumers has been important, he says, but adds: “Working with independent restaurants and bars is the hardest part. We just can’t compete [with the bigger brands].”
While home cocktail makers may be becoming more adventurous, there’s still a tendency towards making drinks with a few, ready-to pour ingredients. There is also a growing trend of longer, Highball-type serves with lower abvs. Both are trends that play into the hands of the many premium mixer brands now on the market.
With a predicted global CAGR of 8.7% until 2030 (Grand View Research) the number of products is growing apace, with leanings towards more versatile, low-calorie and low-sugar options. Perhaps one of the best-known brands is Fever-Tree, which launched a premium soda range this year.
“Born out of consumer demand for lighter tastes, lower-calorie mixers and the spritz/lower-abv drinks trend, we saw an opportunity to broaden our portfolio,” says head of retail Vicki Zealand.
She says the brand’s flavoured tonics are also performing well, including Rhubarb & Raspberry, a nod to the emergence of the experimental G&T drinker. Zealand says flavour and product innovation is key to staying relevant to consumers and retail partners.
“It is about ensuring you are front of mind as a brand, working closely with retail partners to promote the mixer category,” she says. “Innovation also has an important role to play. We are continually exploring new products and opportunities for the new home-bartender audience.
“They are always looking to discover new flavour combinations for their favourite spirits and mixers.”
Aperitif brands are an increasingly useful tool in the home bartender’s arsenal. Sipello founder Tim Simmons has taken a trade-first approach to getting his brands in front of consumers, gaining listings with prestigious bars.
“Sipello isn’t what I’d call an established brand,” he says. “It’s in 70 cocktail bars at the moment. Off the back of that, once you have that credibility, you can push into consumers and Sipello is at that point at the moment.”
Part of the brand’s evolution is to change its back label to incorporate a QR to take consumers to simple serve ideas. This will make the bottle work hard for the brand, but Simmons thinks there is still a lot of work to be done in retail before brands like his are understood without the consumer having to pick up the bottle.
“Where retailers can play a bigger role, which would drive sales, would be more grouping of products for specific cocktails or genres of cocktails,” he suggests. “Things like gondola ends are good for this sort of thing. Something like: ‘Here are three products to mix together and here is your cocktail.’”
Being British helps too, he says: “That kind of thing makes people’s ears prick up. They give you a bit more of a chance.”