If you knew the secret to packaging a discerning mixed drink from a great cocktail bar you’d bottle it, right? And by bottle it we don’t mean cower in the corner from the challenge, we mean actually stick the cocktail in a bottle.
And yes, we are right, because, despite the many appalling incarnations of pre-mixed drinks over the years, it seems the concept of creating and bottling excellent cocktails is now not only acceptable, but almost de rigueur and – dare we say it – even en vogue. Two French-isms which rightly make the concept sound loads more posher.
Rather than drinks companies, though, the motivation to pre-mix and retail this magic is finally coming from bartenders, with products picking up international drinks awards and the most luxurious tickling the eyebrows of glamour stores such as Selfridges and online specialists Master of Malt and Whisky Exchange.
Packaging a cocktail might strike you as lazy and, frankly, anyone expected to pay up to £45 for a 50cl bottle of something mixed might demand a bit of theatre. But a premium pre-mixed concept has actually worked to sound effect in the on-trade, proving the absence of performance in preparation is acceptable so long as the drink tastes delicious and the ingredients are thought-provoking. Prize-winning purveyor of the pre-mixed drink is Ryan Chetiyawardana, who launched White Lyan bar in London with no ice or citrus and all cocktails prepared and bottled in advance. Far from punters scratching their head over lack of theatre, the bar has been a huge success and he has subsequently found a market for his creations in the off-trade.
That off-trade consumers might turn their noses up at the grunt work of mixing a drink should come as no surprise. These are time-poor days and pouring yourself or guests a pre-mixed drink of guaranteed quality is an easy win. Wine and beer have led the way and now consumers are happy to spend their hard-earned on cocktails they can serve without faff in front of the telly.
Meanwhile, the move into convenience for the cocktail category is nothing new – the niche in this market has been deeply carved with 25cl spirit-and-mixer ready-to-drink cans growing at 8% in the off-trade year on year. But what is eye-catching is that more recent additions have come from some of the UK’s most influential bar pioneers, suggesting the premium end has legs. And that the ideas are, in many cases, not replicable. Which are the leading lights? Well, Chetiyawardana’s Mr Lyan brand is certainly one to check out, arguably the current leader in this market. Aske Stephenson is another brand worth exploring, established by bartenders Thomas Aske and Tristan Stephenson, who set up Fluid Movement and bars including the Worship Street Whistling Shop in London. What both do exceptionally well is inject all their creative innovation into the bottle. The Aske Stephenson Leather & Walnut (£36, 50cl), for example, uses a walnut rye whiskey lengthened with a food-safe grade of leather.
Availability is the challenge with these smaller products, but try them and keep an eye on the movement. Elsewhere artisan spirits producers are getting on board, among the most interesting being the Cotswolds Distilling Company with its bottled Espresso Martini. These examples are a fine alternative to mixed drinks relations that simply nod to ubiquitous bar serves. So if you run a discerning drinks outlet, these would be a worthy addition to the shelves.