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Published:  01 April, 2016

It’s not so long ago that pre-mixed cocktails were sneered at. But now it’s all about batching – and it’s all the rage. Holly Motion reports

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THE BAR HAS BEEN BOTTLED; batched, pre-mixed cocktails are everywhere. In an age of convenience, it is little wonder that something that is all but poured into your mouth is a popular choice for many. And consumers are increasingly willing to pay extra for a handmade and premium product that’s ready to imbibe at an ambient temperature or slightly chilled and can be drunk on the go or at home. 
 
But getting the bar on to the shelves was not an easy ask. Producers have had to strike a balance between getting quality ingredients that will offer explosive flavour while being shelf stable, achieve mass sales without cutting corners and getting consumers to understand that convenience doesn’t have to mean compromise.

The king of spice, Pritesh Mody says everything his World of Zing company does is small batch, handmade and aged. “The only thing we buy in is the raw spirit, ” he says. When the self-professed foodie started creating batched cocktails in 2014, World’s 50 Best Bars-listed White Lyan had just opened and batching was in. “But no one was doing it for retail,” Mody adds.

With one of the biggest spice warehouses in London at his disposal, perishable ingredients – a big stumbling block for many – isn’t a barrier for Mody. People told the company founder that his batched Margarita couldn’t be done because it has to have fresh lime in it. His solution? Dried Persian limes. “It’s the essence of lime so we thought: Why don’t we turn that into a concentrate? It’s already preserved so it is not going to go off.”

All of World of Zing’s products are created to bartender strength. “That tells consumers that it isn’t just a watered down drink,” Mody says. “We want to be everyday premium and we have to grow at that level. Our products have never been about novelty.” The original idea for Mody was to keep the products at a price that people would pay for a nice bottle of wine (£22-£26). “We want to be in shopping baskets not in the gifting section.”

CONTROLLED PROCESS

Simon Weston, director at export blenders Pontoon, says: “Pre-mixed is a commodity. Batched is different. Batching cocktails is like microbrewing. It’s a carefully controlled process managed by people who love their liquid. It’s about delivering the best quality cocktail as quickly and consistently as possible.” Pontoon’s range is entirely custom. Weston explains: “Pontoon is a white label, business-to-business solution. We help our clients build their brand by making them drinks that they become famous for.”

Charles Joly is one of the batched cocktail success stories. The Diageo World Class winner’s Crafthouse Cocktails caught the eye – and investment – of Constellation Brands’ investment arm, Constellation Ventures, last year. Co-founder Matt Lindner thinks Joly has opened the door for others. “I believe the future trend will be an increase in distinguished bartenders releasing their own pre-mixed cocktails.”

Another bartender-come-batched cocktail producer is Tony Conigliaro of World’s 50 Best Bars’ 69 Colebrooke Row. With the help of his team at Drink Factory – the company founded by Conigliaro in 2005 – he released a Negroni for retail earlier this year. Drink Factory’s Max Venning says a common misconception is that bottled cocktails are a new thing. “As the industry is constantly growing people are always trying to find something new or to kick off a trend. In reality, bottled cocktails have been around for a long time, almost as long as the cocktail industry itself.”

It might not be new, but product stability has yet to be mastered by some. “I’ve seen a few products out there that haven’t been tested and have degraded pretty quickly. You have to remember people will not necessarily use the product as quickly as you imagine,” Venning says. Drink Factory gets around this by using a company to stability test everything. He says: “You see a slight variation in colour and flavour over time but the important thing is you’re not selling something that will go off.”

He adds: “We are freeze drying a lot at the moment. The process of sublimation means almost all of the aroma volatiles remain in the product and the shelf life is massively extended. We also find once this has been distilled or infused you get a much longer-lasting product, with less flavour degradation.”

Another consideration for producers is how to create quality products on a mass scale without cutting corners.

For Crafthouse’s Lindner, some won’t achieve this. “You will see lots of brands hitting the shelf at lower price points that cut corners. [Crafthouse] can achieve mass sales because we are marketing to the consumer who is trying to decide if they should buy a $20 bottle of wine, craft beer, or a bottled cocktail and, in some cases, all three. That customer understands that, in order to make a quality product with quality ingredients, they are going to be paying up for it.”

Drink Factory’s Venning says it comes down to the development stage. He cautions: “Make sure you are happy with the product and it is of the necessary quality, then cost it up, see if it is profitable. If you can’t produce something you believe in which is profitable at the same time I wouldn’t recommend releasing it.

QUALITY

“There are a lot of poor quality products on the market, as people have cut corners to reduce the production costs. They usually spend a ton of money on PR and that’s where they can have success. We like to spend money on quality and development and let the product talk for itself.”

Justin Lew, vice president of marketing at High West distillery, thinks the future for the category is bright. “It will continue to grow as consumers get more excited and sophisticated about making drinks at home, much the same as we’ve seen with food and cooking over the past years.”

With the demand for cocktails ever increasing and consumers having seemingly less time than ever, it’s looking like batched and pre-mixed cocktails are only going to gain in popularity. As more bartenders and drinks aficionados come to the fore, the not-so-new products look set to grow in number and (fingers crossed) quality.