Cocktail Ingredients & Mixers

It’s not just about the spirit when it comes to making great cocktails. Jaq Bayles celebrates the other essential elements

A GOOD COCKTAIL is only equal to the sum of its parts – and, although that sum is often a matter of simple addition, there are times when a complex equation is called for.

While some bars seek an edge to help them deal with volume turnover, for others it’s about the theatre of the cocktail and the alchemy of the finest ingredients. Some of those ingredients are naturally showy – plumes of basil or mint leaves, twirls of fruit zest, shining berries – but then there are those unsung heroes of the long drink. Mixers.

Any good bartender knows there is little point using a super-premium spirit brand only to dilute it with an inferior quality mixer. And mixer company Fever- Tree has benefited from responding to the fact that more and more bar professionals are waking up to the importance of provenance throughout all ingredients.

“It’s a category that’s been so long forgotten,” says Fever-Tree marketing manager, Saskia Stoop. “Mixers are often out of sight on the bottom shelf in any bar and nothing is made on that bar of the long drinks.” She maintains that Fever-Tree – which, in the space of six years, has grown to an 18 million-bottle company exporting to more than 30 countries – has succeeded in “elevating fairly straightforward cocktails to having a bit of theatre to them”.

Stoop continues: “The products are fairly subtle so you can taste the spirit. People are becoming more interested in and more excited about premium mixers that look nicer and taste better and allow them to gain a better cash margin.”

A bit of celebrity endorsement doesn’t go amiss either – Fever-Tree products are served in the world’s top restaurants, with the chef at El Bulli in Spain using the tonic water to create a sorbet. Indeed, Spain is considered one of Fever-Tree’s most important markets, says Stoop. “They drink a huge amount of G&T and have hit a trend in premiumisation and people going out to bars. If they are going to pay more for a spirit they need a good quality mixer.”

The latest launch in the Fever-Tree stable has been a Mediterranean Tonic Water, described by Stoop as “slightly more aromatic and designed for vodka and light gins”. Containing the same type of quinine and water as the classic version, it has the additions of lemon thyme and rosemary from Provence along with Sicilian lemons.

Another great innovator in the sector is the Funkin company, which produces natural mixers and fruit purées and has just introduced a one-litre pack for its five-flavour mixers range – Strawberry Woo Woo, Strawberry Daiquiri, Cosmopolitan, Mojito and Sour Mix.

Company CEO Andrew King says of the innovation: “We launched our mixers two and a half years ago really for bars that perhaps didn’t have the level of skills or did infrequent cocktails or were hotel bars. It was important to us to get across to people how to make a simple serve cocktail. “Miniature bottles have a place but as you step up the market and serve volume speed is important and margin is important. Our customers were saying they wanted bigger packs, particularly around pitchers.”

King’s company has adopted the phrase “democratising the cocktail” to explain its range – it wants to make cocktails available to everyone. And this is happening across the globe. Funkin has a base in Los Angeles as well as the UK and King reports strong growth in France with the market opening up in Australia and India as well as mainland Europe. Funkin also sees the BRIC countries as “exciting”, but there are cost issues to be addressed.

King says: “It’s a tough environment out there and the cost of ingredients is hitting bars. The price of fruit has gone up this year. We use a little sugar cane syrup and the cost of that has gone up this year too. Looking at new markets is part of where we can grow the business and keep costs down.”

Keeping an eye on trends is all-important and the past year has been the year of the berry, according to King. “For Funkin this has been the year of the strawberry. There’s definitely a trend around red berries on the high street and we are definitely seeing a trend around ‘skinnies’ – that’s been going on for a couple of years in the US, and has hit the UK in the past year. Lot of bars are looking at the likes of agave so they can have a skinny offering.”

And the next big thing? Both King and Stoop agree there’s a trend in rum that’s looking strong for the coming year. With that in mind, Funkin launched a Mai Tai mixer globally earlier in 2011.