We spoke to Jim Claffey, co-founder of Cocktail Delivery, about how he, bar owner Robbie Dowdall and Ambary Spirits founder Mat Graham, turned their cocktail delivery service into an instant success
‘This all started with an Old Fashioned,’ says Jim Claffey. A mate’s birthday in lockdown called for the cocktail, but access to a good one proved difficult. So Claffey, a third of the Lincoln-based team behind Cocktail Delivery, created a new home cocktail delivery service.
He’s a self-confessed ‘marketing and advertising nerd’ and, alongside Robbie Dowdall (co-owner of and bartender at Lincoln’s Vice & Co speakeasy) and Mat Graham (of hemp-infused vodka brand Ambary), has started a seriously successful company, as a response to covid-19, in a matter of weeks.
‘Bojo kicked off, and me and Mat had a Skype chat and said “let’s do something together”,’ Claffey told Imbibe. ‘80% of my clients were hospitality led, so we thought we’d design an e-commerce [outlet].’ Nine days later, all of the necessary licenses were in place.
Cocktail Delivery offers customers cocktail kits delivered to their homes, from Angel Margaritas (using Don Angel Tequila) and Wall Street Gin Cocktails (with Brokers Gin), to Tokyo Cosmos (including sake) and Pirate Old Fashioneds (a trio of Dead Man’s Fingers, Plantation Pineapple and Darm Matter rums). Of course, the more obvious regulars are in there too – ‘The Pornstar and Espresso Martinis are smashing it’ – and YouTube 'how to' videos mean that customers can easily learn how to mix, shake, stir or garnish their cocktails accordingly.
The man behind the drinks is Dowdall, who Claffey used to tend bar with ‘back in the day’. The process of successfully batching cocktails at more than a single serve was something that took time. ‘It was a lot of tasting, that was the hardest point,’ explained Claffey. ‘You’ve got to think about time. We batch in small volumes because we want the quality to always be there.’
You’ve got to think about time. We batch in small volumes because we want the quality to always be there
Dowdall cracked it in the end though – ‘you want to see our spreadsheets, they’re so specific’. Imbibe tried the Toyko Cosmo and Pirate Old Fashioned over the weekend. The former was welcomingly not overly saccharine, topped with Britvic Cranberry Juice which allows some level of personalisation for preference. The latter is pleasantly heavy on the caramel syrup and benefits from the instructions to stir it down over ice for five or so minutes.
‘We’re about to expand the range,’ Claffey tells us. ‘We keep getting asked for Woo Woos,’ he groans, ‘but we’re trying to bring in a spiced rum Daiquiri.’ They’d like to do the ‘bartender favourite Straight Daiquiri, but we don’t think the mass customer is ready’.
Repeat custom seems to be something that is driving the business. With regular digital events happening across the country, customers are taking it in turn to buy that week’s accompanying cocktails, while a group of lads who enjoy Old Fashioned sessions are making their orders regular too. Subscription packages are something the guys are working on.
And, as mutterings of hospitality outlets opening in July circulate, Claffey and co are thinking about the future of their new-found success. DHL are pushing the guys to go international due to apparent huge interest in the US which, considering this all started ‘as a bit of a laugh’, is promising stuff.
The most exciting next step for the trio though will be supplying small restaurants who don’t have the bar or the bar staff to create high quality cocktails in their venues
Gifts are the bulk of their business with people taking advantage of the free next day delivery and sending bottles to loved ones across the country, something Claffey is confident will continue – ‘we know the gift element is always going to be there’.
The most exciting next step for the trio though, will be supplying small restaurants who don’t have the bar or the bar staff to create high quality cocktails in their venues. ‘Training to be a decent bartender [or indeed training them in house] can take years, especially for small businesses which don’t have the facilities. People are more likely to choose a restaurant if they do good drinks too.’
Claffey, Dowdell and Graham are keen for other bartenders’ input too and are urging anyone who has any creations that they can reproduce to get in touch. Ultimately, the guys are keeping the spirit of the hospitality industry alive and well: ‘It’s nice to be able to give people the option to have something a bit normal,’ says Claffey reflectively. ‘I mean, when was the last time you opened post and got excited?’