In our new series, Imbibe takes a look at some of the companies setting the pace in the world of beers, wines and spirits. This issue: Spirit Cartel
Predicted turnover 2015: £2.5m
They say: ‘Our success was built on starting small and attracting niche, premium brands – which in turn attracted other like-minded brands who wanted to be a part of what we were doing. You’re not going to get a brand like Four Roses from day one – you have to earn your stripes.’
We say: Berkmann was one of the first traditional wine merchants to create a separate spirits arm aimed almost entirely at servicing the bar rather than restaurant trade. It was a brave move, but it’s paid off – not least because it had a very different feel to the (more traditional) wine side of the business.
They say: ‘A stand-alone company recognising that things are done differently in spirits and that adds some levity to an industry prone to taking itself a little too seriously.’
We say: Rather than being all shiny and modern, Spirits Cartel has created a retro, mafia/prohibition shtick for itself – all stained brown paper, manual typewriter fonts and big cigars. The old-style handcrafted image fits the brands well, and is very of the moment (created, ironically, before hipsters even existed) but it probably works better with the sizeable number of drinks from the Americas than, say, a gin from the Black Forest.
Tempting as it is to go with the (ahem) undoubted star quality of Sir Ron of Jeremy, if we had to pick one brand from this lot it would be Four Roses – a regular headline-grabber in pretty much any whiskey competition you care to mention.
How: A combination of Berkmann fleet (London) and ‘strategic’ tie-ups with regional and national wholesalers/distributors, such as Booker, Bibendum, Matthew Clark and Coe Vintners.
Strongest area: London/South-East, which is currently around 80% of sales.
They say: ‘There are still opportunities in the South-East, capitalising on the awareness we’ve created so far. But also we’re looking to expand our reach in places like Manchester and Scotland.’
We say: A solid base – and decent turnover – has been established. Time to push on and grow national presence.
From half a dozen brands in 2011 the portfolio has now grown to 14 – taking in over 40 products.
Rums: Don Q, Ron de Jeremy, Joseph Banks, Rum Nation, Ron Millonario and Origenes.
Others: Four Roses Bourbon, San Cosme mezcal, Mancino Vermouth, Kappa Pisco, Babička vodka, Monkey 47 gin and Roots Greek liqueurs.
They say: ‘We set out to work with super-premium spirits and best-in-class producers. We’re deliberately targeting
the style bars and top-end hotels, and that leads us down a path that dictates what we need.’
We say: The heavy focus on the Americas in general and rum in particular isn’t a bad thing, and gives them a strong base on which to build. But we wouldn’t be surprised to see them add a boutique (but cheaper) British gin, a tequila and a premium vodka to the list in the near future. Handcrafted bitters might be on their radar, too.
Who: Aiming firmly at the niched, upmarket style bars; places that can tolerate upper-end brands and hand-sell their story to engaged consumers. Showcase accounts include the likes of Hawksmoor, Big Easy, Trailer Happiness, Polpo, The Shrub & Shutter and Trof in Manchester.
They say: ‘These accounts are looking for a point of difference, and they love the fun angle. They want to work with products with provenance that make bloody good drinks.’
We say: The timing of the dude-food burgers ‘n’ ribs trend suits this portfolio down to the ground, allowing them access to spirits-centred eateries as well as top-end bars. Cracking the regions looks to be the biggest challenge – and opportunity – moving forward.
Contact Spirit Cartel: firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7670 0975