Long read: A cool cocktail is more than the sum of its liquid parts

Ben Reed

Ben Reed

30 May 2020

With bars and bartenders working hard to develop their takeaway cocktail offerings, Ben Reed, global cocktail ambassador at Cocktail Credentials, asks if a drink can be as good at home as when drunk in a bar?

Michelin-star takeaways are having a moment during lockdown. Last week, a London-based delivery company claimed that one Surrey household was regularly ordering in dinners costing up to £1,500 a go. This got me thinking: can a dish still be a Michelin-starred dish if it’s a takeaway?

More relevantly, what happens when you take the cocktail out the bar – or the bar out of the cocktail? Will it still stand up to scrutiny? Can it still be a standout drink without its bar and all its trappings? Well, the question as to what makes a cocktail enduringly alluring is not just one for now (in these ‘unprecedented times’), it’s far more important than that as it gets to the very essence of quality drinks making.

Mixed identity

We at Cocktail Credentials have been on this case for several months, scouring the globe for outstanding drinks then applying a reductionist approach to get to the bottom of the secrets behind the magic. You see, it’s not just about the liquid.

Joining the physical and virtual product and brand cues goes some way to ensuring your cocktails retain their ‘cool’ even now

Whilst the main focus is often the liquid itself, a stand-out cocktail is so much more than this. Cocktail creativity is a marriage between art and science so it’s important to understand all the contributory elements if you want to recognise and quantify the ‘cool’ quota. You’ll need to consider the external factors beyond the ingredients: the bartender, the crowd, staff, smell, sounds and feel of a bar, all those surface- level tangibles that we would traditionally use to rate a cocktail.

Scratch a little, (or don’t and just check out our social media pages) and you’ll get it. It’s the drink that epitomises everything about Irish hospitality, the classic perfectly reimagined, or the authentic in a sea of ersatz tiki; the cocktail that uses all local ingredients including spirits, or the trailblazer to a new technique; it’s the bartender that dared to tweak a disco drink formula to transform a bartender’s favourite; a drinking ritual, the creative process, the technique, the story, the history, the culture, the fusion of cultures – it’s all this that sets the cool above the merely capable.

Unhidden extras

If your facility has morphed into a takeaway-style remote operation, now more than ever you’ll need to (literally) deliver offerings that are more than just the bar they are served in and that strive to capture the power of imagination. Without the functional bar elements and emotional connection with bartender and atmosphere, you need to tap into the ‘cues’ that epitomise your ‘cool’, your ‘aura’.

'People don’t buy beer, they buy marketing,' said Freddy Heineken no less, so particularly for cocktails this means stories, creativity and a strong identity. Your customers will be buying your remote cocktails because they know and love your bar, your drinks and everything you stand for. How can you continue that relationship with the bar shut? Can you evoke some nostalgia, transport them back to the bar for a virtual 360 experience when they receive their delivery and take that first sip? Perhaps it’s a smell you spritz your packaging with or a handwritten thank you note from the bartender…

You can currently order a cocktail from Coupette London and listen to their in-house singer live streaming a set. Or on receiving your delivery from Swift, read about what their bartenders have been up to on an Insta story. At The Gibson, you can order a package that not only includes your desired cocktail’s ingredients and garnish but also recipe card, serviette, straw, snack, sweet treat, Gibson glass and a ‘souvenir’ so keen are they for you to keep them in mind.

A drinking ritual, the creative process, the technique, the story, the history, the culture, the fusion of cultures – it’s all this that sets the cool above the merely capable.

Joining the physical and virtual product and brand cues goes some way to ensuring your cocktails retain their ‘cool’ even now. This all reminds me of an interview I did with Rich Hunt at the Mint Gun Club. 'A story in a glass needs a beginning, middle and end,' he said and, 'the spark of inspiration is deep seated.'

With all that’s going on right now, one thing that is a given is that folk will be changing many of their habits for both the near and far future. That may well include re-evaluating the way that they go out and consume alcohol. If they are only having one drink at your place instead of three, you’re going to have to make that one count with your own 'spark of inspiration'. If it’s the home-delivery option they’re choosing, how can you elevate that drink and consumption experience beyond just the liquid in the bottle?

How can you ensure that the ‘cool’ in your cocktail translates to the home drinking experience so that the star in your ‘Michelin-starred bar’ doesn’t just fall away?

Ben Reed is global cocktail ambassador at Cocktail Credentials. You can find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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