As you reach for your bottle of craft Gin this evening to make your G&T, it’s more likely than ever that you’ll also be reaching for a craft tonic water to go with it. With so many craft spirits on the market, craft tonic waters and mixers are now really coming into their own.
As consumers look to better quality mixers to elevate their favour libation, a recent entry into the mixer category, Artisan Craft Mixers are looking to do things differently and are making quite a splash in the process.
We talk to Mikey Enright from Artisan about tonic water, cocktails and their Violet Bloom expression.
With the large number of craft and artisanal spirits available, the focus has now turned to the quality of mixers that you can put with them. Gone are the days when post mix style mixers are good enough, now consumers are looking for more quality products, with natural ingredients. One such brand, that started earlier this year, is Artisanal Drinks, who offer a range of five tonics, and a barrel aged cola. We talk about Artisanal Drinks, and particularly about their Violet Blossom Tonic. We are joined by Mikey Enright, a name that you might know from the outstanding Sydney bars, Barber Shop, and the Duke of Clarence. Thank you for joining us Mikey.
Thank you, thanks for having me.
Now, how did the idea for Artisanal come about?
First of all, we wanted to make a mixer drink which really enhanced the favors and botanicals of the quality spirit, we want it to pair with. I'll give you the brief history on how we came about, as a partnership. Myself, Steve Cooper and Alan Walsh, we were having drinks in the bar, and Steve Cooper used to work for CCA, as well as he owned a distribution company as well. And Alan Walsh is quite a famed artists that I know. So basically Steve proposed to us that, why don't we get together and produce a mixer, Steve being the entrepreneurial type, myself being good with flavors and in the bar industry for over 30 years, and then also Alan is a very good artist. So it kind of started from there, at the Duke of Clarence, well actually before it opened.
Then from there we started playing with some flavors to see what we could come up with. So we basically mixed the flavors within the bar area, and then we sent those flavors and the idea for those flavors, what ingredients we wanted, to a lab, and then they started to put something together a bit more structured, to see what flavor we could come out with, and see if it would work, first of all. So that's how it kind of came about.
Were you talking about mixers because you thought that there was a gap in the market?
Yeah, I think the rise of the mixer, you can see it in supermarkets, which is good. More so in the U.K. there's so many different tonic waters and brands out there now. And obviously Fever-Tree have led the way in that premium market, which has been great, because soft drinks were quite standardized and relatively dull and boring for a very long time, until the likes of Fever-Tree came about, and started premium-ising the mixer market. So from our side we wanted to do something a little different, in sense of a look and feel, but also from a liquid point of view.
We'll get into the look and feel in a minute, but explain to me what you mean by, from the liquid point of view?
We wanted to use natural flavors, less sugar, as well as obviously good carbonation. So first of all it was really important for us to have a 100% natural ingredients, so that was the first part. And the second part was, to have a good amount of Quinine but balanced, so it wasn't so Quinine heavy, especially when it gets to the flavors. We did want the dryness from the Quinine but we didn't want it to be overly dry. The gin market has changed with craft gins and contemporary gins, so gins are coming in lots of different ways now, in terms … obviously a different styles gin, but also different taste profiles, especially in Australia, with lots of native botanicals. So is there a huge need to have a matched London Dry Tonic, with a matched London Dry Gin, I actually love it, I do like it very dry, but I do think that the pallet it changing, and people are looking for different flavors to enhance their experience.
You talk about Artisan heralding all natural ingredients, how important do you think that is to consumers today?
I think it's really important. If you look at the sugar content, in Australia, especially in the cities, people have been drinking vodka, lime, soda's for so long, it's the preferred mixer, because it's tasteless, it's got no sugar in it, and then no harm of putting on any weight from drinking these drinks.
So when we opened the Barber Shop, we actually wanted to, which was six years ago, we wanted to change a bit of the perception of the Gin and Tonic, but also to start to get people, our guests drinking Gin and Tonics. It wasn't very popular back then, for whatever reason. So originally we put in a gin tap, that just purely poured gin, and it was merely a reference, or a cue card for people to go, what is that? Oh it's a gin tap, we use it to pour Gin and Tonics. And then we serve Gin and Tonics in a goblet glass as opposed to a rocks or a highball, so then it was ... so that was really key in driving the Gin and Tonic, which isn't really answering your question about the sugar, but basically how to get people off vodka, lime, sodas.
Now, the natural ingredients is really important, for that reason, the discerning drinker, they want to know that they're drinking natural products, and not drinking any nasties, or preservatives, that seems to be the way people are going, what they want. Even with cocktails.
Now you mentioned earlier about also improving the level of carbonation, do you want to talk a bit more about that?
Yeah, it's quite hard. I do think Fever-Tree has probably one of the best levels of carbonation. I think there's been so many, well not so many, but the standard tonic waters that have been on the market, that go flat as soon as they hit ice, and it doesn't make it a very enjoyable drink. Effervescence is so important in drinks, because it almost creates this slight happiness, you almost kind of get a little tiny bit of a high off it, just a slight, in terms of through the fizz. So for us, the effervescence was really important, but you've got to be careful not to have too much as well, because then it can become quite hard to drink, but also you lose a lot of the flavors in it ... it's quite hard to bottle, I won't lie. The tops will potentially pop off if there's too much gas in it.
Now you were talking earlier about the growing number of mixer companies that are around, why should consumers particularly look to Artisan?
From our side, we're actually working on two new flavors at the moment, which I think are quite innovative. But also, I do think that there is a market for that kind of thing as well. There is a mixer company which is local, they're very creative, they're coming up with some great stuff, but is it commercial enough, I'm not 100%. I don't want to name the brand, obviously, but I think Fever-Tree do good flavors, very standardized, people know what they're going to get, and we're trying to just break that mold a little bit. But also, to make our mixers compatible with different spirits as well, like the Barrel Aged Cola, to enhance that experience with rums and spiced rums, maybe certain whiskeys as well, like a blended whiskey or an Irish whiskey, we think it goes really well.
We created the Agave Lemon, which was a bitter lemon style, but instead we added Agave to it, just to soften it, and it gives it like a slight caramel tone to it, but goes really well with tequila obviously. So for us, it was like maybe the Agave Lemon will not only appeal to gin or vodka, but also it will appeal to people that like tequila and they want to mix it, as opposed to having a margarita, or sipping tequila. So for us that was quite important as well, so that we kind of diversify to the spirit categories as well. Also, nobody's really done a mixer for tequila, we were like, great.
Bitter lemon, the actual Bitter Lemon Tonic, it's never really been big here, more so in the U.K. it was, you could date back to probably 70's/80's and people used to drink gin and bitter lemon, back then it was a brand called Britvic, which is one of the biggest brands in the U.K. and people used to be used to drinking bitter lemon with gin. Now, in Australia, we actually made our own bitter lemon at the Barber Shop about two or three years ago, just to trial it, give people ... not everybody just wants Gin and Tonic, so we were like, well we'll make it, so a bit ahead of our time, so we made our own bitter lemon in-house, but people, they just didn't really go for it back then. I'm hoping that will change, and people, with the rise of the flavored tonic, people will be a bit more experimental.
And I assume that's connected also to the rise of tequila itself?
Yeah, totally. First of all, the quality of tequila that's being imported into Australia, Mezcals, better than it's ever been. There actually standards around what a tequila and a Mezcal is, which is great. I think generally guests are a bit more aware than they ever were. And there you've got small bars like Cantina OK! that have done a specific Mezcal focused bar, and they're going really well, which shows that area is growing. You know to open a Mezcal bar a couple of years ago, nobody would have heard of it, and there's some high end Mezcals that they serve in there, and people are buying them, $25 for a nip of it, and they're sipping on it. So it's a really good indication how that category is growing.
Now, who do you see as the consumer whose buying your mixers?
They are aiming towards, I would say, 25 to 55, is the age gap that we're looking at. We're not essentially targeting 18 to 25, the reason being that it is a bit more premium, do they have a higher disposable income, are they willing to taste. Gin is a relatively new category, over the last ... gin died for such a long time, there's such a horrible stigma to it, it was a bit like your grandma's drink. But people want to try different flavors, so it is definitely coming back, and we can see that in the growth of craft distilleries, and other brands from around the world.
I would say, older the audience is, a bit more discerning as a drinker, they're willing to spend the additional money to have a flavored tonic, as opposed to a regular tonic, within their Gin and Tonic. And also they're buying, they're basically not just drinking house gin, our customers, they're opting for what works to like a $15 to $18 gin, and often mixing them with tonic. So it's not just a martini that people would opt for a different style of gin, it's the Gin and Tonic as well.
Can you explain the process of developing the recipes for the mixers, particularly the violet tonic?
At first, when we were coming up with the flavors, and it literally was on the back of a coaster kind of thing, of what flavors we think, that's the first point. And then from that point we wanted to figure out what the overall flavor is, where's the catch in it, how we going to make up, balance that tonic. So with the Violet Blossom, we actually did use some violet in it, obviously, but we use some basil extract, to give it a slight savory part to it, used a bit of elderflower, some orange, lemon, Quinine, and we literally came up with the recipe in the bar where we kind of go, okay I'll have that, a bit of elderflower, and let's put a little fresh basil in that. We used just a regular tonic, and then we'd work on the flavors around that.
Once we've got the idea of exactly what we want, we send off that recipe to the lab, they ... which is over in Geneva, and then they will send over probably six to 12 different samples, of what they think, of different variations of different levels of each ingredient. So you might have a little more elderflower in one, than the other, and that kind of thing. And then once we've picked the one we want, we've got the code, then we might say, we'd like you to up, a bit more in there, or at least a bit more quinine. Once we've done that, they'll send back the final desired result, we'll sign off on it, and then that will go up to the manufacturer. And then that's a whole other thing then where we've got to make sure that we get consistency with producing X amount of volume. Which has worked so far, so it's been good, there hasn't been too many hiccups.
Were you thinking about particular drinks when you were coming up with the flavors?
You know what, the beauty of flavored tonics in particular, is that anybody can make a drink at home, and make it relatively interesting. So if you're going to make a Gin and Tonic, pretty much all you need is some flavored tonics, your desired gin, glassware, good quality ice, and then an assortment of different garnishes. So it's not like, if you're making cocktails at home, where you need a shaker, a stirrer, a Hawthorne strainer, you might need six different ingredients. Which some people have, I'd say the majority don't, so at home definitely it's an easy way to make a refreshing and quite a different tasting drink, and it's quite affordable as well, to do that.
Or if you wanted to make cocktails at home, then they're definitely worthy of going in those as well. I think that bars in general, they don't use mixers a whole heap of the time in their cocktails. I do think the trends is coming back a bit. They only really use soda, ginger ale, just your standard mixers in cocktails, and ginger beer obviously. So this kind of opens it up a little, where you can add a different dimension to your cocktail mixing as well, or creations as such. So I do think there's a bit of scope there, definitely.
So basically what you're saying is, there's a bit of a return to the highball?
I would say huge return, if you look at Japan, the whiskey highball's huge, it's served everywhere, it's a signature drink as well, with Japanese whiskey, and other Japanese spirits. The highball, which is pretty simple though, it's literally whiskey and soda.
So with the highball, Diageo are doing the tour around Australia to promote the highball as well, with the some products from it's range. So the highball is definitely coming back, without a doubt. It's like, the Gin and Tonic's come back, and these simple drinks that people can make at home. And also quite refreshing and easy as well, where you know what you're drinking. As opposed to a cocktail, might have six or eight, sometimes 10 ingredients in it, and you wouldn't know what all those ingredients are. So it's quite simple for people to know what to make, and also what they're actually consuming.
You talked about the Violet Blossom having violet and basil, and elderflower in it, how would you describe the flavor, which ones are predominant?
I think it basically has a slight floral from the violet, but it also has a slight berry taste to it, which is quite nice. I would say not so much savory, I think the savory just balances it out, but I'd say probably more like light berry and floral, probably floral is better than light berry, I'd say.
How important is the aroma to a tonic?
I think aroma is very important for anything you drink or eat right? So it plays a huge part it in, and I think ... definitely. If you have, it's called, a Gin and Tonic, but it's called Gin and Tonica, which is a style of a drink. But a style of a Gin and Tonic, so basically it's an oversized Gin and Tonic, in like a Bordeaux glass. Now, it originated in Spain, and what they used to do basically, in the kitchens, the chefs would basically pour themselves a big gin and tonic in a hot kitchen, in a Bordeaux glass in the restaurant, and then what they'd do is they'd add extra garnishes to it, and really load it up with garnishes that would accompany some of the flavors and aroma. So my point to it is, you get a lot of aroma from the drink, from garnish and mixing with the tonic, it works beautifully. So I think it's very important too.
The Violet Blossom itself, has quite a bit of an aroma, you can smell the violet …
Definitely yeah, I think it depends what drink you're mixing it with, but overall, I think that you could probably drink Violet Blossom Tonic as a soft drink as well, because it's not overly dry, there's a nice citrus taste to it, a slight bit of apple as well. So it's all quite fresh flavors that you get from it, and obviously citrus is always a key component to making any gin, so it just enhances that. So I think it's got a good round, nose to it, towards the taste. It's very balanced, that's what we think anyway.
It's hard to look at the Artisan bottle and not be attracted to the labels, can you tell us what you guys were trying to convey with the label design?
Alan Walsh who's the artist, who came up with all the images, the idea from our side was to create something that was a bit more modern. What we found was a lot of the tonic waters, well the mixer rangers, were quite traditional, relatively, some of them more vintage. There are modern ones now, don't get me wrong, but we wanted to create something a little more of a modern label, bight colors, that would obviously stand out on the shelf, when if it does goes to the off premise, it is in the off premise in the U.K. in Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason, so we've not sent it straight to Woolworths, just yet. But basically, we wanted it to stand out from the rest of the tonics, as the competition grows, which is a good thing, most definitely a good thing. But we kind of wanted it to stand out a bit more.
And Alan wanted to create the characters that conveyed the liquid that was inside for each bottle. So if you look at the Barrel Smoked Cola, you've got this kind of cool dude, who's got his foot on the barrel, and he's looking out thinking, to the Violet Blossom where you've got this lady that looks like she's just come out of the Cannes Film Festival. So the characters were quite important to the brand as well, and you can see the colors and stuff like that, yeah.
If someone were to buy a bottle of Violet Blossom, for the first time, how should they be using it?
Well I think, personally, if you make it as a Gin and Tonic, I would basically do 30mls to 100mls, 30mls gin, so three to one basically, in terms of tonic, tonic to the gin. Have your glass maybe, you could do it in a wine glass if you want to fancy it up a bit, or if it's in a highball, or a rocks glass, fill the ice to the top, and then literally just pour it in, stir it, and then add some different garnishes.
I think with the Violet Blossom, depends on what gin you're using, I'd probably use, you could use some basil leaves in there, or a sprig of rosemary. It's got some rosemary in it already, and then add maybe some blueberries. You could even add some juniper berries if you wanted. But, yeah I think you could pretty much do whatever you like, but try and match a few of the flavors when it comes down to the garnishing.
On that point, if someone were trying to create something that's a bit more complex, what flavors do you think work well with the Violet Blossom?
You could use vodka, you can use vodka in pretty much most things, if you're not a gin drinker, let's face it. But I do think the botanical makeup really goes, so one recipe that I've used, I've used some Portobello Road Gin, which is a London Dry style gin, and then I've added some dry vermouth, I actually added a bit of Crème de violette, and a touch of Absinthe, to give it a little aniseed, some lemon juice, and some egg white, and I've shaken in. It's got a beautiful head to it, like a froth, and then I've topped it up with some of the tonic from the Artisan, Violet Blossom. And then you can just decorate it with an edible flower, yeah.
But it is quite mixable, people haven't really started hugely experimenting in that area, so I think that's relatively new. But yeah you could, I think that you could ... even if you did almost like a margarita with it, as well, you could add some Violet Blossom to the top. I think you could play around with it and have lots of fun.
What is the reaction bartenders have had to the range?
So far good, I mean we are a new brand to market. I think the U.K's quite different, because you're not a saturated market in that area, but there is quite a lot of choice. Also they're a bit more advanced as well, and used to people requesting flavored mixers. So I think that in Australia, the issue that we have here, is that a lot of bars have mixers on the gun. So the guest hasn't really had a choice between having a bottle of mixer versus the gun, it's just put straight in, whether you like it or not.
The smaller bars, and your more craft style bars, they're not using the guns, and they know the importance of the quality mixer with the quality spirit, and the quality ice, and the balance of everything that goes in it. So I think that bartenders are adapting to it, and going yeah okay. What we've seen, in Australia, is that they requesting, they might not take the London Dry Tonic, they'll take the Violet Blossom, or the flavored ones first, just because-
Right, because they're a little more unusual?
Little more unusual, and it's a bit more of a selling point as well, and go, oh have you tried this, bang. Whereas the bigger bars, and stuff like that, it's quite tough I think still. I think with the growth of the mixer market, and quality, means that it's going to be, I think that we'll do much better. I think people at home, people that are entertaining, they're going to buy a four or six pack of tonic, and they'll buy quality over quantity, which is what we're seeing a lot in the industry anyway.
We're holding a, it's called the Australian Gin Cocktail Cup, it's an independent cocktail competition in the sense of, it's not owned by a gin brand, this goes live in a few weeks time, and it's for bartenders to enter it. So basically they can use a craft gin of their choice, they can use one of the range of tonics that we're offering, that we've got in the range. And we'll have the Pink Grapefruit, and also the Agave Lemon by then, and then it will be the first Thursday of ... it's the second year we've run the competition, which is independent for discerning craft gins, and then it will be the first competition this year, that will be a mixer competition, within the craft gin segment. So we're looking to get roughly about 40 recipes from keen avid bartenders in New South Wales.
Now with the no-and-low alcohol becoming more popular, what place do you think tonic's have in the market?
Well there is low alcohol, like your spritzers obviously very huge, and people are enjoying that as an occasion, kind of like it's a moment, brands like Aperol have done such a very good job with that, really pushing that occasion and the aperitif. I think there is a rise in more boutique, craft style vermouth's that have been made, such as Regal Rogue, they played a huge part in that I think, in terms of low alcohol drinks. Which is the first kind of vermouth where they've said, where they've had a vermouth with a mixer. Now I know for a fact some of our tonics will go with some of those products, we'll just have to match them up and that kind of thing. But I think Regal Rogue were the first to market with that, serving vermouth as a spirit mixer.
Low alcohol, Seedlip have obviously paved the path for that, I think they've done an incredible job, and I think there's a new brand in Australia called Lyre's, that's just come out, so it's happening. I was oversees recently, and I was speaking to one of the main people from Seedlip, and I said, the problem in Australia, we stock it, and we have it on the menu, as a non-alcoholic drink, we have it on the Gin and Tonic, it's actually in here, in the Barber Shop, which is Seedlip and on with the flavored tonics, plentiful garnishing. And then next door we have another drink which is a cocktail that's called the Teetotaler, which has got Seedlip in it, but unfortunately I just don't think the awareness in Australia is out there, of what these bands are, and how they made. I think it's still-
And how they’re used.
And how to use, and I still think it's relatively new to the market here. We do see a place for it, and that's why we sell it, I think it's absolutely genius what they've done with it, made a non-alcoholic spirit, because it means that if somebody isn't drinking for whatever reason, then they can go to a bar and feel like they're a part of it, they're going to get their drink in a nice glass, it's not going to be full of sugar like a mocktail or a Coca-Cola as such, or a juice. So it means that they're buying into the experience, they might pay the same price as the Gin and Tonic, but it's a Seedlip and tonic, well it's a Seedlip cocktail. And I think it's really amazing what they've done. I do think there will be a place for it, but right now it's all pretty quiet in that area.
You were talking earlier about having a few more expressions in the works for Artisan, can you tell us a little more about those?
I can't really.
Or at least give us little hints? No hints?
Yeah it's quite tough that one, because it's ... yeah I think it's a pretty cool idea, not many people have done it yet, so we don't want to give away our goods just yet.
However, I do think they're relatively innovative, and I think a small portion of the market will like them, I'm looking at, that enjoy premium mixers. One will be slightly localized.
Okay, well that is ... when you looking at those being released? This year or?
Potentially this year, we're actually working on the flavors as we speak. We are bringing out, it's called a Fiery Ginger Ale, we're bringing that out, I think in November, latest, it will be in Australia in November, and probably in the U.K. mid September, end of September probably. So that's the next skew we're bringing out. And then hopefully the two new issues will follow after that, so I'd say probably would be after Christmas, but you never know, it might be sooner.
Well now that everyone knows a little more about Artisan, where can they get it?
In the U.K, they can buy it off the shelf, you can get it at Harvey Nickles, or Fortnum & Mason. So really boutique up-market, instead of like supermarkets, that kind of thing. Now here in Australia, we've got it in about 80 odd bars so far. But in terms of off premise, we haven't put it into the off premise just yet. The only place that you can get it, is Drink Hive, which is in Rosebery, that's the only off premise store we've got, Drink Hive is owned by our distributor, which is Noble Spirits.
Right, okay. And are you going to be releasing them off premise soon?
Yeah. That's the plan. but yeah before the end of the year
All right. And other than Australia and the U.K. are you in any other markets, like the U.S. or Asia, or?
No, we're not yet. I've been told that we're going to go into Italy before the end of the year. And also randomly Denmark. Over to Italy first and then Denmark after that. And then there is talk about going to the Middle East as well, to Dubai, but we'll see what happens there. There's been an expression of interest there as well, so.
But baby steps, we're in no rush, we're happy doing what we're doing. We've got it so far anyway into the right venues in the U.K. and Australia, and also off premise in the U.K. and we do a lot of festivals with it in the U.K. so far. The most recent one was called Pub in the Park, which is basically I think about six festivals, so we've been the preferred tonic there for the gin show, for the gin bars. And I think early September there's a show called Gin and My Tonic in Liverpool, in the NorthWest, and we'll be in that show as well. So it's pretty exciting. Yeah.
Well if people want more information they should obviously go to your website, which is artisandrinks.com
Mikey, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.
No thank you.