It’s not often that you pick up a can and think to yourself ‘well this will make everything better’. But that’s exactly what the founders of Curatif, a new canned cocktail company hope that you’ll experience.
“A Curatif is an elegant explanation for that moment when the worries slip away and the enjoyment begins. It is one step closer to happiness,” said one of the brand’s founders Matt Sanger.
Now for most of us, the idea of canned cocktails are more likely to take us one step closer to diabetes rather than to happiness but Sanger points out the name is more than just a clever marketing ploy. The name is, in fact, the foundation for the whole ethos of the brand.
Rather than the sugary, artificial mixtures of the past, Curatif is looking to provide a cocktail bar experience, yet with a modern edge of portability and convenience.
For Sanger and his co-founders, alcohol industry veterans Jez Spencer and Sam Lane, their approach has been simple; amazing products that are approachable and deliverable, with all consideration to environmental and ethical sustainability.
“We live in the age of the corporate citizen,” said Curatif’s Matt Sanger. “These are values we not only share because it’s the right thing to do but also because we genuinely care. That’s why these considerations have fed so many of our decisions and why it’s important to use brand partners who also share those ideas.”
With that in mind, Sanger points out that it was a ‘no brainer’ to approach companies like Archie Rose Distilling Co., Four Pillars Distillery and Seven Seeds Coffee. “We’ve got a responsibility towards not putting more plastic in the ocean. Not putting more rubbish into landfill, into making sure that sustainability is in part of every decision that we make.
“And that’s how we ended up saying, okay, we’re going to put cocktails in cans. We wanted to have a world-class cocktail that came out perfectly every time and cans are easily recycled. So job done. How easy was that? But we wondered why no one else had done it,” he said.
What seemed like a simple and straightforward idea, hatched over a few beers, turned into a two-year Odessey that would continue to reinforce the answer to the question of ‘why no-one had done it before’.
So when you are sitting at the cricket, have a BBQ or a picnic with friends and you reach for a Curatif Espresso martini, take a moment to consider the story we are about to tell of what went into getting that drink into your hand.
The journey started, as you would imagine, with the ingredients of the cocktail. They sourced the coffee liqueur and then they sourced the Vodka from Archie Rose, but then came the coffee. They didn’t want to do cold brew because it can be thin and bitter and it’s not actually Espresso.
So with the guidance of Seven Seeds, Curitif developed a completely start-to-finish proprietary coffee brewing method that gave the coffee, when shaken up and poured it out within the espresso martini, the real taste of Espresso. “It had the heat, it had the roast and it foamed as it should,” said Sanger.
“And so, then we had our vodka sorted out, we had our coffee sorted out, we had our coffee liqueur sorted out. We said, “okay, great, let’s put it in a can”. That’s really when everything started and the wheels absolutely fell off. No one makes these cans in Australia. It’s a 150 ml can.”
With a little research, they found a canning company in Japan who could make the size “and we got to the point where we’re just about ready to start getting our original cans out of them, and the factory got hit by a typhoon,” said Sanger.
“They said, ‘We can’t do anything about supply for a couple of months’. So we waited while they got the factory back up and then they were finally ready to start our order. That’s when the town where the factory is got flooded. They contacted us and said, “We can’t make your cans. It just won’t be this year.
So Curatif can production moved to a Singapore company that had a factory in China. “So those cans were supposed to be manufactured in China on the 3rd of January,” said Sanger. “I’d booked my flights to go over there to oversee the initial commercial production run but on the 18th of December, we get an automatic email saying, “The factory’s been decommissioned, we won’t be fulfilling any orders.” And then no one answered the phone there every again.
As Spenser points out “you couldn’t make this stuff up”.
Yet while all of this is happening, their basic premise was still largely unproven. While they had their vodka, their coffee liqueur and their coffee, they still hadn’t put it together in a can. They had no idea if it would properly foam or if it would taste right out of the can? They didn’t know its shelf life, if it could be filled to prevents any micro activity, or even if they could prevent oxygen from getting in.
So they tested out their theories with 300ml cans “That was a really emotional day in the factory,” said Sanger. It was really exciting. We got it to work and it tasted great. We gave it to other people to taste. They’re like, “This is amazing.” We took it to Dan Murphy’s, they were like, “This is unbelievable. It was all going really well, but we still didn’t have cans.”
Now by this stage, most sane people would have given up. They would have abandoned the idea of having an Espresso Martini at a friends pool, BBQ or picnic and just gone to a bar to drown their sorrows. But instead a few months later, Sanger found himself standing at the end of a conveyor line while the first of 618 400 cans rolled off to go and be loaded into shipping containers in the middle of the night to follow him back to Australia.
“When they printed the first cans off the line, it was the wrong brown,” he said. “We’d picked the colour off a little one centimetre by one-centimetre square, but when you put it on the whole can, it was just wrong.
It’s midnight in Australia and it’s nine AM in Holland. And I’m ringing everyone. Now, this is a factory that makes 100 000 cans an hour and we’d already held up the lines for half an hour. He goes, “We can’t stop the lines anymore.” I was like, “We can’t take these cans.”
“I was in Mexico and wondered why I had ten missed phone calls,’ interjects Spencer. “I couldn’t work out why he’d want to check in with a colour-blind bloke as to whether it looked all right.”
So in 6-degree weather, Sanger found himself sweating as he poured over colour books and picked a new brown. “Then the cans come off the line and they looked, killer. We were so happy with them and the external packaging as well. A
“And then the cans came home and the next challenge began as we had to find someone who could fill them. Up until May this year, there was no one in Australia could fill cans that size.”
While the whole exercise may have seemed a nightmare at the time, the results are exactly what the trio had discussed years earlier over beers.
“So the first sip is quite sweet and then you get the chocolate and the honey and the toffee through of the coffee liqueur. And then as that nitrogen dissipates completely and boils off completely in your mouth, you get that heat and roast of the espresso.”
In fact, Curatif owes quite a lot to craft beer. It is the rising popularity and experimentation of craft beer that has paved the way for other areas of the industry, such as wine and now cocktails to also work with cans in an acceptable way. They have shown that people are willing to spend a little extra on a quality drink even outside a bar.
Spencer said, “People still look at it and go, “cocktail in cans?” But they’ll have a look, they see we’ve worked with the proper brands, that it’s a proper size and once people start to think, it makes absolute sense.”
And that sense is about to take Curatif on to bigger and better things.
“We’ve learnt so much with this,” said Sanger, “that we can now take to our learnings and adapt them to how we can use lime juice. So we’ve got a Margarita in the works, we’ve got a classic Daiquiri in the works as well. All using a little magic and science”.
Spencer jokes “We have an honorary science degree as a side product from all this research.”
Both Sanger & Spencer are quick to point out that they wouldn’t have been able to do what they have done without the support of Australian craft distillers.
“When making the Negroni, we got the support from Four Pillars from the start. When we explained what we wanted to do, they got it immediately. Matt Jones refers to our Negroni cans as the little brother of the big bottles. So if you want to make a perfect Negroni at home, you spend the 90 bucks on the spiced Negroni gin but if you want a perfect Negroni right now, have the can.”
Although it is still early days for Curatif as they show that positive environmental impact isn’t the only reason to give these canned concoctions a second glance. Using innovative techniques and a truly can-do attitude Curatif are showing that canned cocktails can taste as great as their bar-bound cousins.
“Our whole tagline is ‘Redefine the occasion’. And that’s what we think this product does. You can be having a good day, but why not make it just a little bit better?
“I think it’s all about giving people the opportunity to drink what they want, when they want and drink better each time. It’s about getting people to drink better.
Curatif Espresso Martini & negroni are aviable through all major liquor retailers and through the website curatif.com. The company is already in discussion with US, UK and European export partners.