Bramble’s founders on revamping its cocktail menu

10th July, 2020 by Owen Bellwood

It’s out with the old and in with the new at pioneering Edinburgh cocktail bar Bramble, which recently unveiled its first complete menu overhaul. The venue’s owners tell SB why the time was right for change.

Bramble’s co-founders Mike Aikman and Jason Scott

*This feature was originally published in the March 2020 issue of The Spirits Business.

Regardless of the position, 13 years is a long time to be in the same job. If that role involves late nights, hard work and constant close proximity to alcohol, then you could be forgiven for assuming that after that many years in the on‐trade it might be time to wind things back.

But for Mike Aikman (above, left) and Jason Scott (above, right), co‐founders of Edinburgh bar Bramble, 13 years seemed like the prime time to overhaul their award‐winning drinking den and plot their next steps. “I’ve been in the on‐trade for more than 20 years, and although there are elements I’ve fallen out of love with I’m still incredibly passionate about the scene,” says Scott. “Change is the only constant in life, and this, for me, is the most exciting aspect of our industry. No concept, technique or experience is ever off the table or unobtainable. This keeps the industry evolving and relevant.”

This is a strong statement that highlights Scott’s desire to push boundaries, a drive that helped earn Bramble countless industry awards, and led the duo to open two further venues in the Scottish capital: The Lucky Liquor Co and The Last Word Saloon. The biggest recent change to the pair’s work in the on‐trade came this year when they unveiled a rejuvenated Bramble with an all‐new cocktail menu.

ENTIRE REVAMP

Aikman says: “We had talked about it for six months and thought about our approach. Then we got into the nitty‐gritty of what we were planning, which was an entire revamp and to get rid of every drink.” Scott adds: “It had been much more of an evolution up to this point and so we thought well, we’ve changed, the industry has changed locally for us in Edinburgh as well as for the UK and worldwide, and we thought we needed to address that.”

Eight months after the pair thought of overhauling Bramble, the bar’s new identity was unveiled on 15 January. The new menu has no specific name and features cocktails designed to focus on “clear and concise” flavour profiles. “You always try to [encourage drinkers to be more adventurous] regardless of the menu, especially because there’s such strong communication and bond between a customer and a bartender,” explains Scott. “If there is an opportunity to take them out of their comfort zone and open them up to new things then, yes, do that for sure. Fortunately, with global travel and whatnot, people are more responsive to different flavours now. It’s about broadening everyone’s horizons a bit.”

The updated menu includes cocktails such as The Flower, which is made with Porter’s Tropical Old Tom gin, lemongrass vermouth, galangal syrup, lemon juice, a dash of OJ bitters and absinthe. The bar’s namesake Bramble cocktail is now made by distilling Braemble liqueur and mixing it with Portobello Road gin, dry vermouth and clarified sour apple, diluted with bramble water before being carbonated.

“Of course we’re going to say that the changes have been received well,” laughs Scott. “But they have gone down remarkably well. There was a lot of trepidation on our side, and we asked if we had done the right thing, were we going to alienate ourselves and polarise our existing customer base. But the option to just continue with what we were doing was not really in the interest of the customer, or us.”

Bramble bar’s The Kiwi cocktail

INDUSTRY STANDING

Aikman and Scott say their confidence in the bar’s customer base and their standing in the industry shows just how far the venue and its following has grown since it launched. Aikman says that when they opened Bramble, the fact that it didn’t offer draft beer “was just not a done thing”, and that the visiting hospitality crowd were what “kept the doors open for the first year”.

“We had quite a slow start, I think it’s fair to say,” Scott explains. “With average consumers, we were very mixed – we had some people that got it fairly early, and we had some that just didn’t get it, and maybe still don’t. We were never going to appeal to everyone because of the limited things that we offer. It was always going to be a little bit challenging, but it has got busier and busier for us every year. So this menu change was not born of desperation, far from it, it was a very difficult decision to make.”

Bramble wasn’t the duo’s first project; they originally collaborated to launch consultancy firm Mothership, which they formed 15 years ago. Their business ventures together now include the three bars and a host of drinks brands, such as Braemble and Cross Brew liqueurs.

“Jas was involved in a consultancy before getting involved with me,” explains Aikman. “We then started a consultancy together; that formed the basis for starting the bars. We started doing that and Bramble followed. The brands weren’t really in my plan to be honest, again it was something that just kind of evolved.”

The duo’s role in the industry is still developing, with plans for further product launches, additions to current ranges and a distribution company all now on the cards.

“The bars now can be a little bit more self‐ sufficient, whereas the brands are only two to three years old, so they need a bit more of our attention,” explains Aikman. “That got us to the point where we were thinking about starting our own distribution company. Because once we had created the brands, we really needed to try and drive volume for them, otherwise there was no point in really doing it.”

On top of their commitment to the company, both Aikman and Scott are parents, and Aikman says juggling his responsibilities can be very difficult at times.

TIME CONSTRAINTS

He explains: “Time is by far our biggest constraint, to the point where we used to do a lot of things together, so we’d sit in on meetings and make decisions together and go and do interviews and see people and everything together.  “Now, we just literally don’t have the time to be able to do it and actually, we now manage to do very little together.”

As the pair look ahead to where their roles in the industry could take them next, Aikman explains that while the boundary‐breaking bartenders out there still excite him, his continued love for the trade stems from something a little more fundamental. “The alcohol trade, the trade that we are in, is about fun,” he says. “People associate going to a bar or having a nice drink with having a good time and with celebration – and that’s a nice industry to be in. It’s a positive way of living if you’re doing it right.

“I think there is a lot of scope for that to continue to be fun, and the people within the industry are great. It’s definitely a positive industry as opposed to some others, which I suspect aren’t fun.”

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