Are takeaway cocktails here to stay?

13th May, 2021 by Lucy Britner

While on-trade venues have been closed because of lockdowns, many bartenders have been offering takeaway versions of their popular cocktails. Bar owners around the world tell SB about the challenges and successes involved.

Takeaway cocktails

Bars across the globe are offering their cocktails for takeaway

The global bar industry has added a new dimension to the world of ready‐to‐drink cocktails. Born out of the necessity to ‘pivot’ during pandemic lockdowns, the rise of bartender‐ created to‐go cocktails has brought premium innovation to the category – and much‐needed revenue to the bars.

According to the latest report from Grand View Research, the global ready‐to‐drink cocktail market is set to be worth US$1.63 billion by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate of 12.1% from 2020 to 2027.

Growth is being driven by many factors, the report says, including moves to convenience and premiumisation, two trends the bar world can champion.

“Like many other parts of the world, during the beginning of the lockdown the local government allowed takeaway cocktails,” says Jeremy Blackmore, co‐owner of Sydney’s Cantina OK! – number 28 in last year’s World’s 50 Best Bars list. “This has become a huge part of our business; probably 60% of our drinks are now served takeaway.”

This has become even more essential to Cantina OK!, since the bar is only 17sq m, so too small for physical distancing.

What started for many bartenders as an experimental side gig, often using paper cups and their own staff for delivery, has grown into a viable business that will continue even when bars are fully reopened. Top bars such as London’s Tayēr + Elementary have gone from experimenting with bottling their own cocktails for local delivery, to national and even international distribution.

In New York, Jack McGarry, co‐founder of The Dead Rabbit, has high hopes for the bar’s to‐go offer, which includes Irish Coffee and Guinness, as well as a range of bottled cocktails. “We will, for sure, keep these services,” he assures. And although he cautions that the offers are supplemental sources of income and not viable in and of themselves, he believes that “with more time, we can get this revenue stream to bring in between US$250,000‐US$500,000 over the course of a year, which is revenue that we wouldn’t have tapped into previously”.

In Scotland, Mike Aikman, owner of Edinburgh bars Bramble, Lucky Liquor Co and The Last Word Saloon, says they had a small selection of bottled cocktails before lockdown. “We quickly added a larger‐format offering (500ml) during lockdown 1.0, due to demand,” he says. “We also added drinks from our bar menus because people were missing their favourites. We had just completely overhauled the cocktail menu at Bramble in January 2020, after a year of work so many of our customers hadn’t even been in to try them yet. We wanted to let people try as many of these as possible.”

But he says that not all drinks from the bars are suited to home delivery so they can only offer certain ones.

Bramble's cocktails

A selection of Bramble’s offerings

TRIAL AND ERROR

Like many of his contemporaries, Aikman describes a lot of “trial and error” when it comes to getting the offer right.

“It’s similar to a bar situation, in that you try to judge what your customers want,” he explains. “We analyse the sales mix constantly to see what is selling and what isn’t. Any slow movers we will discontinue, and we will try to add to the popular things – or offer variants or similar styles of drink.”

He says the team has also included a few select products from other independent businesses, which has worked really well. “We try to offer products that are unique to us, rather than competing with others, so we have mostly stayed away from doing classics like the Negroni or Old Fashioned because loads of people are doing these.”

Best‐sellers include a four‐bottle gift set, featuring Bramble’s Aged Affinity cocktail and The Last Word Saloon’s Six Cylinder.

The Dead Rabbit’s McGarry says the main challenges were getting the packaging right and “turning everything around on a tight budget and timeline”.

And in Sydney, Blackmore says he has been through lots of iterations for the bar’s takeaway cocktails. “For a period we were canning cocktails in‐house and dispensing them from a corner shop vending machine at the front of the venue,” he explains. “It was funny and lots of people took photos of it but it didn’t take long for people to realise the ‘token’ we made for the machine was just a spray‐painted dollar coin.”

The Dead Rabbit’s Mamie Taylor

The Dead Rabbit’s Mamie Taylor

While the takeaway offer at Cantina OK! is generally imbibed within sight of the venue – on benches in the street – the bar has also tapped into the hard seltzer trend, in another effort to create revenue from takeaway drinks during the pandemic. Blackmore says they have now produced 6,500 cans of A‐OK! Sparkling Margarita Seltzer in collaboration with local brewer The Grifter Brewing Co.

“This started as a lockdown conversation but, for the moment, isn’t a serious pivot as a business,” Blackmore explains.

“We have loved getting something into people’s hands outside of our bricks and mortar, and it has been an amazing learning experience to take a product from concept up to delivery. The reception has been fantastic, and it looks like we will continue to produce it for this Australian summer.”

THIS IS THE FUTURE

Blackmore says takeaway cocktails have been essential to survive 2020, and in Scotland, Aikman also sees a future for bar‐led to‐go cocktails.

“This is something we were doing before Covid, and has been a great way to get our product to both regulars and people who live far away (we deliver anywhere in the UK),” says Aikman. “It’s also a great way for us to connect with regulars who have moved away from Edinburgh/Scotland or people who visited the bars on holiday and want to try our drinks at home.”

The future of the bar‐led takeaway cocktail is likely to include more collaborations with other local businesses as well as with bigger drinks companies, such as Bacardi’s UK tie‐up with Deliveroo, to help bars deliver their drinks, or Pernod Ricard’s collaboration with London’s Three Sheets to bottle and deliver cocktails.

And as this nascent category matures, perhaps one of the big drinks companies will look to invest in a bar‐branded ready‐to‐drink offer.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our newsletter