With bars closed and people desperate to socialise with friends, even if virtually, the rise of the ‘‘Zoom’’ cocktail party is a feature of the pandemic.
And a knock-on from this has been the ready-made cocktail.
Whether it’s a Mojito in a can from the supermarket or a high end cocktail delivered to your door – the ready made cocktail is one of the biggest growing trends to come out of lockdown/.
According to brand experts Futures, the pandemic forced drinks brands to speed up innovation or alter their business model and launch online shops and delivery services in order to survive.
From March 2020 to the present, staying in has become the new going out, and with life events continuing like birthdays, engagements or just your standard Friday night in, consumers were looking for quality drinks delivered to their door.
This trend is expected to continue long past lockdown as drinks enthusiasts become accustomed to their favourite products being delivered straight to their home and drinks brands are able to reach new audiences and increase sales into 2021 and post-pandemic.
One man who knows a thing or two about cocktails is Charlie Bolton.
He started out as a barman in a variety of Leeds bars including The Box in Headingley, although he really wanted to be a DJ.
“I thought the best way of getting a gig was to work in a bar and then ask if I could do a night, but once I started working behind the bar I never looked back,” says Bolton.
“I got hooked on serving customers and I have made my career out it.”
He did attend university, studying management and marketing, because he felt he should as all his friends were and then ended up back in hospitality before moving to Manchester and then London moving up into management.
He spent the best part of two decades in the bar and restaurant industry, even owning his own bar and restaurant before becoming director of operations of the Ichibuns group which has restaurants across London.
But his heart was always in bars and cocktails in particular.
In October last year he decided to return to Leeds with his fiancé with plans to open a bar in Chapel Allerton.
“We’d been through the first lockdown and I think lots of people thought, well hoped, that might be it and so I felt it was the perfect time to start a business,” explains Bolton.
“I really wanted to open a high end cocktail bar in Chapel Allerton. I really love the feel of it and felt it was the right place to open a bar. I’d been living in Islington and it had a similar neighbourhood feel to the place with great restaurants and bars and a real social atmosphere.”
But then the virus started to resurge and we entered the tier system and ultimately further lockdowns.
“My plans had to change pretty much overnight, but I have always prided myself on being pretty adaptable although none of us knew what the future might hold.”
However, with all his contacts in the world of food and drink, Bolton felt he must be able to turn his passion for cocktails into a business and Charlie’s Classic Cocktails was born from the dining room of his Chapel Allerton home where he mixes all his cocktails before bottling them, labelling and posting out to customers.
“I have always had a love for the classic cocktails, made with the best ingredients from the best producers and with bars but I saw a definite need for cocktails at home,” says Leeds-born Bolton. “There were a few people doing it but I wanted to be at the luxury end.” But equally as important as the quality of his product, was its sustainability.
“I pride myself on the transparency of the business and open supply chain. Each cocktail is in fully recyclable packaging and we have a bottle reuse scheme.” The scheme means at the moment Bolton or one of his team will collect the empties for reusing although he has just struck a deal with DPD so that hopefully the scheme will go nationwide.
All the packaging and even the labels on the bottles are reused.
“I wanted to bring true luxury into bottled cocktails,” he explains, “which means no compromise on quality or our environmental footprint. To me, the cocktails represent what modern luxury really means: environmental sensitivity, authenticity in craft and ingredients, beauty and convenience.”
He initially started with four classic cocktails using only premium spirits, including Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Portobello Road Gin – set up by three friends from Yorkshire – and Dolin Chambery vermouth.
Charlie’s Classic Cocktails launched just before Christmas as he wanted to make the most of the gifting market. The business is based on a subscription model where customers can select a variety of his signature range, limited edition cocktails or just buy as they like from his website.
“I have found that people will buy a box of cocktails and then order them for a friend so that they can have Zoom calls and drink the same cocktails. Some people just don’t want to buy a number of bottles of spirits or just can’t be bothered to mix their own this is great way for people to enjoy a classic cocktail but without having to buy a big bottle.”
Although lockdown has clearly seen a rise in the cocktail at home marker, Bolton says he was seeing an increase in people wanting cocktails in bars before the pandemic.
“Cocktails are the ultimate in luxury and we all need a bit of luxury at the moment.”