Behind bars: mixers

SLTN interviews two Scottish bartenders about their outlet’s mixers

Kealan Lafferty, Tom’s, Dundee

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What are the most popular spirit/mixer serves in your experience?

As with most of our industry at the minute people are trending towards local products, with unorthodox flavours and a low-sugar content.

Most bars today will have a section of their menu dedicated to perfect serves with an array of different flavoured tonics and other premium mixers, but during the weekend the soda gun still reigns in my experience.

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How has the soft drinks and mixer category changed in bars over recent years?

Drastically! I believe that since people were given an option that wasn’t cola, lemonade or soda they’ve just run with it and the market has definitely listened.

Gone are the days of pubs and bars just holding one brand of tonic water; it’s not uncommon today for establishments to hold more expressions of Fever-Tree than bottles of beer.

How broad a role can premium mixers play in mixology?

I think they already do, and their role is constantly increasing, from the surge in demand for low and no-ABV drinks, where tall, long spritz-esque drinks are preferred.

One of our favourites in Tom’s at the minute is ‘Bitter Truth’, which is a modern riff on an Americano, comprising equal parts QuiQuiRiQui Mezcal and Campari, topped with Fentiman’s Pink Grapefruit Tonic and Peychaud’s Bitters, garnished with a zesty ruby grapefruit twist.

In your opinion, are customers trying to be healthier when it comes to buying mixers and how does that affect their purchasing decisions?

The public are generally much more health conscious than they were a few years ago and it’s noticeable in the category as many mixers have no added sugar written on them in a big and bold font on the bottle.

This works really well in our favour for bar staff as a healthy upsell is definitely an easy upsell in 2019.

How important are garnishes to simple serves and why?

Garnishes are vital to simple serves as it’s the first thing the customer will judge their drink on.

Drinks aesthetics are everything today with all drinks needing to be Instagrammable and many spirits being associated with one specific garnish.

For example, there probably isn’t a bar in the country that doesn’t stock both Hendrick’s Gin and cucumber.

Which are your own personal favourite spirit/mixer serves to drink and why?

I’ve been obsessed with Porter’s Tropical Old Tom since it launched and I don’t think there’s a gin on the market you can compare its flavour profile to.

My preferred mixer would be tonic water and I think that Bon Accord’s original is one of the best on the market.

That said, if we get any more sunshine this year, I’ll be enjoying Jameson Original, Fever-Tree Ginger Ale and lime in a beer garden somewhere!

Kevin Carr, Urban Bar & Brasserie, Glasgow

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What are the most popular spirit/mixer serves in your experience?

The obvious answer is gin and tonic, but consumers are getting savvier in asking for what they want, so it’s essential that bars have a diverse offering of spirits and premium mixers.

The battle for fridge space at Urban due to flavoured tonic overpopulation is Game of Thrones epic at the minute!

How has the soft drinks and mixer category changed in bars over recent years?

For me, the most interesting development is the 18 to 34 year old demographic becoming more acquainted with dark spirits through the rise in popularity of cocktails.

Premium mixer producers are reacting to that with paired serves, flavoured colas and flavoured ginger beers, which is really helpful from a bartender’s point of view.

How broad a role can premium mixers play in mixology?

Broad, and it’s getting broader.

Thanks to bars like Black Rock re-popularising the whisky highball as a cocktail serve, more and more bartenders are looking at new and interesting ways to lengthen drinks without losing flavour density and a lot of premium mixers are now being tailored to this task.

In your opinion, are customers trying to be healthier when it comes to buying mixers and how does that affect their purchasing decisions?

Low calorie is on the rise, which I see as a positive.

Less positive is some people’s incorrect ideas of what is unhealthy.

But I welcome customers asking for low-sugar serves, even when they make the same joke about… well you all know.

How important are garnishes to simple serves and why?

I’m a big believer in the importance of garnishes, especially citrus.

But when someone comes in and demands that their gin is served with Himalayan dragon fruit and Mongolian bison grass because “that’s how it’s supposed to be served”, I start to turn off the whole concept.

Which are your own personal favourite spirit/mixer serves to drink and why?

Where to start? Flor de Caña 7 and gingle ale, Talisker 10 and soda, Pampelle liqueur and soda, Campari and soda, Glenfarclas 105 and carbonated coconut water, Lagavulin 16 and cola – known as a Smokey Cokey.

Actually, Kealan Lafferty from Tom’s in Dundee (above) recently introduced me to mezcal and Irn-Bru.

With a squeeze of lime, and say it in hushed tones, that bad boy could become the next Smokey Cokey.