As drinkers look to try more premium spirits, straightforward drinks could be the way to go
NO matter the liquid, there is an implicit sense of quality at the premium end of the spirits spectrum.
Whether it’s down to the production methods or purely the way a spirit is packaged and presented, premium spirits have long attracted customers looking for something that little bit more special.
And three Scottish bartenders told SLTN that demand at the premium end of the gantry remains strong, even as the way people are drinking their spirits continues to change.
Ryan Snedden of capital cocktail bar Lucky Liquor Co. reckons the number of occasions for drinking premium spirits is growing.
“We’re seeing a lot more venues, brands and bartenders playing around with premium brands,” he said.
“I feel like we’re moving away from the suit and tie era of bartending where the premium brands were really only used for the stirred and boozy category and we’re seeing an incline in premium spirits being used for any and every type of cocktail creation, regardless of the style and concept.
“I believe drinkers are just looking for a little bit of fun and personability throughout their service, accompanied by non-pretentious, premium serves.
“Premium brands have always been slightly intimidating to me, whether that’s the price point or the marketing approach.
“However, this seems to be shifting direction now, making premium brands more accessible to not only us within the industry but also to the guests who visit our bars.”
And with more customers in pursuit of higher calibre drinks, Turtle Higgins of Bird & Bear in Dundee also stated that premium spirits are increasingly important for bars.
He said: “I think as a reflection of consumer knowledge, due to the wealth of information available to everyone, premium quality is expected.
“This is apparent from the speed rail to the back-bar, with average expectations having risen in all aspects of service and offering.
“Customers may be drinking less, but they are drinking better and more intelligently.”
As far as serves for premium spirits go, the age-old classic serve, the highball, is said to be returning to prominence, with the simple serve ideal to showcase a spirit with minimum fuss, according to Snedden of Lucky Liquor.
“Although it’s something we’ve been doing for many, many years, the highball seems to be a massive trend at the moment, especially within the premium brands category,” he said.
“As an industry, we seem to be pushing the boundaries of the classic spirit, mixer, garnish combination with the creation of more premium mixers and ingredient creativity.”
And the humble highball is a tool that should be deployed to help customers navigate different categories, bartenders have claimed.
Kesia McHardy of Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Café said that as attitudes to Scotland’s national drink change, an adjustment in how whisky is presented to drinkers could prove successful.
She said: “Having the offering of highballs in your venue will help massively, along with using whisky as a base spirit in some of your menu cocktails.
“This gives non-whisky drinkers a chance to develop a taste for the good stuff as most people’s first experience with the spirit was a punchy, straight up gem found in their grandad’s cupboard.”
Lucky Liquor’s Snedden agreed.
He said: “Most establishments are still looking toward that strong, booze-led, slap in the face when creating whisky cocktails, when maybe we should be making lighter, more approachable creations for those first-time whisky drinkers looking to get into the category.”
This method is also being applied by customers to the burgeoning category of tequila, said Snedden.
He added: “I’ve noticed a big increase in tequila mixers as opposed to shots or cocktails, with people experimenting with different flavours of sodas and mixers, which I believe is a fantastic way to get the consumer approaching the category.”
Kelvingrove Café’s McHardy said the growing demand for quality tequila is a trend the bar industry has been “patiently waiting” for.
“What was once a go-to as a quick shot in a nightclub is now being recognised as a carefully crafted, interesting and downright tasty product to customers,” she said.
“Over recent months I’ve noticed customers’ interest in what tequila really is and how you can play around with it in drinks.
“Mezcals, in particular, are growing in popularity too as they can appease anyone.
“Tequila has a really interesting production method and as aforementioned, people like to know where their drink comes from and how it’s made.”
Perhaps the oldest (and simplest) cocktail serve was championed by Higgins of Bird & Bear, as a way of providing a platform for a premium spirit.
He said: “We often have customers ordering classics off the menu, and with this they will always order a premium spirit as a base. A Glenfiddich 15 Old Fashioned is one of my favourites to make, both as the characteristics of the liquid work well served like this, and also as many guests have not had an age statement whisky served this way.”