This festive season could be a return to form, despite financial caution

After what has been a year of mixed fortunes for many hospitality businesses, owners and operators across Scotland will be hoping that Christmas 2023 is a return to form in terms of footfall and revenue.

And – as with any festive season – the right drinks range will be essential.

Tim Dunlop of spirits supplier Biggar & Leith said he expected Christmas customers to once again adopt the ‘why not?’ attitude towards spending when visiting venues over this festive season. 

“Scottish venues should work on refreshing menus early-on, as drinkers seek to be inspired with richer, more indulgent dark spirit-based drinks as they transition seasons and naturally graduate into new categories,” he said. 

That view was shared by Neil Boyd, UK managing director of Ian Macleod Distillers, the company behind Edinburgh Gin, Glengoyne and Tamdhu.

Boyd said that, even with consumers concerned over their household budgets, it’s likely that they will ‘flex their budgets’ for special occasions such as festive nights out. 

“For example, Easter value sales for all products within the off-trade peaked at +21.6% ahead of the year previous and similarly, coronation week led to an increase in spend of +14.7%,” he explained.

“Therefore, we can expect the same for on-trade drinks sales as consumers stretch their budgets for distinct special occasions.

“In order to strike the balance between affordability and premium, licensees should provide a range of products which cater to various price points, spanning value, standard, and premium tiers, therefore positioning themselves as establishments catering to a wide audience.”

There are already limited edition spirits products being released ahead of the festive season, and Chris Pollard, head of sales at spirits distributor Mangrove UK, said he expected to see even more entering the fray in the coming weeks. 

“Traditional cocktails have already made a comeback on menus across the UK,” said Pollard.

“And we expect Christmas to be no different.

“But, given the creativity of modern-day spirts brands, Christmas will see a range of exciting new limited-edition products come to market – many of which we expect to feature traditional festive flavours. 

“If bars can create delicious variants of classic cocktails like martinis, negronis, and spritzes, all while using their influence to get customers to branch out – it’s likely to be a very rewarding time on both sides of the bar.

“Explore new cream liqueurs, spiced rums, and even syrups to add a twist to an old favourite.”

At Edinburgh venue Copper Blossom, deputy manager Duncan Galloway was in favour of using online research as well as conversations with colleagues in other venues to keep an eye on the styles of drinks bring offered across the industry. 

“Rich and spiced flavours always prove popular during this time of year,” he said.  

“I imagine lots of dark berries and cinnamon to be prevalent in festive cocktails menus this year, along with seasonal ales in pubs. 

“I am especially looking forward to seeing how our Mulled Berry Margarita is received this year; the warming cocktail should help the cold winter days pass that little bit easier.”

Unusual hot serves were also recommended by Hannah Alexander, head of marketing for Wemyss Family Spirits, who said that in Scotland’s climate winter warmers will be ‘an absolute must’ over the festive season. 

“A lot of people love the traditional mulled wine or cider serve, but offering something a little bit different can prove very popular for venues,” said Alexander.

“Hot Gin Punch by Darnley’s Gin is one of those seasonal serves that delights every time. It’s made with Darnley’s Spiced Gin, ginger beer, apple juice and lime in an enamel mug for that real outdoors feel.”

Popular as they are, cocktails won’t be a specialism for every venue, and pre-mixed cocktail business The Cocktail Co reckoned the festive season could be an ideal time for operators of those venues to sample one of the growing number of ready-to-drink cocktail brands on the market. 

“The festive season represents a time when the on-trade can be bustling with patrons seeking top-quality cocktails,” said a spokesman for the company. 

“However, achieving this often requires skilled mixologists, extensive training, and careful management of perishable ingredients, all of which come at a cost.

“RTDs present a compelling solution. They offer bars the ability to deliver premium cocktails without the need for a dedicated mixologist behind the bar or extensive staff training. This not only streamlines operations but also reduces the risk of wastage and contributes to cost savings, making it all the more appealing to the on-trade.”