The success of the last Irish Craft Beer Festival proved that the popularity of authentic independent brewing has never been greater. We are witnessing a cultural clamour across the food and drink industries for locally sourced ingredients and a process that is genuine and highly skilled. Cocktail bars are introducing new menus that are based around homemade ingredients and the craft ethos. As a result of this shift toward homemade production, the guys behind Native Blenders saw a gap in the market and decided to launch Ireland’s first craft cocktail company.
Michael Reddy and Pieter Reid met several years ago working on the launch of a café. They went on to work for the Generator Hostel, where they introduced a brand new food and drink concept. This change involved focusing on Irish producers and bringing Irish beers to the fore. The success of that project led them to work together again for Teeling’s as the company entered the domestic market. Pieter’s experience with spirits and mixology led him to developing solutions for large scale distribution at festivals and events and it was from this that the idea of bottled batch craft cocktails was born.
Batching consists of making up large volumes of one cocktail and there are several benefits to mass production as Pieter explains, “It allows me to create a precise balance between ingredients as I am dealing with larger quantities”. It is harder for a bartender to measure out tiny, difficult amounts of ingredients to get the ratio just right than it is for Pieter down in the Newmarket Kitchen in Bray.
Another advantage for batching is that you achieve consistency across your production so all of their Negronis, for example, will be the same; something you can’t guarantee when preparing individual portions. That consistency of taste and flavour is important for the guys as they hope to eventually be selling their products at festivals and in bars all over the country. Through batching, they can guarantee ABV regularity across the board so consumers know exactly how much they are drinking.
Not all cocktail recipes are suited to the batching method though so Pieter prefers spirit based aperitif style drinks such as Negronis, Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. He calls them ‘bartender drinks’ as experienced drinkers will appreciate that “the spirits really start to marry as they rest in the bottles, giving a much more rounded finish”.
The craft ethos is very important to both Michael and Pieter and they live up to it by sourcing and buying as many ingredients as they can in Ireland; the spirits they use are mostly from Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard so they can help promote Irish brands. They make homemade syrups and tinctures with the best local products and even grow some themselves. To make the most of these ingredients and to create a drink that will survive in a bottle, Pieter has adapted old fashioned methods and skills to create ‘Shrubs’ for their drinks: thick, tangy and fruity syrups. The raspberry shrub is made with fruit, sugar and cider vinegar and he makes carbonated ones like Ginger Beer through fermentation. It is processes like this that remind people of a different era of craft production.
The finished product is bottled and brought to their pop up ‘Blend Inn’ at 57 The Headline on Dublin’s Clanbrassil Street. Owners Geoff and Moira have been supportive of Native Blenders since the beginning as they have plenty of experience with the craft movement in Ireland. The pop up allows the guys to perform a bit of market research while it is still in development. At the moment there are six cocktails on offer at 57 The Headline including their Negroni, Lethal Sour, Luke Kelly, Turf War, Raspberry Beret and the delicious Hell Fire Club that is packed full of surprising hits of coriander and Habanero bitters. All the cocktails are €8.50 and contain between 50 and 70 mls of alcohol.
The idea behind providing a bottled product is to add speed to cocktail proceedings and it has already proved successful in cities like New York, London and San Francisco. There is no garnish and no mixers, just a bottle poured over ice. As Pieter says, “In busy bars, nightclubs and events we can eliminate the waiting time caused by complicated and elaborate cocktails and mixed drinks”. This method is also particularly handy for festivals where you have large volumes of people waiting to try your drinks.
The bottling of the cocktails also allows them to be sold in venues and bars that you would not normally associate with complicated mixology. The guys are specifically targeting this market as a way of introducing people to cocktails that is not elitist. Pieter says “All over the world you can get the best Margaritas or whatever in a total dive bar. Why can’t you get a good cocktail in an old man pub?” As a promoter, Michael wants to promote their product as being accessible to all and take away the expensive and exclusive stigma that is attached to cocktails.
As a start-up they are continually facing new issues such as sourcing the bottles in Ireland (they are really expensive) and problems with licencing. In order to create the cocktails they need one type of licence that allows them to ‘alter the spirit’ and to sell them they need a totally different one. Pieter says these ‘archaic’ and convoluted regulations are making it much more difficult for new businesses to get off the ground. He is hopeful that their licencing issues will be dealt with this month and they can then can start branching out into new locations.
Michael and Pieter are full of plans for the future including the development of a barrel aged cocktail programme and a spot at the Whiskey Live event later this month. The dream though is to one day be retailing in bars and off licences around the country and to be promoting the best products that Ireland had to offer.
Native Blenders batch cocktails are available from Blend Inn @ 57 The Headline
For more information on Native Blenders check them out on Twitter
Alison has been writing since she could hold a pen, which came in handy for her degree in English, Media and Cultural Studies. She has been working in media since graduating and is the latest features writer for TheTaste.
Writing for TheTaste allows her to combine her passion for the written word with her love of food and drink. Find her on Twitter @AliDalyo