Newcastle cocktail company stirs up the drinks scene
Nothing makes the NE1 team happier than a local success story, and the rise of Kocktail is definitely one of those. The bottled cocktail company has gone from strength to strength in its two short years of existence and future plans suggest the best is yet to come. Following a very successful capital funding campaign, the company – which is based in the heart of Newcastle just behind the Discovery Museum – now employs 12 people on a full or part time basis alongside the three founders and looks set to expand.
As co-founder Andrew Hutchinson explains, the company was born from frustration. “It was the start of lockdown and me and my friend Emil (Stickland, fellow co-founder) were kind of sick of not being able to go to a bar and have a proper drink. We tried other drinks on the market and they weren’t very good. We thought it would be nice to get an amazing drink at home so we quickly called Neil (Donachie, co-founder and Cocktail Curator) who’d previously been the bartender at the Savoy – he won best Hotel Bar In The World there – and now is the owner of Mother Mercy, which is one of the UK’s Top 50 bars. We started with our subscription box, it’s a monthly subscription and you get four different cocktails every month, alongside garnishes and what we call our ‘story behind the serve’ card with every drink, which kind of acts as your bartender. These tell you how to make the drink and what ingredients are in it. And on the back of that we’ve gone into 500ml sharing bottles, and fizzy 750ml spritz-like drinks."
Everything is made, bottled and shipped from the Newcastle base, often on an impressive scale. “We make them fresh every day. We were in Sainsburys last Christmas, that was quite a big story: we made 34,000 cocktails for them, for 500 stores nationally, with the drinks going into every major Sainsburys.” In fact, the retail market is the next focus for the company. “We’re starting to move into retail. It looks like the first big fish is 90% confirmed, we’ll wait and see. Some other major national retailers are interested too.”
Kocktail’s drinks have earned numerous awards and excellent reviews and Hutchinson believes this is at least partly due to their quality. “We only use the best ingredients we can get our hands on. For a local angle we use Hepple Gin, based in Northumberland, arguably one of the best gins in the world.” All the drinks are developed by Donachie, the Cocktail Curator, but any mental images of him slaving over a hot test tube watching another recipe go awry are sadly misplaced. “For the sake of the narrative I’d love to tell you there were lots of false starts but in all honesty, not really. Neil has been doing it so long he knew what would work. We decided to only use fresh ingredients in our monthly club because we knew people were getting them and drinking them within the month and for our longer life offers we won’t use anything that’s not fresh. It’s like when something is accidentally vegan, it’s good because you haven’t put processed sausages in, you’ve made it with real ingredients. We only put in things that are naturally shelf-stable. I think that’s been the key to the success of the business, everyone else seems to put fake ingredients, stabilisers and additives and we won’t do any of that. If it doesn’t work in a bottle, we don’t put it in a bottle.”
Another key to the Kocktail subscription offer’s success is variety. “For the subscription boxes it’s different every single month; there might be a couple of completely brand new drinks that Neil’s invented. There might then be a twist on a classic, like our tiramisu Old Fashioned, or we’ll riff on something. So they may not all be completely brand new but there’ll be variations. Then there’s our espresso martinis and our cosmopolitans, which have been voted the best bottled cocktails on the market.”
Kocktail are always looking for their next big opportunity and they don’t come much bigger than their next venture. “We’ve just announced this week that we’re taking over a spot in the plaza of Covent Garden for two and a half weeks – I think the last tenants were Chanel and Tiffany! When they offered it to us we said we don’t think you realise we’re a small company from Newcastle, they wanted an eye-wateringly huge day rate but we’ve done a good job of managing to swerve that. We’ll be there with Pasta Evangelists, a pop-up thing where we’ll have a spritz fountain, like a champagne tower but a fountain that runs all day with food and drink right in the middle of Covent Garden, which is going to be pretty spectacular.“
With the energy and creativity behind Kocktail it seems likely that they’re going to go onto ever greater things, which can only be a good thing for Newcastle. What better way to celebrate their success than with a cocktail?