Bubbles are a big topic these days, but for once I’m not talking about our old friend Champagne. No, this discussion is about soda, well, mixers in general. I’m sure that if you’re reading this, in a trade magazine, then you’re no stranger to the rise of the premium mixer, but how much of an influence are they, and why?
We can even start on a more basic level and yet more advanced at the same time. Cocktails! If you’re living in the South East Asian region then you’ve probably, at some point, had the ‘lime’ issue. I’m not going into depth on this, but to summarise, the native limes to this region have pips, less juice, much stronger flavour, sourness and extra bitterness than the western Tahitian lime. This makes them unsuitable for many of the classic cocktails such as mojitos and daiquiris as they are just too overpowering.
Progressing to the stalwart, the Espresso Martini. Coffee culture has exploded and become entwined with modern bartending, so preferences range from cold brew usage in this iconic cocktail to specific Nespresso capsules, yes we know how geeky we can all be, no surprises there.
Now, fresh fruit is the mantra we all chant, but juices are important too. I for one always insist on ‘no added sugar’ type, which mean in Singapore I favour supermarket brands over the artificially flavoured juice or the radically increased preservatives and E-numbers products you come across.
Brand calling on fruit juice is yet to hit the big time although Ocean Spray, even though unfortunately it’s a Monsanto underling, is I find the best consistent cranberry available that still has the cranberry taste, unlike many incarnations which have far too much sweetness and generic red-berry flavours.
I’m sure the above have all impacted at least a fair majority of us, if not all, but there’s way more to come.
Have you noticed the Thai invasion into your bars lately? The lion has been creeping evermore through the storerooms across the island… Singha soda, the rocket soda! Those cute, stubby glass bottles containing what appears to be nuclear pressured soda water have been charging through bars across town. And we all seem to love it. I believe it’s truly a functional reason too. I’ve not met anyone yet who praises the quality of the liquid alone, not saying it’s bad, just it’s effervescence which is the kicker. And I for one agree. With a global push on the Cointreau Fizz (Cointreau, lime & soda) for me getting enough bubbles to elevate a simple drinks appeal is a big factor, not to mention that added CO2 adds perceptible sourness to a soda, which helps balance against the sweetness of the liqueur.
But it’s not just the Thai soda, it’s also the cola. Have you also noticed those tall, slender bottles in the fridges? That’s Thai Coca-Cola. According to the experts (bartenders!), it is all about the sugar.
A brief search online quickly reveals that there is a big difference. Thai Coke has the lowest amount of sugar of all editions globally (32g per can against a global high of 39g) and it’s also natural cane sugar, not the ‘poison’ HFCS sweetener in most versions. So, contents,
flavour, percentages all matter along with the most important matters for a bartender: knowledge/expertise and of course, bragging rights!
I did actually contact Coke a few times for comment, but it seems that the company who invented PR & Marketing are no longer able to respond for comments! Oh well, corporations huh? The lockdown they have on any helpful information leaving the press office is up there with GitMo. No information is available on any of their helplines, or 18 extensions in their marketing dept. of which the official word from the office is that they don’t have one.
It’s a shame as I also had a few questions about the sister company Schweppes. This global icon of tonic and mixers must surely be feeling the slightest of pinches from the rise of the new tonic and mixer scene. This new surge, started by Fever-Tree a few years back now seems to have sparked a whole new premium industry.
Before the rise of Fever-Tree, I can only really remember Schweppes, F&N, Britvic and supermarket brands of tonic. Now I can find Fever-Tree, local player East Imperial, Fentiman’s, Thomas Kemper and ‘Q’ to name but a few.
And I guess the question that we all want to know is does this new element of premium mixers make a difference to the business and is it going to continue? Well. Fever-Tree really kicked it all off with its launch back in 2005, so that’s a decade of better G&T’s already. Before that we also had Redbull, a different beast but still changed the boozin’ world as we know it. So they’re pretty much here to stay I reckon.
But what are they all about? Speaking to the APAC Brand Director for Fever-Tree, Andy Gaunt, he assured me it’s belief in a quality product and finished beverage. When . of your drink is mixer you cannot underestimate its influence. And it’s not simply just about the basic quality of the tonic either. With Indian (more robust) and Mediterranean (lighter and floral) tonics available you can balance the flavour with your selected spirit. With a range of further flavours such as elderflower and lemon tonics you can truly give the G&T a new lease of life.
But as we pointed out earlier, carbonation is also important. Andy explained what is different in Fever-Tree’s method. It’s an ingredient and temperature thing that gives them the edge. By using all natural ingredients, and a much researched method of chilled carbonation, you not only get a decent amount of effervescence but also a different style completely. It’s very similar to a Champagne level of carbonation with very small bubbles which give Fever-Tree its velvety feel and lingering character. When pouring it does actually resemble the mousse from a fine vintage… a high accolade indeed for a humble supporting role in today’s progressive beverage industry.
Of course I haven’t gone into great detail about the natural spring waters, hand sourced ingredients and all natural flavours found in Fever-Tree, but I guess it’s a credit to the industry that this should be the case anyway… we’re so over the saccharine sweet, HFCS-loaded chemical drinks we demand better quality. And not just the global scene. Our South East Asia cocktail scene is probably the best in the world right now, expanding rapidly from its heart in Singapore. Yep, I said it, we’re leading the region here and I’m damn proud of it – to Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam all building off the scenes already developed in Malaysia, Jakarta, Bali and Manila. We’ll also tip our cap to Hong Kong also as they really had a big push in the scene in the early 2000’s but the focus moved over to the Lion City for the past 5 years. Anyway, I digress. Such as it is, it’s only fitting that East Imperial has rapidly made its way out of our city state and can already be found in Manhattan and London.
It’s hard to call Fever-Tree a small brand with a reported $90M listing last year on AIM, but against the monster that is Coca-Cola, Schweppes and a US soft drink market or $100B this year, they’re planning on pushing further inwards, and make a dent they will, especially with the launch of the new all natural Cola that should be hitting bars by the time you’re reading this. Discerning bars that is!
But with Fever-Trees following and range growing along with more boutique brands being sourced or even manufactured by the industries finest, we’d better get used to being interrogated about our sodas and the what, when, wherefore and why’s that we’d normally face by some craft-spirit toting brand ambassador (if that’s what they’re still called – I’m one and I’m not sure).
Anyway, I’m off for a handcrafted, locally sourced botanically laden, scientifically carbonated tonic. And I may add a bit of gin, too.
Words By: Richard Gillam