What did you do before creating your Artisan Drinks mixer range?
I have spent all of my career in the drinks sector, I started at Scottish & Newcastle Brewery, quite literally got the taste for the drinks sector and have never wanted to leave it ever since. My career path involved looking after innovation for Coca-Cola in the UK, working for Lion, one of Australia’s biggest brewers and running 2 businesses for Coca-Cola Amatil in Sydney.
My proudest achievement to date has been creating a premium juice drinks company called Feel Good Drinks and, in conjunction with 2 business partners, taking it from a blank piece of paper to a leading juice drinks brand which was sold in 18 different countries. Our Feel Good Drinks brand was bought by Nichols Soft Drinks in 2015; it’s tough when your “child” flies the nest but our brand has gone to a great new team and will go from strength to strength with the additional resources of the Nichols business.
What made you decide to create your tonic range, and what's the inspiration behind it?
The premium mixer market has been transformed over the last 5 to 10 years through the superb work of Fever Tree. They have educated everyone on the importance of a good mixer and are now clearly the largest mixer brand in the UK and on supermarket shelves across the land. Whilst there has been other new mixer brands since then, we felt many were very similar to the market leader and the category needed some real innovation both in terms of flavours and branding.
How did you get from the idea to the finished product?
I thought the best way to create a truly different mixer brand was to combine the artisan skills of Mikey Enright who owns The Barber Shop in Sydney - who was recently awarded the title of Global Gin Bar of the Year. Mikey is hugely passionate about spirits and has over 800 gins in his bar, so who better to create a range of mixer recipes which truly complement craft spirits rather than drowning them in too much sugar or artificial flavours.
The other piece of Artisan jigsaw is Alan Walsh, a talented artist who combines vibrant pop art colours with elegant illustrations. The 3 of us decided that by combining our skills we could create something interesting and hopefully add some colour, craft and character to the fast growing mixers category…..after all why blend in when you can stand out!
How are the tonics made, what are the ingredients and where are they sourced from?
Mikey comes up with the ideas for new flavours in the Barber Shop, he tests all his new ideas out on his team and customers, once he’s happy we then brief our ingredients supplier to source the best natural flavours for our Artisan range. For tonics it’s really important to use natural ingredients, this gives a much smoother delivery of quinine and ensures that our drinks are enhancing the spirits rather than overpowering them.
What makes your tonic range different to other tonics?
Mikey has created some really innovative flavours, Violet Blossom Tonic, using violet blossom, apple blossom, elderflower and 2 herbs. He has also developed a Barrel Smoked Cola, primarily for the fast-growing rum market. One of his latest recipes is our Agave Lemon Tonic which has been developed for tequila & mezcal and combines bitter lemon, lime, smooth agave syrup with a touch of rock salt & chilli. I really like the versatility of our range and the fact that it offers pour customers quality mixers across a number of craft spirit categories.
Away from the products, I believe Al’s stunning artwork makes our Artisan range look very different, I love his use of bright colours and quirky illustrations. The attention to detail Al put’s into each label is important, he’s chosen a tactile canvas style label material which I believe has never been used before in a non-alcoholic drink. Every illustration also has some high gloss detailing which I believe is another little touch that helps us stand out.
What have been the biggest challenges so far?
Anybody who tells you starting a premium drinks business is easy is lying. Our business combines the skills of a mixologist and top bar owner, an artist and a beverage entrepreneur…..very different skills but all united by a desire to do things differently and a sometimes crazy attention to detail.
I think inevitably the biggest challenge is finding team members who can thrive in a very fast paced environment and can find a way when others might say “too hard”. We’re always on the lookout for new artisans to join our adventure, so anyone reading who like the sound of what we are trying to do should drop me a line.
What have been the biggest achievements so far?
I really believe our biggest achievement comes in the fact that every consumer event we go to we get fantastic feedback on our products and the bottle designs, people love the creativity and are happy to pay a little more for extra quality. The fact that our drinks are also being enjoyed in Sydney, Melbourne, Copenhagen, and Belgrade also makes us feel good.
What has been your favourite story so far from your journey?
In terms of a favourite story… picking up Mikey’s award for Global Gin Bar of the Year last Thursday is up there. Also getting a call the week before from our new Italian distributor to say that Artisan is now the mixer range in the Dolce and Gabbana Martini bar in Milan… the only challenge now is that I need to seriously upgrade my wardrobe for my next Italian market visit!
How would you describe your tonics in 3 words?
Outstanding, Effervescent and, of course, Artisan.
What's your favourite way to drink your tonics?
Mikey has a superb range of perfect serve suggestions with his favourite craft spirits, however don’t forget that many of our Artisan Drinks also provide a superb non-alcoholic offer served with ice and a garnish that compliments the flavour.
What gins would you always have on your gin shelf?
Our gin shelf is expanding, as we love trying new pairings! Our particular favourites at the moment are: Masons Dry Yorkshire Gins, Bobby’s Dry Gin, D1 London Gin, GWYR Gower Gin, and we also love Lyre’s Dry London Spirit for a non-alcoholic G&T!
What's next for Artisan Drinks Co - any exciting plans?
We’re serial innovators and are looking at new flavours, markets and ranges. We’re soon to announce a superb new partnership which will give massive brand exposure for Artisan in the UK, watch this space!