We can’t call it a complete pandemic after all. There’s some tasteful good that’s come out of it. The time off has allowed creative minds to put their ideas to play and it shows in the burgeoning Indian alco-bev space – exciting new gins, releasing craft rums, and a plethora of mixers crowding the shelves. And now, breaking the chain of conservative cocktail consumption are the new breed of bottled and canned cocktails, aka ready-to-serve (RTS). Mr Jerry’s & InACan cocktails are changing the way we perceive and imbibe our cocktails outside of those bars that have unfortunately remained shut most of this while.
It’s not a new category, rather it’s been a dominant one, especially for the giants. Smirnoff, Bacardi, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Absolut, and Malibu have already been animating the scenes with these mixes for decades. The global RTS cocktails market was valued at USD650 million in 2019, and was to grow at a pace of 21% till 2024. However, the onset of global lockdown has shifted the patterns and sent the segment on a skyrocketing trajectory, some now expecting it to garner valuations upto USD32 billion by 2024 closing. Our two homegrown Goa-based brands have brought India to add to this revolution.
Mr. Jerry's Cocktail
The sparks of genius flew during the first lockdown, in 2020, when spouses Mrinal Manu & Rincy Verghese couldn’t step out to meet their buddies over a few drams in true Goan fashion. “One evening we had Arijit Bose over. As usual he took over the bar and made some cool drinks, and we happened to discuss how fun it’d be to have a bottle of cocktail which we just open and pour and get a bar quality drink with perfection anytime”, recalls Rincy, co-founder of Mr. Jerry’s.
From a casual discussion, things started moving fast, with phases of trials between the undisputed cocktail prince of India, Bose, and the suave ambassador of spirited times, Pankaj Balachandran, at their setup, CounterTop. “Sourcing the right ingredients wasn’t a challenge since at Blue Ocean Beverages, we make heaps of spirits and bottles for many major Indian-international brands”, says Rincy. Pankaj adds, “we decided to come up with cocktails that everyone could relate to. We created all the flavours in-house, and to maintain the authenticity of flavours we use some standard branded ingredients as well.” The first lot of Mr. Jerry’s offers 6 varieties in neat 500ml packs offering about 5 serves each at mere INR550. That’s a steal! LIIT was an obvious choice, Mrinal pushed for an Old Fashioned, Pankaj was adamant on doing a Negroni, a Cucumber Elderflower Fizz adheres to the growing gin craze, and then there are the crowd pleasing Espresso Martini & Mai Tai.
An ode to the great grandfather of mixology, Mr. Jerry P. Thomas, the concept was designed to please with ease. Partially because of the lockdown, the focus has stayed on capturing the retail market. “You don’t have to go out for a swanky drink, simply stay home, get Mr. Jerry’s, follow the instructions, and experience a great cocktail with precession”, Rincy exclaims. During the year-end tourist rush, they have also noted a demand from small bars who wish to serve great cocktails but don’t have an elaborate setup or a great mixologist to execute. Also, beach shacks that generally serve great food and chilled beers have taken a shine towards these cocktails. “They become efficient, limit their waste, don’t need expert staff, and earn a decent margin on these already well-crafted mixes, it’s a winner”, Pankaj observes.
Outside of Goa, Mr. Jerry’s is already making waves in Mumbai and Bengaluru. They’ve received a great welcome, especially thanks to their allowance of home delivering alcohol. And not just a few local cities, Mr. Jerry’s has already caught the attention of a few fine palates abroad and the talks are on!
Their cocktails range between 20-33% abv, and aren’t your typical rip & sip proposition. I loved their Espresso Martini, Negroni, and the Old Fashioned. And maybe since I’m going through a Mai Tai phase, it was my favourite, with all those sweet spices & nuttiness. An excited Pankaj spilled the beans and alerted me to anticipate new flavours coming out later in the year. Shhh… you didn’t hear that.
In A Can Cocktails
The first canned cocktail in India, InACan, is putting convenience and portability first. Brainchild of Sameer Mirajkar & sommelier Viraj Sawant, the idea was conceived first in March 2020, with exhaustive R&D, foraging ingredients of provenance, that would elevate the resultant outcome. The Pune-based duo brought in the Mumbai-based champion mixologist Varun Sudhakar for product innovation and carefully fixing the mixes. With three rounds of tasting over 200 samples, created at their Goa facility, the trio fixed on 5 essential flavours – LIIT, rosemary-spiked Gin&Tonic, Whisky Collin with apple and cinnamon, a refreshing Vodka Mule, and Rum Latte which is their take on rum & cola with a twist of hazelnut. Apart from being in a can, all the drinks are carbonated, and use only natural ingredients, weigh less than 100 calories per serve, and are at a low spirited point of 9-13% abv. And at INR140 for a 250ml serve, they’re taking all the reasons why not give it a go.
Viraj recalls that they didn’t ever think of getting into cocktails per se, the idea was to take something conventional and innovate it. Convenience and portability of RTSs offers consumers safe access to high-quality cocktails amidst bar and restaurant restrictions. “All big countries are moving towards this segment. In 2019-2020, RTS cocktails have seen a 100x growth in SE Asia, Europe, America, and Australia. Companies like Bacardi are having a hard time keeping their products on the shelves”, Viraj comments. “While getting into this, we knew it’ll be an uphill task for a year or so, there are some obvious challenges there, but that’s everywhere”, he adds.
When Varun joined the team, he shared his idea with the duo of recreating a cocktail bar experience at home. They concurred about creating a quality product first, and then working out the pricing. And now that it’s already launched in Goa with exceptional success, Viraj already sees the possibility of placing them at banquets, mini bars, brunches, pool parties, in the travel sector, and at music festivals. “Opportunities are endless”, he adds.
The mixes are meant to be drunk straight from the can, and taste even better from the glass. Rum latte was my favourite with whisky collins a close second, and the vodka mule definitely earning commendations.
Lovers of craft beer and artisanal wines have readymade options at retail stores; cocktail fans don’t. Mr. Jerry’s and InACan have added to their choices. Consumers are driving the demand for ease, portability, and quality. RTS cocktails fit into their busy lifestyle and still taste as good as they did at their neighbourhood bars. And it’s an unprecedented era for cocktail drinking in India. Our mixology game has gone up and consumers have become conscious about what they put in their bodies, stories behind their drinks, their origins, the right etiquettes, etc. To deliver all that with ease, and class, without sacrificing the quality is the absolute key. And just as they’ve adapted to working from home, they’ve found ways to enhance entertainment and social occasions at home as well. After all, there’s something about drinking a cocktail that makes one feel civilised and it’s particularly reassuring during the time of a global pandemic.
First published in Sommelier India The Wine Magazine