I recently got my hands on the Aviation cocktail box set from TASTE Cocktails, keen to see if the kit could take my tastebuds somewhere other than my usual gin-in-a-cocktail-glass staple, a very dry martini. The Aviation is a drink I’ve only enjoyed occasionally, and I dare say the same is true of many cocktail fans, but it’s an excellent option when feeling a floral injection into the evening.
The concoction specified by the instructions turned out rather nicely, with a solid choice of gin in the Blackdown Sussex Dry, and a fragrant violet flavouring which was powerful without being overpowering – a fine line which can make or break a mixture like this. The alternative of the Elder Aviator, a Simon Difford creation, was the star though. I’m very fond of elderflower, and it conjures up a link to a very British summer from the dark of December. This substitution for the crème de violette was a new departure for me, and one I’d heartily recommend.
Suitably full of botanical booze, I decided to catch up with Toby Vacher, founder of TASTE Cocktails, to find out what they’re all about.
This isn’t your first start-up venture. Why cocktails?
I’ve always been into experimenting with cocktails at home, so I guess the seed the of the idea was always there, but it wasn’t until I was eating from a Graze box and heading out for a cocktail later that night that I realised there was a business plan there! I did a bit of research and found that no one else in the UK was doing anything like it, so I started working on the idea and a little later in February 2014, I sold my first twenty cocktail kits. People always ask, but I’ve never actually worked in a bar.
The cocktail kit scene is booming right now. Why do you think that is?
There’s a definite trend of quality, and also for wanting to know where your food and drink has come from and who’s made it. Ordering a cocktail in a bar is more of a complete experience than wine or beer, and making a cocktail at home is a fun, creative activity that is more rewarding than just pouring something from a bottle. I think the subscription products scene is booming, and cocktails were an untapped idea in that space for a while… until we came along. Now there are a few other companies doing similar things, but of course that’s good news as far as showing that there’s a big market for what we’re trying to do.
We’ve looked at some other kit brands at In Good Taste. What sets TASTE apart?
Other companies seem to be going after a particular style of drink or a particular niche of customer, either super-premium, or lower cost and lower quality. I think we sit perfectly in the middle in that we offer kits based on classic cocktails, but with modern variations on those recipes and premium, unusual ingredients that you won’t find elsewhere. The main thing we do differently is focus on tasting and discovering new drinks, and learning about how to make them, as well as the story and history behind each ingredient and the people who produce them. We’re not just a cocktail delivery, but actually trying to guide you through the world of cocktails, and discover your new favourites.
What’s the target market? What’s in it for the seasoned connoisseur, as opposed to the novice enthusiast?
The target customer is someone who likes a good quality drink, and also wants to get involved in the creation of it themselves. We ship kits all around the country, and to both men and women of all ages (above eighteen of course!), so it’s the experience of learning about the drink and enjoying something you made yourself that ties them all together. Connoisseurs will have the chance to try recipes they already know and love with new ingredients they probably won’t have come across before, and also try the modern twists on the classic that we provide in each kit.
How do you decide which drinks to feature, and which ingredients to source?
That’s my favourite part of the job. Sometimes we work with a specific distillery because they make a great product and have a good story. Sometimes we start with a classic recipe we want to feature and track down the perfect ingredients for that. Sometimes we work with a specific bar or bartender and get their take on a classic. The beauty of the cocktail world is that there are so many options and combinations that we can keep doing this for as long as we like.
You’re crowdfunding investment at the moment. Why go down that route?
TASTE is all about bringing together bartenders, brands, producers and cocktail fans, so raising investment from the crowd (existing customers and fans, and hopefully new ones) seemed ideal. Crowdfunding is also a great chance to shout loudly and publicly about how great your product and team are, so we’ve enjoyed the benefit of marketing the products and the business at the same time. It’s showing in our Christmas sales figures just how valuable that is.
Is there anything exciting in the works you can tell us about?
I’m extremely excited about what’s going to happen next year… but I can’t really tell you! Let’s just say there are some completely new products on the way, plus some improvements to our current ones.
Favourite cocktail, and cocktail bar?
My favourite cocktail changes every month as we work on new kits, but I’ll always return to a good Martini, Old Fashioned, and of course the humble G&T. For a more unusual one, a Boulevardier is wonderful, and Aviation can hit the spot, and “The Flutter” (tequila, kahlua, pineapple juice – created by Tony Conigliaro of 69 Colebrooke Row) is surprisingly delicious. So many great bars too, but I have a soft spot for Callooh Callay and Happiness Forgets, due to some particularly memorable nights in those, and their world-class menus.