Sugar & Spice and All Things Nice


Ciders were the drink of the moment during the summer, but customer demand will move towards something with a different kind of nip this winter. Fraser Wilson ta kes a look at how to keep customers warm this yuletide.

In between the sheets of horizontal rain, the beautiful, crisp autumn air makes it a great time of year, but punters need something to warm them up. The heated winter cider I was offered during an organised walk in Perthshire last week was most welcome and made me think of other warming drinks by the pub fire and the upcoming festive season.
Traditional Christmas and winter drinks are a staple, but a new wave of creativity sees a move towards nut-based liqueurs, spice laced spirits and extracts to sweeten seasonal quaffs.
Brand consultant, Bob Taylor believes there will be a push towards warm serves, drinks with spice, and drinks that consumers see as a ‘special occasion’ drink to give them the Christmas feel.
He says, “I expect to see micro breweries move towards Christmas beers and spiced brews, with a lot of spirits companies and brewers following on from the Rekorderlig warm serve idea. It’s all about the Christmas feel. The Christmas period is getting longer, people are out and about shopping, at fairs, events more in the run up to Christmas and they are enjoying warm serve wines and ciders.”
Marking the success and demand for their hot drink last winter, Rekorderlig have launched their first ever £2m advertising campaign for their Winter Cider.
Gemma Copping, marketing director at Chilli said, “Winter Cider is a seasonal favourite and has been instrumental in driving year round sales for Rekorderlig.” Made with apples and infused with cinnamon and vanilla, Rekorderlig’s Winter Cider serving suggestions in on-trade accounts will focus heavily on the drink’s innovative hot serve – the flavour can be heated up in one of its branded urns and served in a Rekorderlig bespoke tankard with a slice of orange.
Kopparberg customer marketing manager, Ben Turner told Dram they too have “dabbled” with a winter serve. He said, “We have a winter variant and will be working on a winter serve, but this will largely be London-centric. We had a cranberry one last year and have dabbled in it before and will dabble in it again. It’s about making sure the serve works.”
And cider is ‘thee big thing’ this winter in the eyes of some bar managers, with Gordon Peden at Indigo Yard in Edinburgh saying he expects to see a fight for superiority amongst cider brands this Christmas. He told Dram, “I think ciders are definitely going to be big this Christmas.
Other cider brands will look and see what Rekorderlig did last winter to carry cider forward out of the summer months and I think they will do something similar.” He continued, “I also think there will be a lot of spiced beer, it will be big, with Blue Moon providing their new seasonal range, like Pumpkin Ale, Agave Nectar ale, and Mountain Abbey Ale.” Blue Moon also have a limited release Caramel Apple Spiced Ale and Gingerbread Spiced Ale. We all know about the resurgence in cask and real ales, and there’s no doubt that like Halloween, Christmas is a great time for brewers to get creative.
A favourite in recent years likely to be seen at the pump in distinguished bars across the country this festive period is Theakston’s Christmas Ale. Born out of a fictional mention in US TV show, NCIS the drink was brewed as a result of this and is now a regular in pubs across the country.
The drink itself is full of generous amounts of raw materials, including pale, crystal and dark malt, a blend of hops together with raisins and cinnamon. Theakstons themselves say, “This is a beautifully satisfying ale best taken in front of roaring fire in the company of great friends.”
Scottish brewers, Harviestoun have launched a special beer full of surprises for Christmas, called Santa’s Sack. Only available in cask as a guest ale around Christmas time, this is not your typical fireside, Christmas brew though.
It’s a malty, copper ale, with a crispness reminiscent of a frosty winters’ morn. Last year the company launched their bottled, Mr Sno’balls and like many brewers, seem to understand the push for a good Christmas drink.
Christmas-themed cocktails have been created from scratch, whilst twists to existing cocktails have seen a Santa hat put on just about everything. Christmas themed real ales, winter berry ciders, spiced based spirits, specially packaged products – it’s definitely that time of the year.
So as the big coats are excavated from the wardrobe and pubs and bars begin to serve traditional, festive beverages, mulled wine will soon be served at Scottish bars again. It’s hot and spicy, and is no longer just a drink to be had off piste on a skiing holiday. It’s a sociable, winter drink readily available in farmers markets, Christmas fairs, and now bars.
Places like Booly Mardys’ and the Big Slope in Glasgow’s West End were a mainstay of warmed ‘gluhwein’ last year and will be doing the same again this year.
Chef at the Big Slope, Thomas Preston, who made the bar’s mulled wine last year told us, “It was a big seller for us last year and people were coming in especially for it. And even if they didn’t, once they saw we were doing it, they would try it. We were going through about four litres a day.
“We are planning on doing our own cider in house this year. We are planning on starting to serve it earlier this year as well, we’re getting the weather for it already, and people like to sit outside on a nice crisp, dry night with a big warm mug of alcohol.
“We’re seeing a lot of darker German ales being served, kirsch lagers as well, and there may be an opportunity to do warm cherry beer. It’s all about spice and warmth.”
Getting in on the mix are Diageo, who have launched their Smirnoff Gold, laced with cinnamon. The gold topped bottle is aimed at the higher end of the market and comes with a hint of natural cinnamon and edible 23 carat gold leaf garnishing. At Diageo’s winter briefing in London recently, Smirnoff brand manager, Jessica Lace said consumers were not being “inventive enough” when it came to the type of serve they have with their vodka, with 48% of UK Smirnoff drinkers choosing Coke as their serve. And they have been trying to persuade consumers to be a bit more adventurous with their latest TV campaign for Smirnoff the ‘Apple Bite campaign’ which suggests you try vodka with lemonade and apple juice, and of course these flavours also go with Smirnoff Gold.
The company is also suggesting a new spice serve to a firm favourite Johnnie Walker Red Label. The new serve of Johnnie Walker Red Label and ginger ale, ‘Johnnie and Ginger’, is accompanied by a new bottle and glassware. The natural warmth from the whisky is added to by the spice of the ginger and is aimed predominantly at the 25-35-year-old market, there will be a heavy on-trade presence and it is being backed by a new advertising campaign that will see the fine figure of Johnnie, top hat, cane and all, return to our screens for the first time in 50 years. The on-trade will also see new high quality point of sale and serving suggestion.
Maxxium and the Famous Grouse have their own take on this with their bottled Ginger Grouse. They have created a winter serve, Mulled Ginger Grouse, to tackle the colder months.
Crabbie’s the UK’s number one selling alcoholic ginger beer, has seen its product range extended with the launch of a brand new variant, Crabbie’s Spiced Orange. The new variety will mark one of the brand’s first product developments since the launch in February 2009, designed to bring an exciting new variety to the brand whilst still targeting the core Crabbie’s market.
Crabbie’s Spiced Orange combines the Original Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer with natural infusions of orange and delicious spices to produce a 4% ABV liquid that delivers an appealing and sophisticated citrus taste served over ice with a slice of orange. A spokesman for Maxxium told us, “The Christmas period is a great opportunity for bars to entice customers with a seasonal cocktail offering. It’s important for a drinks list to include classic cocktails using premium brands, doing so will encourage consumers to spend more on great tasting drinks. It’s also important to keep your cocktail list fresh and innovative.”
Sales of red wine too will get a boost – not just as the main ingredient of mulled wine, but drinkers tend to switch from white wine to red during the winter months. Cameron Homewood, bar manager for the Classroom Bar in Nairn, said he expected to see a large increase in the amount of red wine in the forthcoming weeks. He told Dram, “I don’t think we’ll do as much rose wine, but we’ll see a huge surge in red wine.”
He continued, “We also do our own cocktails and we’ll move away from elderflower and lemon based cocktails, to more homely, comforting cocktails, so a lot of spices, ginger and things like that.”
General manager at the The Hill in Glasgow, Mags McLaughlin said they would be putting an emphasis on winter drinks, with the bar making up their own hot drinks in house, including mulled wine.
She added, “There will definitely be a lot more spiced cocktails and spirits being asked for. Jagermeister, tequila, spiced rums and red wine will all increase for sure, and it all comes from the idea of being cosy and warm. People like to feel that way at Christmas and their drinking habits reflect it.”
So the consensus seems to be that the flavours, scents, senses, memories evoked from a bite of Christmas cake and Christmas pudding are the flavours consumers want at this time of year. Spicy, boozy, fruity, punchy flavours that warm the palate and the soul. Flavours and drinks that make you want to sit in front of the fire, cosy, relaxed, comfortable in the company of those that help them create great memories.
Whether that’s a roaring fire pictured in the mind thanks to a warm serve or spicy drink, or whether it’s an actual fire, well that’s down to the customer.