Australia’s on-premise cocktail boom

Australia has ditched its reputation as a nation of beer drinkers and found a new obsession – cocktails – and the on-premise is racing to keep up with demand.

It’s a trend that kicked off during COVID-19 lockdowns – online searches for the term “drink cart” surged more than 300% at the height of restrictions, as Australians kitted out their own drink trolleys at home.

As the Bacardi Cocktail Trends Report 2022 notes: “Faced with lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, people across the world have spent the past two years experimenting with cocktail creations and learning more about the spirits they enjoy. As a
result, discerning attitudes are emerging among new alcohol connoisseurs, who are seeking out high-quality drink experiences – driving another wave of premiumization across spirit categories.”

Brenda Fiala, global vice president of insights at Bacardi, added: “Wherever people head, they’ll expect to be wowed. Over the past two years, consumers have proudly shared their flourishing cocktail-making skills. Now they are coming together to go back into bars and restaurants and are looking for even more premium and delicious offerings that are different or better than they can now make at home. The local quarantines have really upped the game for our bartenders.”

When Sydney and Melbourne reopened, the cocktail obsession was reflected in on-premise sales. Data released by me&u revealed the top 3 drinks during NSW reopening week were the Espresso Martini, Aperol Spritz and Margarita. Espresso Martinis were also the number one choice during Melbourne’s reopening week.

Endeavour Group CEO Steve Donohue noted that cocktails were becoming increasingly popular with patrons at ALH venues, following the booming interest in at-home mixology during COVID-19. He said the introduction of order and pay at tables also meant more people are ordering higher-priced cocktails in the on-premise.

Sam Egerton, general manager of new projects at Merivale told The Australian guests at the hospitality group’s venues are ordering cocktails at an “unprecedented pace”.

At Ivy’s new MuMu restaurant about 50% of the drinks sold at MuMu after opening in December were cocktails, but he says they’re a growth sector at Merivale’s 70-plus restaurants and bars.

“Post the first lockdown, we saw an increase in cocktails as a total share of the beverage ‘market’ of 30% across the business,” Egerton says. “We have also definitely noticed an increased desire from guests to drink classic cocktails like margaritas, negronis, espresso martinis, in abundance.”

Whatever the choice, it’s all about making memories, without caring too much about the price tag.

“The post-lockdown drinker in the inter-Covid era is looking for meaningful nights out and social experiences,” said Chris Sanderson, The Future Laboratory. “Prepared to invest, they’re opting for quality, especially in crafted cocktails that can
be enjoyed and savoured rather than downed and forgotten.”

Sydney cocktail bar Maybe Sammy told The Daily Telegraph in late November that it had seen a surge in customers buying its premium pours and vintage cocktails, which are priced between $65 and $150.

Nearby Frank Macs also has become known for its $100 Frank’s Last Drink – a martini made with Nolet Distillery Silver Vintage 1970s Carpano Dry Vermouth and is served in crystal and paired with Osteriia Caviar.

Meanwhile, CBD bar Kittyhawk’s Old Fashioned costs $250 and blends 25-year-old Micheter’s Rye with Barcardi Facundo Eximo Rum.

The rise of designer ice

Another sign that Australians are getting very serious about their cocktail culture is the rise of designer ice in the on-premise.

Sales are going gangbusters for Sydney’s number one premium ice supplier, Bare Bones Ice Co. (BBIC), established
in 2017 by French-born bartender Damien Liot.

Using proprietary technology at his ice factory in Sydney’s South, Liot now has re-started deliveries of his bespoke ice across Greater Sydney.

You can find drinks built on Bare Bones at Icebergs, Old Mate’s Place, Hinchcliff House, PS40, the Gidley, Door Knock, Tetsuya’s, Mimi’s, Cantina OK!, Re, Saint Peter, Eileen’s at Four Pillars and many more of Sydney’s best.

According to Liot, the demand for the highest quality ice has never been greater, both at-home and at bars and restaurants, with guests’ expectations around the perfect serve of their favourite mixed drink being higher than ever.

“We have never had such demand for our bespoke Old Fashioned and Collins single blocks and we are simply trying to keep up with the surge in demand since hospitality started back up”, Liot said.

“This will be the summer where Bare Bones will really come into its own I think.”

Pictured main: Merivale venue Charlie Parker’s.

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