For pubs that don't have time to turn their barperson into Tom Cruise, there are several ready-to-mix cocktails now on the market. By Ben McFarland
Straining, muddling, shaking and mixing are all the rage in the style bar sector, but pubs generally tend to stay clear of anything more complicated than a gin and tonic or a port and lemon as far as cocktails are concerned.
Drinkers asking for a Hemingway Daiquiri, a Macho Gazpacho or a Caribbean Bulldog or more likely to be shown the door than served a carefully created concoction, but licensees would be foolish to entirely ignore a burgeoning cocktail culture.
Style bars serving stylish yet steeply priced cocktails are as popular as ever but the reality for most licensees is a little less glamorous. For outlets with a high turnover of staff, converting a team of pint pullers into an elite squad of skilled and knowledgeable mixologists is easier said than done.
For licensees faced with this cocktail quandary, however, help is at hand thanks to the emergence of a number of new pre-mixed cocktail concepts designed to de-skill the category and replace time and effort with simplicity and consistency.
Last year, regional brewer Charles Wells made its first departure from beer with the launch of Muse, a range of seven concentrated cocktail mixes that can be diluted at the bar.
Made with fruit juices, spirits and spices and carrying an ABV of 40 per cent, all that needs to be added to Muse at the bar is ice, a slice and the appropriate soft drink mixer.
Marketing director Nigel McNally said: "A well known high street bar chain wanted to serve cocktails but found the process of training barstaff in mixing cocktails and and the time taken to serve cocktails to the drinker was prohibitive.
"They came to us to see if we could find a solution that gave them speed of service but maintained a high consistency of taste, flavour and portion control."Bennett Opie, which is more famous for its cherries, pickled onions and olives, is another company to launch a similar concept into this sector.
Opies Club Cocktail, however, is a collection of four different flavoured mixers which, when mixed with the required spirit, produces classic cocktails such as the Margarita, Pina Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri and Tropical Breeze.
William Opie, managing director, said: "The simplicity of the product doesn't mean losing the theatre of cocktail mixing. Bartenders can still incorporate this by using a cocktail shaker to mix the drink with ice and serve it with the appropriate garnishes.
"We launched the product in August 2002 and take-up has been reasonable but we're hoping that sales will increase further as people start planning their drinks offering for the summer months."
American company Stearns & Lehman which makes the syrups for the omnipresent Starbucks Coffee chain, is also contemplating the UK launch of Ruude, a range of mixers that also requires the addition of spirits.
So which of these pre-mixed products is closest to the genuine cocktail experience? To find out, The Publican Newspaper joined forces with IPBartenders, a group of dedicated and talented mixologists whose knowledge and experience of cocktail making is second to none.
Every flavour in all three ranges was mixed according to the instructions on the label and then judged on appearance, taste and where possible compared with a "home-made" version knocked up by two of the UK's most respected mixologists, Ben Reed and Angus Winchester.
Mixed with ice, orange juice and a slice of orangeA Zombie is designed to be a strong combination of four different rums with pineapple, orange, lime and grenadine but the Muse version didn't taste or look anything like its "home-made" counterpart.
The general consensus was this was far, far too sweet and it was very difficult to detect any taste of rum. It was an unpromising start to proceedings.
Mixed with still mineral water and a slice of lime.The Margarita is a cocktail classic made with tequila, triple sec and lime juice and can be served either frozen or straight-up.
What is made up for in appearance, the Muse Margarita lost in taste with the panel finding it "too sour," "thin" and "watery". Also, the instructions neglected to mention the need for a salt rim - an essential of any margarita, even a pre-mixed one.
Sex on the Beach
Mixed with orange juice and slice of orangeA popular cocktail of yesteryear and the source of many a smutty joke, Sex on the Beach is a fruity number traditionally made with vodka, peach schnapps and pineapple juice.
"A perfect drink for someone who would order a sex on the beach" patronised one member of the panel. Bared a likeness in both taste and appearance to the real thing.
Long Island Iced Tea
Mixed with cola and a slice of lemonThe Long Island Iced Tea, made with cola and five white spirits, is another classic favoured by happy hour hunters and students.
The Muse version certainly looked like an iced tea but the panel found it too syrupy and compared it to a badly combined post mix cola. "It lacks the tequila edge" and "too cloying" were other comments.Illusion
Mixed with pineapple juice and slice of pineappleIllusion is a cocktail with a following Down Under and combines vodka, gin, tequila and Midori. The panel felt that the pre-mixed Illusion looked flat - "if it had been shaken it would have a bit more va va voom" said one while another claimed it tasted a bit dusty. Overall, though, not bad.
Mixed with chilled sodaDon't be put off by the name, this cocktail is a lot more enjoyable than the dire 1980s film. It looked blue, which was a good start, and in terms of flavour, it was more Brooke Shields than Brook Bond. It fared well against the genuine article and the panel agreed it was probably the best of the bunch.
Cardinal Punch (non-alcoholic)
Mixed with orange juice and slice of orange.This is the only non-alcoholic cocktail in the range and although it wasn't bad, few on the panel saw the point. "Why not just make a St.Clements?"
OPIES CLUB COCKTAIL
Mixed with white rumThe daiquiri is a well-known holiday favourite and is supposed to be pretty sweet but Opies version is a little sickly, although that may not be a bad thing considering the target market of 18 to 24-year-olds. "It's no sweeter than a Bacardi Breezer," added one of the group.
Mixed with vodkaWhile not as well known as its stablemates, the Tropical Breeze is a close and fruity relation to the Sea Breeze and is most refreshing.
Unfortunately, first impressions were not good. "It looks like Swarefga," said one panellist, referring to the gritty substance used by mechanics to wash their hands. "Better than the others," was a slightly more positive reaction form another.
Mixed with tequila"Much too gloopy" said one panellist. But everyone welcomed the salt-rimmed glass recommendation on the bottle.
Mixed with rumThe Pina Colada is the ultimate "Del Boy" cocktail but still has a strong following. "Does everything it says on the tin" was one verdict while everyone agreed that in a busy city centre bar, this is perfectly acceptable.
Mixed with bourbonThe first of four American concoctions. The strong cherry taste was the sickly side of sweet although remained quite refreshing. The claim that it "will sell shed loads" was backed up by the panel.
Mixed with citrus vodkaThumbs down. Strong tasting but "no hints