Let me set the scene...
Indulge me for a few minutes before I give you the info you’re looking for.
(or you can just scroll down f course!!)
July 1st 2019. Its Day One of Imbibe Live. The biggest and best drinks trade show in the UK. As I walk in, down the centre aisle of the jam packed full Olympia, two soft drink brands with their huge sky-high banners stand out. Schweppes and Fever Tree. I always go to Imbibe Live with an agenda. Last year for example, was chatting to as many Gin Brands as possible to learn and get loads of knowledge. This year however, my focus was on Soft Drinks. I wanted to chat to brands about new, or under the radar softies that I’d missed for my whole simple serve agenda. Things that weren’t just crafted for Gin. Franklins, Buzbees and Fentimans were all on my radar to have a good play with.
Now as I spend 2 days at the show, I always do a good slow lap of the whole show before actually settling in to chat to people. I want to get my bearings, see who’s about. Maybe see some old faces before the hustle and bustle really kicks in. But on that lap, 2 things really leapt out at me and smacked a sense of industry realisation at me.
Firstly, outside the venue, chatting to a few exhibitor friends, I’d been told “it was all Gin again” this year. But in actual fact, while there was undoubtedly a lot of Gin…there was also a hell of a lot of Rum and a good smattering of Whiskey.
Secondly, while Schweppes did kind of have their premium 1783 Tonics on their stand (hidden but there), the huge emphasis was actually on Coca-Cola’s brand New Signature Mixers and the 1783 Muscovado Dark Spirit Mixer. AND, on the Fever Tree Stand, they had absolutely NO Tonic on it. Again, they had their 3 Ginger Ales, their Ginger Beer, and their Madagascan Cola.
This was it. It took mere seconds to hit me. 2 of the biggest players in the Bar Industry, where not there for the Gin Market. They were there for the Rum and Whiskey Market.
I’d seen signs over the last 6-8 weeks of a big Rum Renaissance trying to kick in. And I’ve certainly seen signs in 2019 of Whiskey making its play. But when you see Schweppes and Fever Tree dedicating 2 huge stands, costing some £15k to £25k each, at the biggest industry show of the year to Dark Spirits, you know full well the tide is turning. Yes Gin is huge. Yes it’ll still be huge in 12 months. But I tell you, Rum and Whiskey are coming. And more to the point, us Bartenders are getting damn bored of Gin, which will only mean we start focusing on other things to be different.
Coca-Cola Signature Mixers
What are they!?
These Signature mixers have been created to add that slight bit of premiumisation and sense of occasion to the famous Coca Cola family! While Coke obviously sell a tonne of it, for the discerning drinker, it doesn’t really give you that premium drinking experience. So Coke have collaborated with 4 high profile Bartenders to create 4 unique and quirky new brand extensions, specifically to mix with Dark Spirits. Although, caveat, having tried them with Vodka too, don’t let the whole Dark Spirt thing put you off if that’s not your bag. They’re just getting ready for the impending Rum & Whiskey explosion.
Signature Mixer Tasting Notes
Taken from Coca Cola’s Website…
Coca-Cola Signature Mixers Smoky Notes, by Max Venning: An intensely aromatic blend with smoky hints, this mix brings nuanced dimension to deep, spiced rums and bold, premium whiskies. Ylang, ambrette seed and dried fruit, which inhabit the top layer, are balanced with an elegant base of warm brown spices; Peru Balsam and amber.
Coca-Cola Signature Mixers Spicy Notes, by Adriana Chía and Pippa Guy: With a warm introduction that gives way to a fiery finish, this Signature Mixer is a sophisticated and complex blend. Citrusy lime, ginger, spicy jalapeño, fragrant rosemary and aromatic jasmine combine to create a mixer with a considered balance of zest and earthy flavours that pairs beautifully with spiced rums, aged / gold tequilas and spicy or sweet whiskies.
Coca-Cola Signature Mixers Herbal Notes, by Antonio Naranjo: A delightfully floral, crisp and tart mix, this Signature Mixer was developed to deliver fresh and herbaceous notes for the discerning palate. Balancing refreshing notes of lemongrass with the earthy tones of dill seed and tagetes, it is an inviting mixer with a refreshing, simple profile that pairs beautifully with amber whiskies and most types of rum.
Coca-Cola Signature Mixers Woody Notes by Alex Lawrence: Crafted from a subtle blend of earthy patchouli, citrusy yuzu and aromatic basil, this Signature Mixers has a tart, light and refreshing profile, with a hint of warmth. These elements, expertly blended, combine to elegantly enhance the mellow wood and sweet tropical flavours of golden rums and smoky to woody whiskies.
What to Mix Coca-Cola Signature Mixers with?
I wanted to find out exactly what I could use these mixers with. I know the Bartenders who created them came up with their own combinations, but I know I have a different palate, and I know you’ll have a different palate.
To carry out my Testing’s I carried out a controlled experiment using 13 Different products which I hoped would provide a good cross section of each category.
Famous Grouse Scotch
Teeling Irish Rum Cask
Southern Comfort Black
Dead Mans Fingers
RedLeg Caribbean Pineapple Spice Rum
Martel VSOP Red Barrel
Ocho 8 Resposado
In each Glass I added 5ml of Spirit (I didn’t want to get too pissed…I had 52 of these to do and 52x 5ml is still over a third of a bottle of Spirit). And then 20ml of the Cola. I went with a 1:4 ratio as that’s how I like my Dark Spirits. While G&Ts, I’ll always go 1:3, or 1:2, Dark Spirits for me have a bigger bold flavour so I like a little extra dilution. Then I added an ice cube to each glass. And alright, confession time, I did the tastings over 2 nights. My little belly can’t handle too much fizziness in one go these days and I bloat up like a hot air balloon! 😂🤣
The Tasting Results
According to Coca Cola's marketing bumf....This was created to go with Dark Rum and Scotch.
Tasting it neat…and chilled, unlike the Imbibe Bar Show, I’ll be honest, I have no idea what Ylang-Ylang, Ambrette Seed, Peru Balsam, or Guaiacwood should taste like. But I’m not gonna lie to you, I don’t do Smoky things and that includes Meat. But this certainly gives you Smoky. I’m guessing a heavy presence of Oak Extract doing its job well here.
Now perhaps it was my hatred of all things smoky, or perhaps it was the Famous Grouse that I was using, but I didn’t like this paring at all. It left the scotch too powerful. However, I did really like it with Teeling Irish Whiskey and Buffalo Trace.
Again, when it came to the Rum, I don’t think it did Plantation OD any justice at all. But as soon as you added the slightly sweeter Rums, namely the Kraken, I thought it worked a lot better. With the RedLeg Pineapple, it gave an interesting result. I actually had to add 10ml more of the cola to fight back the Pineapple flavour, but when I did it gave a really quirky finished drink. The Oak and Woodiness combining beautifully with the caramelised Pineapple Notes.
Southern Comfort Black, I’m a big fan of anyway. Not quite a Bourbon. But not a liqueur either like it’s Big Sister. I loved this combo.
The Martel Cognac, being the Cognac fan that I am, this did absolutely nothing for me. The same with Tequila. But I had a feeling the Tequila would work better with the next one anyway.
According to Coca Cola's marketing bumf....The 2 recommend serves for this are Scotch again…and Tequila.
And on trying the Cola neat, I could instantly tell why Tequila would be recommended with this. I didn’t get much of the Rosemary and Jasmin, but I do get the Lime, Jalapeno and deffo the Ginger.
And controversially, I really don’t think it goes with any of the Whiskies I had, except perhaps the Southern Comfort black, maybe because of the sweetness. I hated it with Grouse. Teeling not much better. And the Buffalo Trace probably the better of those 3.
Step forward Tequila though…AND the Vodka. These 2 worked very well. Somewhat surprisingly though, my actual favourite combo was the Cognac! I wasn’t expecting it, but I think it worked very well.
Plantation OD was a great mix. Giving real depth of flavour to the Rum and for me, the Ginger took over from the jalapeno in this. As did the Kraken Rum and again, just adding a touch more Cola to the RedLeg Pineapple, this created a very interesting Drink.
According to Coca Cola's marketing bumf....Recommended serves for this are Scotch and Vodka.
Again. I’m not going to lie here. On Tasting this at Imbibe Live, I thought it was just a fizzy, cheap Jägermeister knock off. I hated it. As in, get that out of my mouth now. I now realise that was massively unfair. Because trying it in my Bar, and Chilled, it’s a totally different drink. I should’ve guessed really, because who likes Warm Cola anyway?! Now I’ve no idea what Tagetes are (Perennials according to Google!), but I do now get the Lemongrass and Dill. The Hops…well not neat. But this cola does a weird thing with Cognac. Stay tuned!
Now. Have Coke got the pairings bang on for me this time? Third time lucky??
Well again…No!! I’m sorry Coke. But Whisky/ey? Really?? I just don’t get it. Not even the slightly sweeter Southern Comfort. Well it was okay, but not a patch on the Smoky or Spicy. For me they just didn’t work. However what did work for me was the Plantation OD and the Kraken. They came together quite well. Now I also mentioned the Cognac too. For me, the Martel VSOP brought the Hops out. It was really weird. As in for some reason, I got hints of St Austell Tribute (The only Ale I kind of tolerate…I’m a spirit man after all).
Tequila. Yeah that didn’t work either. However, I think Coke have got the Vodka right. Perhaps because the Vodka is essentially tasteless compared to Rum or Whisky. But as I say, the Rum was okay and on reflection, I will revisit with some decent White Rums. Havana 3yo and Plantation 3 Stars etc. I have a sneaky suspicion they’ll work too.
According to Coca Cola's marketing bumf....Recommended concoctions are Bourbons and Spiced Rums.
Woody. Oh Woody, Woody, Woody. You are the true star of this collection for me. Don’t get me wrong, I do like no1 and no2, but for sheer mixability, no4 steals it.
Again, I’ll pretend I’ve heard of the ingredients here… Patchouli, Balsam Copaiba, Vetiver. You’ve all heard and know exactly what they taste like, haven’t you?! Of course you have. They’re such household names! (note the sarcasm). But then there is Basil and Yuzu too.
So what happens when you mix it. Genuinely, nearly an all-round hit. Nearly. The only one I didn’t get was the Plantation OD Rum. But I have to say, regarding Cokes recommend Spiced Rum and Whiskey serves. Bang on the money. Finally. Even the Tequila. I’d quite happily drive the Ocho with this and I’m not a Tequila fan. The out and out star of the show though. Pineapple RedLeg. Again, just adding a touch more Cola (so 1:5 ratio) the Smoke and the Pineapple for me were perfect. Which now makes me want to grab a Bottle of Nelsons new Pineapple Rum and Plantations Stiggins Fancy. Proper Rums with Proper Pineapple. Not knocking RedLeg, because I love it. But I think I’m pretty safe in saying it’s a flavour compound, not a real Pineapple Infusion.Therefore making it a slightly sweeter Rum.
What Happened to the Liqueurs?!
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the Dead Mans Fingers, Kahlua and the Disaronno i any of these reviews. Honestly. It was just a waste of time and booze. The sweetness of the Rum and the Liqueurs, they just killed the subtleties of the Mixers. I dare say a mixologist at the top of their game could find a perfect garnish, or something to compensate, but I’m all about simplicity. For me, these Mixers were created as simple serves. I don’t want the faff of having to add 2 or 3 other ingredients just to make it a better drink. So my advice for Sweeter Spiced Rums and Liqueurs…. Stick to the normal Coke!
It's very early days for these. At the time of writing, maybe 5-6 weeks. Many Wholesalers haven’t taken them on yet, so I can’t get you a wholesale price. But I did pick these up from Waitrose. I did get them on a launch offer, 4 bottles for £4. Normal Price is £1.30. So I would naturally assume that these will come at around the 70p/80p mark for the Trade. Is that the right price? I guess it probably is to be honest. I know the market these will be aimed at. Decent High Ends Bars, with a fantastic Premium Spirit offering. Is a Village Pub or a High Street Chain Bar going to take these on?! Highly doubtful. I can’t deny they will add some Wow to Premium Bars, but for me personally, I would've liked to see Coke entering the Consumer Market properly. Yes, I know they will claim their age-old Cola already steals that Market, but I would’ve liked to see them throw their Hats into the ring with the whole Fever Tree Madagascan Cola, Franklin and Sons 1886 Cola or Lamb and Watts new Cola. These are premium Colas without the pretentiousness. Yes there is a Market for Cokes Signature range in the big City’s…London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester etc etc. But when the Dark Spirits really explode, I’ve got a feeling Fever Tree will steal a march. People will want a drink with a sense of occasion. We’re in a Premium world now. People will want a Premium Cola with their Whiskey or Rum. YES, Coke will do that job, but I know consumers will want more. Take the Tonic argument. There is nothing wrong with normal Schweppes Tonic. It's such a great Tonic Water. Yet the "Premium Tonic" of Fever Tree dominated as soon as it launched. Why? Because it was marketed as Premium. The same will happen here. Premium is cool. Premium Pretentious is super niche.
The Signature range are great quirky products. A great concept. Will they be big, huge sellers in 12 months time? For once I won’t sit on the fence. I’m gonna say no, but I'm happy to be proved wrong.