Moët Hennessy and Svami collaborate on a trio of mixers, just in time to help the at-home bartender this festive season
Failure can be as much a cause for cheer as success, but not when it comes to your cocktail. So when Sophia Sinha, marketing head for Moët Hennessy (MH) India, concocted a “terrible cocktail” by her own reckoning out of pantry staples during the lockdown last year, it was something not to be laughed away.
“I am a good cook but I can’t make cocktails,” she chuckles. She was not alone either. Social media then was full of posts about “pantry mixologists”, people concocting drinks with whatever ingredients they had at home, aspiring to imaginative DIYness, but failing to pour palatable or consistent drinks into their coupes.
It was this failure that led Sinha to pick up the phone to Shehan Minocher, brand ambassador of MH in India, and the company’s resident bar expert, to discuss the idea of creating mixers that could go with some of the luxe alcohol the French major sells. The result has now been unveiled. MH has collaborated with home-grown brand Svami, a leader in the non-alcoholic drinks category, to produce three fairly sophisticated mixers: a pomelo ‘spritz’, tangerine ‘highball’, and cinnamon and pepper-accented ginger ale — to go with the conglomerate’s top-of-the-line brands Belvedere (vodka), Glenmorangie (single malt) and Hennessy VS (cognac) respectively. Home consumers who buy these spirits get packs of mixers matched with the spirit.
When opposites meet
This collaboration is interesting for more reasons than taste alone. Its significance lies in the fact that this is the first time in India that a spirits major is joining forces with a non-spirits drinks company to address changing consumer tastes and habits.
Developed markets globally have been seeing phenomenal growth in the non-alcoholic, “not quite mocktails” category since 2018-19. The founding brand of this category, Seedlip (a complex botanicals-based formulation that mimics gin) came into its own around then with listings at Selfridges and top London bars. A host of similar start-ups have followed suit, the likes of My Celtic Soul (‘whisky’-esque), Spiritless Kentuky 74 (‘bourbon’), Fluere (‘rum’), Ritual Zero Proof (‘tequila’) and so on.
The category as a whole should have hurt spirits majors. Except that some of the biggest companies globally were quick to recognise changing trends and jump on to this bandwagon. Diageo, in fact, picked up a 20% stake in Seedlip pretty early in its incubation (in 2016), and, more recently, last year, Pernod Ricard UK partnered with the South African award-winning Ceder’s (a non-alcoholic ‘gin’).
Pomelo Spritz and Spiced Gingerale
Bringing choice to the table
In India, the MH x Svami tie up is the first in this space — and the first globally, too, for MH. “Last year, as home consumption shot up, we did a small collaboration with Pernod Ricard,” says Svami co-founder Aneesh Bhasin. “But this is the first big tie-up where we have been contracted to make mixers exclusively for top-of-the-line brands.”
A no-fail DIY
- So, what is in the bottles? The pomelo spritz steers clear of the syrupy elderflower terrain currently fashionable in Indian metros and is a sophisticated, dry style (it is a zero-sugar drink). The tangerine highball is a tweaking of the classic whisky-orange pairing and is apt with Glenmorangie’s nose and palate of fruity and fresh lemon, apple, and vanilla creaminess. But my personal favourite is the more complex cinnamon and black pepper-accented ginger ale with Hennessy, an unconventional choice for a cocktail spirit in India, even though it is intrinsic to the portfolio. It will be interesting to watch how this fares in India. As also, the Glenmorangie cocktail — particularly when it goes to traditional luxury, but non-metro, markets like Ludhiana. “I am waiting to see if someone calls up to say ‘what are you doing to my single malt’,” laughs Sinha.
For Svami, launched in early 2018, this is an important landmark. Just before Bhasin and his co-founders had come up with their lean tonic water — cracking the category till then dominated by sugary stuff — I had run into him socially in Mumbai and landed up going for a microbrewery crawl through Andheri with him and chef Saransh Goila. After a rather long evening out, Bhasin had taken us to his office, where we had tasted the still-under experimentation tonic water.
It has been an eventful journey since then for Svami, now a market leader with a wide product range, including non-alcoholic gin and tonic, rum and cola, and most recently a “2 cal” cola (the equivalent of a diet cola). “We are pricing these slightly higher than mass brands since the aim is to go for scale instead of being a niche player,” says Bhasin.
This is an important ambition. The spurt in the craft category of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in the last two years means that a bevy of entrepreneurs are now in the game, but most remain inconsequential with limited reach and production. With its own state-of-the-art 18,000 sq ft manufacturing facility and reach in tier 1 and 2 cities (the aim is to go to the kirana store level), Svami is getting bigger. The big brand tie up will boost its footprint and cred further.
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