Creating a Cocktail Market in Your Store

For the last few years, liquor stores have been evolving to more than just a place to pick up a six pack of beer; they have been slowly growing into a mecca for beer geeks, wine connoisseurs, and cocktail fanatics. This has been occurring in both the private and government sectors, each feeding off one another to get the stronghold in a very competitive market. Selection and service have always been the trumping factors in liquor store visits, from a larger selection of hard-to-get products to trained sommeliers, cicerones, and mixologists working the floor on some of BC’s favourite private liquor stores; the winner is the consumer.

The standard additions to most liquor stores have been the waiter’s friend or corkscrew at the counter or maybe a dusty bottle of Angostura bitters in the corner beside a bottle of obscure syrup used in a long-forgotten cocktail from the eighties. However, as liquor stores shift to give the customer more knowledge and more options for their entertaining, they’ve discovered the need to stock more products to make better cocktails at home.

Filling this need isn’t as simple as throwing more bottles of Angostura on that dusty shelf. Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable with more resources on cocktails widely available than ever before. What used to be weird and hard to get is now seen as mainstream by your guests; craft tonic water, ginger beer, and bitters were inaccessible five years ago. How can you as an operator cater to this newest market of customers? Vessel Liquor Store in Victoria created the Cocktail Market inside their store to cater to these needs, and here are a few ways that they achieved it.

Craft non-alcoholic mixers are abundant in BC. Fevertree & Fentiman’s are big players in the tonic and ginger beer market. Both are exceptional products and offer a wide range of tonics to stock. We have also seen the rise of the craft soda from Phillip’s Soda Works in Victoria on Vancouver Island, beginning with a line of tonic waters with a few classic sodas released soon after. The tonic line has tightened up to the classics of Sparkmouth Tonic (previously Artisan) and the much-loved Cucumber Mint; while the Intergalactic Rootbeer, Speedking Cola, Sparkmouth Ginger Ale, and Daredevil Orange Cream round out the selection. These are all local, craft, and well-made sodas to stock as a point of difference.

Bitters or “the salt and pepper” of the cocktail world have become a cult favourite amongst enthusiasts, all trying to find the latest and greatest flavours released from far and wide. The mainstay of Angostura has now grown to include its orange counterpart and the classically needed Peychaud’s, but this isn’t all that is to be had. The bitters movement has come on strong locally with many companies now producing balanced, creative, and comparative styles. The biggest and one of the oldest local bitters’ producers is probably Bittered Sling, headed by chef Jonathon Chovancek and world-class bartender Lauren Mote. The husband and wife team have been behind the bitters rise to fame in BC for almost a decade, with flavours like Clingstone Peach, Suisse Cherry, and regional inspired styles like the Kensington Aromatic. These are winners on any liquor store shelf. Their work has led to the other local favourites of Ms. Better Bitters, whose off-the-wall flavour combinations are eccentrically fantastic, and Apothecary Bitters that take the flavours of the Pacific Northwest and condense them into little pipettes.

Equipment is the last piece of the puzzle to make your liquor store special. Quality bar equipment is easily accessible through Cocktail Kingdom and Amazon, but it gives you the edge to build appreciative clientele. Start with the basics, such as a high-class bar spoon, a nice shaker and tin, a muddler, a few strainers, and a jigger or two. Peruse the Cocktail Kingdom website and check out the style of tools they peddle, then create a strategic plan to showcase those wares to your customers.

Customers are always on the lookout for what they’ve seen at their local cocktail bar or on the latest blog. The decision to develop a niche market is always a difficult one, but it will build long-term customers that make your liquor store the destination for all their cocktail needs.