Shake it up, baby, now! A range of drink-at-home cocktails, invented in Birmingham, require you to shake, not stir. Richard McComb reports.
During his work in real estate investment, Nick Wall travelled the world on business and often found himself holed up in hotel cocktail bars.
He acquired a connoisseur's taste for a classic martini and a well-mixed mojito but was baffled why such drinks weren't available, ready to mix, for cocktail devotees in their homes.
So Nick decided to do just that, setting up his own business, based in Birmingham, producing a range of high-end drinks that he says wouldn't be out of place in a swanky city bar.
The idea chimed perfectly with popular culture fashion trends, riding on the back of cocktail consumption in films such as Sex and the City and cool television dramas such as Mad Men, where the prevalence of Old Fashioneds and Manhattans is matched only by the regularity of smoking.
Nick, who grew up in Edgbaston, set up Tails as a producer of DIY cocktails, authentically packaged in their very own shakers. The drinks are ideal for home entertaining, from house parties to intimate dinners for two. With Valentine's Day almost upon us, Tails should add a shake of glamour to a romantic soiree.
"I am very much a cocktail fan," says Nick, who, as luck would have it, celebrates his (32nd) birthday on Valentine's Day.
"At the time I conceived the idea I was drinking in cocktail bars. One day I was sitting in the bath and I said to myself, 'Can I drink the same quality of cocktails at home without paying the same price that good cocktails demand?' The answer was 'no.' "I wanted to be able to drink good cocktails at home but there weren't any available."
Nick also latched on to the trend for home drinking, sparked by the recession. People are now more inclined to have a snifter before heading out for dinner, saving on drinks bills. Combined with the public's renewed taste for cocktails and the higher profile given to food and drink in general, thanks to TV cookery shows, Nick sniffed a market opportunity.
He devoted 18 months to market research, carrying out consumer tests to gauge the appeal of his idea for house parties, girls' nights in and romantic gettogethers for couples. Nick says he carried out a blind-tasting against cocktails made by a mixologist at a top London bar, who he agreed not to name. "We beat the bar," adds Nick.
Tails, based in Lower Essex Street, Digbeth, started with a range of three cocktails - a Cosmopolitan, Mai Thai and an Espresso Martini. The drinks cost pounds 11.99 via the website www.theonlineofflicence.
co.uk and are also available at top stores such as Harvey Nichols.
Although that might sound a lot, each shaker produces half a litre of liquid, sufficient for four cocktails. That means each drink is effectively pounds 3, well below the level charged for cocktails in hotels and bars, which can range from pounds 6-pounds 7 up to pounds 20.
Cocktail-lovers simply untwist the shaker's mid section, remove the inner foil seal, add a few cubes of ice, close and shake vigorously - just like an experienced barman - until the base is chilled. Then it's just a case of removing the cap, pouring and drinking.
"The hardest trick of a cocktail is balancing the flavour and spirits," says Nick. All his creations have an ABV of 18 per cent, comparable with bar mixed cocktails. "They definitely have a kick to them," adds Nick.
There are plans to extend the range but Nick says he wanted to get the recipes, and the presentation right, before moving on. His launch range had to include the Cosmopolitan, he says, because it is the benchmark for cocktails. "If a barman can do a good Cosmopolitan, everything else will be good," he says. Tails' version combines Italian Triple Sec and premium French vodka with citrus and berry fruits.
The rum-fuelled Mai Tai is a mix of zingy Caribbean and Polynesian influences, tapping into the popularity of the potent distilled juice of sugar cane, and is ideal for serving in a short glass, rather than a martini glass.
Nick describes the Espresso Martini as the "cool, quirky cocktail of today." He says: "I spoke to an enormous amount of mixologists and it seems the espresso martini is the most on trend cocktails in cities."
The drink also provided the biggest challenge: how to get the foam on the top of the cocktail. Nick isn't giving away any secrets. Like any good cocktail drinker, he never kisses and tells.
Nick Wall, managing director of Birmingham-based Tails, which produces homemade cocktails, below