9 essential spirits retailers should stock

29 May 2024, 14:33 PM
  • From classics to up-and-coming bottles that are soon to be on everyone’s lips, Speciality Food discovers the spirits fine food retailers need to know now
9 essential spirits retailers should stock

Ever since the Covid pandemic forced Brits to spend their evenings indoors, home cocktail making has exploded. Part of the ‘big night in’ trend, at-home mixology continues to appeal to consumers who are looking to recreate the bar experience in the comfort of their own kitchens…or backyard bars.

“After the pandemic caused at-home mixology to rise, people are carefully curating their bar carts and learning how to master a range of serves at home, whether that’s to entertain guests or simply unwind after a long week,” says Nathan Shearer, head of education at the drinks agency Speciality Brands.

And with summer just around the corner, now is the best time to make sure your offering is pitch-perfect to meet shoppers’ demands. “Whether enjoying Friday cocktail hour in the garden or a sunny Saturday BBQ with friends and family, consumers will be keen to serve eye-catching, great-tasting drinks that replicate their favourite bar experiences,” says Stuart Findlater, business director at Mixologist’s Garden.

“At-home bartenders are contributing to a real resurgence in the popularity of cocktails and the summer is a perfect time to experiment,” he adds. “Their enthusiastic attitude to the elevation of established drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, is paving the way for a whole new approach to entertaining.”

This opens the door to opportunities for retailers to stock their shelves with essential spirits, from beloved classics to the new favourites.

The classics: vodka, whisky and gin

With trendy new releases always abuzz in the drink sector, it’s easy to overlook the classics – but do so at your peril, Nathan says.

“We’re seeing a huge resurgence in classic cocktails lately with consumers looking for more minimalistic, stripped-back serves using high-quality ingredients,” Nathan says. 

With cocktails like a gin and tonic or a Manhattan being perennial favourites, cater to consumers’ interests by giving some of your shelf space to familiar spirits like vodka, gin and whisky – but don’t be afraid to test the waters with higher-end or off-the-beaten-path makers. 

People still want to treat themselves despite the cost-of-living crisis, as 49% of adults bought premium alcoholic drinks in the 12 months to October 2023, according to data from Mintel, including 42% of those describing their finances as tight/struggling.

“Japanese whisky is very on trend at the moment, and Nikka is a fantastic example of that,” Nathan says. “Nikka from the Barrel is my go-to whisky and has been for a very long time for all manner of classic cocktails, from Manhattans to Old Fashioneds, even whisky sours and highballs in the summer,” he says. 

Vodka is also a go-to spirit for many, and Nathan recommends Chopin Potato Vodka which can be served neat, straight from the freezer, or in a martini glass. “It’s really easy to pair with lots of bright citrus characteristics and also pairs really well with seafood, so if you’re looking for the ideal partner for oysters, a Chopin Potato Vodka martini with Cocchi Extra Dry is a winner,” he says.

Mixers like gin lemonade and vodka lemonade continue to be popular, adds Stuart from Mixologist’s Garden. With talk of the gin-aissance finally coming to an end, how should retailers stock this spirit now? “Gin remains steady and still very popular; however, consumers are looking into smaller-batch craft gins,” Stuart says, a prime example being Hampton Court Gin, “as well as moving away from the flavoured gins and back to classics such as Hayman’s.”

And what of the best-known spirit brands? Callum Raymond, managing director of Scotland-based bar The Corset Club, says it’s worth having some familiar brands (think Absolut vodka) that “are must-haves due to their widespread popularity and consistent quality”. But in addition to these main line spirits, he says it’s important to stock plenty of “premium quality additions that can elevate the cocktail experience to the next level”.

“By incorporating these premium spirits into your bar’s offerings, you not only cater to customers with discerning palates but also showcase a commitment to quality and innovation,” Callum says.

Tequila and mezcal

Mexico’s famous agave spirits are certainly having a moment. The tequila trend shows “no sign of slowing down as consumers are looking to broaden their horizons beyond the classics of gin and whisky,” says Stuart. He recommends Bandero as a “fantastic tequila to explore”.

If it’s a standout option offering a premium experience that you’re after, Callum points to Altos Tequila, which is known for its smooth and complex flavour profile. It is an “excellent choice for crafting top-tier Margaritas and other tequila-based cocktails” thanks to its agave-forward taste and artisanal production process, he says.

While some of your customers may be keen to sip a tequila, most will be mixing this spirit into a Margarita. “The king of the summer drinks is without a doubt the Margarita,” Nathan says, and he advises retailers to stock a few brilliant tequilas at price points that aren’t sky-high.

Tapatio is a perfect example of that: it is a 100% Blue Weber agave tequila made in Arandas in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. It is everything you want in an agave spirit; it is bright, fresh, vegetal, green, grassy – shaken with a little bit of triple sec and lime, it makes a perfectly simple and delicious classic margarita.”

If your customers are already well-versed in tequila brands, try pushing the boat out into other agave spirits. “If you prefer something a little more full-bodied, more smoky, more fiery, then you can look to tequila’s older sibling, which is mezcal,” Nathan suggests. 

“There are some amazing mezcals out there which tend to have more smoky, more complex aromas and flavour.” He recommends Derrumbes Durango or Los Siete Misterios Doba-Yej, two mezcals that are “very approachable, so not too smoky, but have a bit more weight, body and texture than what you might find in a brighter style of tequila.”


In the summer rum is a must-stock spirit, and it’s long been tipped as ‘the new gin’. Stuart sees rum’s popularity continuing to soar this year, especially aged rums like Mount Gay’s Black Barrel and XO.

For Nathan, a Daiquiri is a personal favourite rum-based cocktail for the warmer weather. “There’s nothing better than rum, lime, and sugar, shaken with ice until it’s cold and served in a nice cold cocktail glass. The brightness of the rum, especially a rum like Takamaka Rum Blanc, which is a wonderful cane and molasses rum from the Seychelles, is absolutely delicious in a Daiquiri. Very bright, very fresh, very citrus-forward, it makes a great daiquiri and therefore also makes a delicious mojito, if you prefer a more minty or longer drink.”

Rums are also perfect for parties, as they can quickly be mixed with fruit juice, citrus juice and cordial or syrup into rum punch.

Apéritifs and digestifs

The rise of aperitivo culture in the UK has seen apéritifs like Aperol and digestifs like Amaro shoot into the spotlight in British bars and restaurants, and mixologists say they’re still a must-stock for retailers.

Bethan Higson, founder of switchel brand Mother Root, which recently launched a Marmalade Switchel to offer a non-alcoholic, British twist on the Mediterranean aperitivo, says aperitivo culture “is where the magic happens; those moments with friends that make life meaningful and memorable.”

Sales of vermouth, which is a staple in the ever-popular Negroni as well as other classic cocktails like Martinis, have recently been on the rise, so this drink should definitely find a home on retailers’ shelves in the months to come. 

Anna Parker, managing director at Celentano’s in Glasgow, says, “We regularly use both a sweet vermouth (like our Celentano’s Rosso) and a very dry vermouth bianco for Martinis.” Anna also recommends Amaro Montenegro – amaro is known for its unique flavour profile, and it has recently been tipped as one to watch in the UK drinks scene.

Nathan agrees that vermouth is “very much back in the limelight now after a century of being an unsung hero of classics. People are now appreciating the different styles of vermouth that are out there and also learning how to make cocktails based on vermouth,” he says.

Drinking vermouth neat is another way to enjoy it “exactly how they would drink it in Italy,” Nathan adds. “Even more so if you’re selling Italian oils, cheeses, and meats; I would recommend retailers create an authentic aperitivo offering in store.” Retailers with a leaning towards Italian deli snacks and foods can also consider stocking Gavi di Gavi, he says. “What we’re looking at here is a very crisp and dry style of aromatised wine; it pairs excellently in a vodka Martini.”

Botanical spirits

The natural, fresh allure of botanical flavours has become a favourite in spirits, and Stuart believes artisan spirits using local botanicals will be even more in-demand this year. “Small-batch spirits such as vodka, rum and gin from craft distilleries are proving popular, blending traditional distilling techniques with often local botanicals,” he says.

Anna has found a new favourite in Birch Botanical Spirit, a spirit blended in Scotland with raw birch sap and seasoned with wild birch flavours harvested throughout the seasons. It has a fresh, green and bright flavour with notes of cucumber, rosemary and eucalyptus and “is great in a Martini but also can be used in other cocktails, or just with some soda or tonic,” Anna says.

For something from further afield, Callum suggests Japan’s Ki No Bi gin, which “offers a unique and sophisticated botanical blend that brings a touch of elegance to any cocktail menu. Its complex yet harmonious flavour profile, featuring a delicate balance of traditional and local Japanese botanicals, makes it a compelling choice for creating refined and distinctive gin-based cocktails,” he says.

Another botanically infused spirit is Cotswold No. 1 Wildflower Gin, which takes its inspiration from British summer meadows, blending cornflowers, lavender and orange with a classic dry gin. As Amy Burton, owner of The Nook Cocktail Club in Weymouth, Dorset, says, “guests love to sip on something that tastes of summer and also feels quintessentially British, minus the rain please!” She also recommends stocking St Germain Elderflower Liquor to capitalise on this trend. “This is an at-home staple for the cabinet. A splash of St Germain in your G&T or glass of prosecco/wine is a super refreshing and elegant way to add a twist with ease.”

No and low-alcohol spirits

As Stuart highlights, the boom in sales of no and low-alcohol drinks is showing no sign of declining any time soon. “A recent YouGov survey (Jan 2024) revealed that 44% of drinkers aged 18-24 ‘occasionally or regularly’ seek alcohol alternatives – up from 31% in 2022, while the hospitality research organisation KAM reported 5.2 million fewer UK adults drank weekly in 2023 than in 2021,” he says. 

“Those figures really underline how consumers are ripping up the drinks rule book and no longer view an adult drink as one that has to contain alcohol. There’s no longer any stigma attached to opting for soft drinks which, when served creatively, can be just as appealing as those containing alcohol.”

Indeed, many alcohol-free spirits have emerged to make the most of the growing demand for no and low-ABV drinks. Anna says now is a key moment to be stocking alcohol-free spirits. “One of our go-tos at the moment is Pentire.”

With at least 6 in 10 consumers actively cutting back on alcohol, according to Bethan, retailers should seriously consider stocking eye-catching products like Mother Root’s Marmalade Switchel, a blend of juicy blood orange, bitter Seville orange, fragrant cardamom and grassy green tea brought together with apple cider vinegar, as these offer a “vibrant alcohol-free” option for retailers to stock “to cater to this health-conscious crowd looking to enjoy summer without compromise,” Bethan says.

But for customers who are simply looking for lower-ABV options, Nathan suggests stocking the supplies for summery spritzes. “The spritz is very much having a moment right now, and a vermouth-based spritz makes for an excellent low-ABV cocktail: Cocchi Americano or Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino with soda is a great spring/summer sipper and is a very simple, easy-to-make cocktail that you can serve at a barbecue,” he says.


Ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails served pre-mixed in cans and bottles continue to be popular with time-short customers. As a grab-and-go option for a picnic or a trip to the beach, you can’t get more convenient. 

Stuart recommends Tom Savano and Edmunds cocktails, which can be dressed up with Mixologist’s Garden’s own ready-to-use freeze-dried orange or lime slices. Stuart says the brand’s fruit garnishes offer a convenient way to elevate summer drinks at home without having to buy and prepare fresh ingredients. “In our research, 80% of consumers said they would garnish drinks at home if an easy solution was available, but they didn’t want the hassle of buying and preparing, and possibly wasting, fresh fruit.” The freeze-dried fruits are quickly rehydrated after being added to liquid, so waste-conscious consumers don’t miss out on adding an extra flourish to their home cocktails.

RTD drinks are the convenient summertime companion, so don’t miss stocking the latest trending flavours.

With plenty of occasions on the horizon this summer, like the 2024 Euros and the Olympic Games, plus – we hope – plenty of sunshine, homemade cocktails will be on the menu once again.

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