We chat to King Bloom Cocktails creator Calum Mackinnon about where the idea came from, the story (and the songs) behind each flavour and we’re still wondering how we can get involved in one of their “Taste Tests”. If you place an order today, you’ll receive it just in time to share some cocktail love for Valentines Day.
So how did it all actually start?
I used to have a couple cocktail bars and a nightclub in Scotland, so that’s why I started working on the pre-made cocktails. I moved down to London, we had a wee office in Angel but obviously we needed to take production in house. Initially we weren’t planning on doing production, but there’s no companies out there that could put alcohol in jam jars so… We had to take on all the equipment and a mini workshop.
Where did the idea come from?
I guess having a nightclub in Aberdeen, we tried to introduce cocktails into the nightclub but they just didn’t work, they slowed down the service so much, we didn’t have the skillset behind the bar, glasswear was always an issue – martini glasses don’t stack, they get smashed. It just didn’t work. So we had to remove it.
I was thinking at that stage, why isn’t there a good premade option. Because in our cocktail bar, Amicus Apple, we were looking at ways of speeding things up and we were actually pre-batching cocktails. A lot of bars do that now; someone would come in during the day and do a lot of the work earlier on to speed up service later on. But with pre-batching, you are taking away an element of the theatre anyway. There’s a time and a place for a cocktail bar and a bit of theatre, I think people would rather have their drinks a lot quicker.
It wasn’t until I was on an EasyJet flight actually, when I said “Can I get a beer?”, they had no beer, I said “Can I get a wine?”, they had no wine. I was like “what have you got”. They had these mini, premade cosmopolitans with this horrible branding, and literally they were the most disgusting things. I was like why have they not made good premade cocktails. From that point we set about trying to figure out how to make good premade cocktails.
How do you make good premade cocktails?
That’s a secret, I can’t reveal that.
You and the guys are all from really different backgrounds, how did you all come together for King Bloom?
Basically, I moved down to London and a mutual friend said “Cal you should meet this guy Ed, he was actually three years below you in school in Aberdeen funnily enough”. I met Ed and we just got on so well, he’s got quite an adverse background, he was an ex pro snowboarder who broke his back and then decided to go to Cambridge university to study engineering, as you do. He’s got quite a good finance backing too. More than anything we just got on really well and I wanted to work for the guy. So he came on board, I used to work with Andy and Jake, who were the designers and branding guys at Amicus, so I brought them into the company. And my wife Clare, we needed a girl. Don’t tell her I said that.
Things do need a feminine touch sometimes.
Clare is amazing at marketing, but they do need a feminine touch. She’s a very strong voice in the company, she keeps us all on the right track.
There’s a real diverse mix, there’s Luke as well, who’s our resident mixologist. He used to work for me in Amicus in Aberdeen, he was the bar manager there. He had a laboratory above Amicus where he experimented all the time. He’s an amazing talent, when I left Amicus I poached him and took him. He actually still lives in Edinburgh. He comes down Mondays to Fridays.
Exactly. But it’s a really nice team. It’s working really well.
What’s the reasoning behind the name King Bloom?
Well King Bloom is the first flower that blossoms on an apple tree. I guess originally it was that, well my first bar was Amicus Apple and the first cocktail was loosely based on what we did in Amicus. It was quite a subtle name. It’s not something we’re going to too heavily play off. The first flower that blossoms, the first ready-to-drink cocktail that will hopefully blossom in the market place.
So the important bit… the cocktails, because there are some premade alcoholic drinks as such, like the ones in cans and the pouches of drink.
Looking at the ready-to-drink market right now, the pouches, the ones you freeze, the ones in cans. We’ve done a lot of taste tests, I think 95% of them had drank premade drinks from a can and their feedback was generally not very positive. The whole thing behind the jars is that we wanted to launch this on and off trade, we want to be in bars and nightclubs and for that the whole premises is that the bartender opens the lid, puts ice in, closes it, shakes it, opens it, straw, customer. So you’re still getting a little bit of theatre. Plus it acts as a vessel.
When you say jar, many people visualise dumpy, horrible ugly jars, but we actually managed to get some nice tall and elegant ones which are basically like a glass.
That one looks like it’s shining! (The three cocktails were sat in front of me at the table during our chat and Blizzard kept catching my eye. I’m basically a magpie).
Yeah, this ones Blizzard and basically it looks like a blizzard. It’s got little crystals and it lights up in UV light.
Are the flavours based on ones you enjoy drinking? How did you start mixing them?
With Luke, we pretty much have gone with flavours that we think are on trend and obviously work well together. We like to have a few more unusual flavours; we’ve got the green tea in the Tea Party and a hint of chai in Blizzard. And all the cocktails also have milk thistle in them; milk thistle helps your liver so it helps your hangover the next day.
Well that’s the best part about them already.
“Made with milk thistle for a happier body”. Limited after effects the next day is always good.
One thing we wanted to focus on was that they were original recipe, they’re not Cosmopolitans, Woo Woos, Sex On the Beach, so many of the bigger companies have come to market with Martini in a can, Cosmo in a can. I think they lack originality. While they’re very well known, if you walk into quite a cool cocktail bar if you had those on the list you’d think it wasn’t a very good bar. Consumers expect a little bit more now. We love to be creative and original and that is one of our things, we did create these recipes ourselves. It’s unexpected cocktails and flavours, so it’s a bit more exciting for the consumers.
Which is your favourite?
Probably the Blizzard to be honest.
Is that taste wise or aesthetic wise?
Both really. I love the chai flavouring, it tastes like Christmas, it’s amazing. You can taste the nutmeg and the cinnamon. We experimented for a long time, we did lots of versions but we tried chai and it just worked. And like I said, we’ve done a lot of taste tests.
Is that just drinking in the studio disguised as work?
Let’s just say I don’t look forward to Monday morning taste tests.
Have you got any new flavours on the pipeline?
We’re working on a few things right now, but they’re pretty secret. We’ve got two vodka and a gin based drink. We’re currently working on a rum one, which is coming out next year, and we’ve been doing a lot of work on potentially a whisky one. But we’re not sure whether it would sell quite as well. We need to do some more taste tests and market research, which involves getting 30 girls in a room and getting them drunk on cocktails.
Where can we volunteer for this?
We should advertise it… Come help us in our next taste test.
Count Spindle in!
And where are they going to be available?
Right now we’re stocked in Hand Of Glory (and also in Birthdays, 333 Mother, Gerry’s and The Old Blue Last as of recently). A lot of the nightclubs can only use plastic. So we’ve got a plastic version coming from China for that. We’re also speaking to a few festivals right now as well, Wilderness and Secret Garden Party. They’d be the perfect venues for us. We’re toying with the idea of whether we want to just get stocked in a bar or whether we want our own tent. I’d like to do our own pitch, so watch this space. Obviously we were aware that we would need plastic for festival, but then the clubs have just pushed us to do that sooner.
Can you pick a song that will match each of the cocktails?
Ladybird: KC and The Sunshine Band – Get Down Tonight
Tea Party: DJ Luck and MC Neat – With A Little Bit Of Luck
Blizzard: Tove Lo – Habits, Stay High (Hippie Sabotage Remix)