The team behind Homeboy bars has announced the launch of a new online store, The Bottle Cocktail Shop. Founders Ciarán Smith and Aaron Wall sit down with CLASS to talk about the new project.

The Bottle Cocktail Shop’s roots lie in the depths of the Covid lockdowns, bars were forced shut and Smith and Wall watched as their peers pivoted to bottling cocktails to keep their businesses afloat.

“We saw everyone doing bottled cocktails, but we didn't see that many people doing that well financially out of them, so I completely parked the idea there,” Wall tells CLASS. “But Ciarán kept thinking about bottle cocktails and how off-licences could be improved. They would need service systems, music policy, a menu of sorts.

Smith had created an initial concept for an idealised version of an off-licence business, with customer service at its foundation. To realise the project, He brought in Wall and their friend Conor Bartley of St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

“The concept then went from being a bricks-and-mortar store to an e-commerce dropshipping platform,” continues Smith. “After Covid especially, the high street is online now, and the distribution contract that we’ve done with a distributor is the only one of its type in the UK. If orders are made before 10 am, we can guarantee next day delivery to the guest.”

“We figured that there's two kinds of off-licenses - places that have lots of products and no knowledge, and ones that have lots of knowledge and the consumer is left feeling like an idiot,” adds Wall. “We wanted to bridge that gap and build the same sort of trust that we did with Homeboy.”

The core of the shop will be a range of nine original recipe bottled cocktails, each with a 12-month shelf life, developed by Smith and Wall and fine-tuned through exhaustive market research.

“We’ve been developing the recipes for the bottled cocktail range for more than a year now, and we’ve had so many people from the industry to critique every recipe and make minor changes,” explains Smith.

“The range has some classic cocktails and some more inspired serves,” adds Wall. “During the lockdown, a lot of places were doing bottled cocktails that were a twist on a negroni or a twist on an old fashioned, but we think it’s important to break down the barriers for entry for our customers. So that’s why our old fashioned is just the best possible old fashioned straight up, we haven’t messed with the spec. Our negroni is a negroni, our martini is a martini.”

Approachability and trust

“We’ve designed the bottles to be super approachable,” says Smith. “It’s all about the liquid inside and we have a company ethos that is Bring the Bar Home.”

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“I’ve got too many beautiful, bottled cocktails sitting on my shelf back in the flat that I don’t open because they’re too pretty,” continues Wall. “We want to create bottles that people want to party with. Every time you open the fridge, you’re going to say, ‘I have to drink that Martini’.”

Supplementing the core range will be a revolving door of collaborative bottled cocktails from some of the world’s finest bars including Maybe Sammy in Sydney, Little Red Door in Paris, and Two Schmucks in Barcelona.

“We reached out to all the guys who are on the World's 50 Best Bars list and people know who they are, but they don’t have any market share in the UK,” says Smith. “So, if they can provide us with a recipe, we’ll label their bottled cocktail how they want it to look, we’ll PR it and we’ll market it and in return, you shout out about it as well.”

“Due to Covid there are still countries that we can’t travel to or some restrictions in place,” says Wall. “If you can’t get into your favourite bar around the world, but you want for example a drink from Maybe Sammy, you can order it from our website. Over the lockdowns, everyone made a list of where they want to travel to and hopefully these collaborations will give a little taste of those places.”

Alongside cocktails will be a curated list of wines, beers and spirits with a focus on approachability, service, and ease.

“The website’s not just going to be cocktails,” says Wall. “We’re curating a product list that we can trust with our customers. For every product character, we’ll have a good and a great option. For example, we’ll have three styles of French white wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling and we’ll have of each of those a ‘good’ and a ‘great’. We’ll do the same for five styles of Irish whiskey, five styles of gin, four styles of vodka and so on. We’re curating the guest experience.”

“Choice fatigue is a thing when it comes to consumers,” explains Smith. If you limit the choices, you give consumers and if they like what you’ve chosen for them then they’ll come back to the shop again.”

The philosophy of hospitality is at the centre of The Bottle Cocktail Shop, trust in the same approach that has seen the Homeboy bars become so popular – if you treat your guests well, they’ll remember and they’ll be back.

The Bottle Cocktail Shop launches on 1 November at