Dublin drinks start-up targets cocktails connoisseurs

Craft Cocktails are hand-mixed and produced in Dublin using premium spirits

Craft Cocktails’ products are available in Ireland through independent retailers, wine stores and a growing number of bars and restaurants

Pornstar martini, Aviation and Belfast Coffee are three of the colourfully-named cocktails in the line-up from Dublin's latest drinks start-up, Craft Cocktails.

Launched in October 2020 by Dave Mulligan, who is also the founder of cocktail venue BAR 1661 and the Bán Poitín brand, Craft Cocktails was his response to a lockdown that shuttered licensed premises and put jobs in jeopardy.

A year on and Craft Cocktails is making money. It employs 11 people and two more hires are imminent. Its products also tick two potentially lucrative boxes, providing a ready-to-go cocktail for consumers who would like a fancy tipple at home and an off-the-shelf solution for bars and restaurants that want to offer a cocktails menu without having to employ a dedicated bartender or hold a stock of ingredients.

“If they buy our products, a bar or restaurant only has to accommodate 12 bottles, not 40 or more and, with the staff situation critical and likely to get worse, having a prepared product makes complete sense,” says Mulligan, who has spent his career in the drinks industry.

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“As I watched Covid taking hold last year, I got the feeling that it wasn’t going away quickly,” he says. “Some drinks companies started focusing on home delivery, others on shake-to-order products but I didn’t see either as sustainable long-term.

“I put it up to my beverage director to develop a range of cocktail recipes that were stable and had a six-month shelf life and gave her about three weeks to turn it around, which she did.

“We spoke to close contacts in the industry, we called in favours and we didn’t tell anyone until we were ready to put the products out there. In a nutshell, we set out to create a brand that could transcend the current market challenges while creating jobs and diversifying our business for the future.”

Premium ingredients

Craft Cocktails are hand-mixed and produced in Dublin 7 using premium spirits, 100 per cent natural ingredients and what Mulligan describes as “some serious bartender know-how. Made by bartenders, not by pretenders, is not just our tag-line, it’s our ethos,” he says. “We set ourselves apart by using high-quality ingredients and modern bartending techniques.”

Craft Cocktails' products are available in Ireland through independent retailers, wine stores and a growing number of bars and restaurants. The range will be launched in the UK in early 2022.

The cocktails come in 200ml and 700ml sizes and the company offers a personalisation service which lets buyers add their own message to the bottle’s front label.

“We can also create and print custom labels to your design, stationery or illustration for occasions such as weddings, birthdays, brand activations, workplace and corporate events. We will also attend events – from two people to 2,000 – and bring colour to any celebration,” Mulligan says.

To get Craft Cocktails up and running Mulligan took out what he describes as "a frightening bank loan of €100,000" near the start of the pandemic. Launching the business also meant training staff to enable them to take on different roles in areas such as logistics, finance and health and safety. To help, Mulligan and his immediate team participated in Foodworks, the Bord Bia/Teagasc programme for food and drink start-ups.

“During the lockdown it was really useful to be on a shared platform with other entrepreneurs and to be able to network and talk to them,” Mulligan says. “I’m not new to the challenges of setting up a business but I still learned a lot and met some fantastic mentors I will keep close to, probably forever.

“I feel we’ve managed to Covid-proof the business. What we haven’t done yet is recession-proof it, especially as luxury items are usually the first thing to go. That’s the next challenge.”