Britain’s cocktail bars are struggling to keep up with demand from thirsty drinkers celebrating the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, as mixologists warned of a shortage of EU-made mixers and beers.
First among the casualties is Britain’s most-ordered cocktail, the “Pornstar Martini”, which is made from a combination of vodka, lime and the passion-fruit liqueur, Passoã, one of the hardest ingredients to come by.
William Borrell, owner of Ladies and Gentlemen, a cocktail bar built in a subterranean former public toilet in Kentish Town, London, said his group of bars was having so much difficulty obtaining Passoã it was now making its own version.
“Suppliers confirm it is on our order, but then the Passoã just doesn’t show up. So we are having to move heaven and earth to produce it ourselves,” he said.
With Britain preparing for the kick off to the Euro 2020 football championships this weekend and the weather forecast promising sunshine, barstaff in the capital have been swapping tips over how to cope with shortages.
Drew Mallins, who founded the London Bartenders’ Association in 2010, said the group’s Facebook discussion page had been buzzing over the past two weeks with reports of shortages of EU-made brands, such as Birra Moretti, Aperol, Patrón Tequila, Cointreau and Kahlúa.
“Demand has obviously surged post-lockdown and with the recent good weather, summer cocktails like Aperol spritzes are very popular, as are margaritas with Cointreau,” he said.
Tom Lord, a hospitality industry consultant whose company BarCraft works in the North West, added that several clients were complaining bitterly about shortages. “Suppliers may have underestimated the resilience of the British drinker,” he said.
Around half of people who drink cocktails in bars also mix them at home, according to research from CGA Strategy, which focuses on the cocktail industry that is worth nearly £600m a year.
The Pornstar Martini, usually served with a shot of Champagne or cava on the side, has been popularised on social media by the stars of reality TV shows like Geordie Shore and has been the UK’s favourite since 2018, accounting for more than 15 per cent of cocktails purchased in the UK according to CGA.
The provocatively titled drink was invented in 1999 by the mixologist Douglas Ankrah, who founded the LAB Bar, and told The Buyer magazine in 2017 that its name was intended to be “bold, sexy and playful” rather than overtly sexual.
However, in 2019 Marks and Spencer renamed its pre-mixed version of the drink “Passion Star Martini” after complaints that it was “normalising” pornography and linking the drink to sexual success.
While many LBA bartenders speculated that Brexit might be behind the scarcities, the distributor of Passoã blamed a huge increase in home cocktail-making during lockdown that has continued unabated as bar owners came to restock in April.
James Mason, commercial director at Rémy Cointreau UK, said the company had been forced to “prioritise” deliveries of the drink after demand in April climbed to three times the level in the same period last year.
“We had all the people who’d learned to make the Pornstar at home, then the bar trade coming out of hibernation, which proved to be a double whammy on the distribution network,” he said.
But as Prime Minister Boris Johnson ponders whether to commence the next stage of easing Covid-19 restrictions, which would cut social distancing in bars and open nightclubs, there is hope that supply will catch up with demand for June and July.
“These liqueurs and the other products listed are large global brands and I would not expect the shortage to last much longer,” said Mallins of the LBA.
Mason of Rémy Cointreau UK, confirmed that assessment, saying there was no long-term reason for Passoã shortages. “More is definitely on the way,” he said.