The ready-to-drink (RTD) market is a crowded arena, but one brand has risen above the rest, capturing the essence of urban culture in every sip.
Sophisticated Cocktail Co., founded by entrepreneur Vicki Lyon from her home in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, has evolved into a brand that stands out on shelves and in the hearts of cocktail enthusiasts around the nation.
It’s been almost three years since we last sat down with Lyon to chat. The founder reminisces on the genesis of the cocktail startup, which began from a passion to recreate her favourite cocktails and share them with anyone who didn’t have the skills to make their own at home. Beginning with a limited range, Lyon is set to launch her tenth ready-to-drink cocktail this month – a dirty martini – which is certain to be a favourite with gin lovers.
“It has been a wild three years,” Lyon shares.
Initially only available online and at selected stockists, Lyon’s business went gangbusters during the pandemic, and not long after, a deal was signed with Dan Murphys in NSW to stock the range.
More recently, First Liquor has picked up the brand nationwide, meaning Lyon’s sophisticated ready-to-drink cocktails are easily accessible to most Aussies.
As the business expanded and Lyon added new drinks to the range, a product rebrand was called for, with the founder opting to shift away from the opulent black and gold colour palette of the brand’s launch to a more vintage-inspired, look.
“Whilst we loved the elegance of the black and gold, we found that the colourful pallet made it stand out more on shelves in retail outlets and also gave us the opportunity to give each cocktail a more distinctive character by using artwork as opposed to wording to identify the cocktail. And it has been a lot of fun using colour in our marketing efforts,” Lyon shares.
Innovation has always been a part of Sophisticated Cocktail Co. – from its stand-up pouches with taps, to the use of nitrogen to preserve the alcoholic drinks within. It’s just one element of Sophisticated Cocktail Co’s commitment to sustainability.
“Our cocktails are made locally in Brookvale with quality ingredients and are packaged in large format eco-friendly pouches made from recycled plastics with a pressure flow tap that prevents the product from spoiling and allowing it to maintain its stability for the full 12-month shelf life.
“We make our products in large format and use only local suppliers where possible. If we cannot use local suppliers, we use Eco Spirits to supply our liquor, which runs on a loop system, whereby we return the vats when we have used them.
“This means no more wastage, and you reduce the amount of glass bottles used in the production of the cocktails, bringing down your total carbon footprint by 80 per cent,” Lyon enthused.
So, no half-filled bottles taking up space in fridges or piles of empties needing emptying at the end of the day.
From limited to luxurious
The brand’s growth echoes Lyon’s keen observation of cocktail trends. “We’ve expanded to a repertoire of 10 cocktails,” she reveals.
The Spicy Margarita, Lychee Martini, and the soon-to-be-introduced Dirty Gin Martini are crafted in response to the dynamic shifts in consumer preferences. Lyon’s eyes light up as she describes the meticulous process of curating these concoctions, each a testament to the brand’s unwavering commitment to staying ahead in the ever-evolving cocktail scene.
Creating new cocktails isn’t just about following trends; it’s about interpreting the zeitgeist of mixology.
The Spicy Margarita, for example, emerged as a response to the proliferation of chilli in the cocktail scene.
“Spicy Margaritas are everywhere at the minute and Passionfruit and Lychee – much sweeter cocktails – seem to be very much in fashion with the female audience. We wanted a Gin cocktail in the range and thought a Dirty Martini would be an excellent fit, and so we have collaborated with Cape Byron Distillery and their Brookies Byron Dry Gin.”
Sustainable with every sip
Beyond the boundaries of taste, Sophisticated Cocktail Co. has set the stage for sustainability too. Lyon explains the brand’s efforts, from eco-friendly packaging to local sourcing and partnerships. “In 2020, the world drowned in 40 billion glass spirit bottles, emitting a staggering 22 million tons of carbon.” Lyon laments.
So she decided it was time for a change. By embracing large-format eco-friendly pouches made from recycled plastics, the brand has orchestrated an 80 per cent reduction in its carbon footprint, a move that aligns seamlessly with the growing eco-conscious wave.
Lyon delves deeper into this commitment, explaining that sustainability is not just a checkbox; it’s a responsibility for the brand and the hospitality community at large.
“By offering small bars, sports clubs, and restaurants our large format cocktails, they can reduce the amount of glass bottles used in the production of cocktail making, thereby reducing your carbon emission by 30 grams per pour. They also reduce product wastage with no more half-empty bottles that need to be binned due to spoiling.”
It’s a win-win for everyone.
Sourcing quality ingredients from local brands has always been part of Sophisticated Cocktails’ mission. Lyon looks for partnerships with Australian producers and distilleries that share her values. For Lyon, the collaboration isn’t just about creating products together; it’s about sharing a narrative.
“We always look for partners who, like us, are small businesses who also care about their products and sustainability. Partnering with other local producers, like Cape Byron Distillery, East Coast Juices and St Ali coffee, gives us creditability in terms of what we are offering our customers too, as they too are looking for products that they know and love and if they see we are partnering with them, this means we may have a new customer and likewise for them too,” she explains.
Expanding the brand
Lyon is also always seeking ways to extend the brand experience. Recently, she has introduced gift packs and accessories to the Sophisticated Cocktail Co. range. For Lyon, creating accessories isn’t just about offering products; it’s about extending an invitation to customers to immerse themselves in an entire experience, right from the choice of glassware to the garnish that elevates the ordinary to the extraordinary.
“We used a lot of beautiful glasses in our social media photos, and had several customers reach out and ask us where they could get the glassware, so naturally, we thought it would be a great addition to our store, ” Lyon shares.
“Knowing we have a large audience of travellers, we went out to source beautiful non-breakable glassware, so that sophisticated cocktail experience could continue way beyond the comforts of the home. By offering Dried fruit and salt, we are also giving the customer a way to elevate their cocktail-drinking experience and giving them one place to access all they need to have the perfect at-home cocktail experience.”
Gazing into the future, Lyon envisions more collaborations and expansion into bars and restaurants.
“We will look to do more collaborations in the coming months, similar to the ones we have done in the past, like our Father’s Day collaboration with Everdure by Heston Blumenthal and other distilleries like Cape Byron Distillery. We would like to expand our offering into more bars and restaurants, helping them reduce the amount of waste that happens in those environments and the amount of glass bottles used. We are now available for them to access on the ALM connect platform. We will also be launching a small format pouch, which would be ideal for minibars and festivals, ” she explains.
As the conversation winds down, Lyon imparts the wisdom garnered from three years at the helm.
“Cash flow is everything,” she states emphatically. “Being savvy with how you manage costs and production is key to keeping the business flowing, every small business and consumer was hit hard the past 12 months with rising interest rates and the cost of living increases, and we were lucky to be one of the ones that survived, but this was all due to managing overheads and costs and scaling back where necessary without affecting the end result.
“If you can find a loyal reliable staff member, keep them happy so you can keep them, having reliable staff is so necessary, particularly as a small business, you end up relying on them so much. This resonates too with contractors you use, making sure they are reliable and won’t let you down when you are relying on them to deliver.”
Lastly, Lyon reflects on the challenges of solo entrepreneurship, hinting that, if given the chance, a business partner might have been the key to unlocking greater potential.
“Running a business is tough, and doing it on your own is particularly hard as whatever skill you may lack is going to cost you for someone else to do!”
More about the Sophisticated Cocktail Co. here.