ENHANCE YOUR SPIRIT
Premium mixer brand Merchant’s Heart wants its customers to be brave. “One thing we set out to achieve was to help people create amazing flavour experiences,” explains Head of Marketing, Jason Sennitt. “We want customers to experiment and try new combinations, which they might not necessarily think are suitable for them – like serving cognac with a pink peppercorn tonic, or a hibiscus tonic with white wine.”
Part of Suntory, the global alcohol and soft drinks company, Merchant’s Heart was launched as an independent, small start-up, in west London in 2015, with innovation at its heart. “We co-created it as a collaboration between our research-and-development team in Spain and a group of bartenders from award-winning bars in London,” says Jason. “They were involved throughout the process; testing, tasting and giving feedback.”
The result was a collection of seven mixers, honed by the experts to perfection: a classic tonic water; a light tonic water; a hibiscus-flavoured tonic; a pink peppercorn tonic; a floral aromatic tonic; a ginger ale; and a soda water. Merchant’s Heart prefers to call its products “Spirit Enhancers”, rather than tonics or mixers. They are meticulously and scientifically crafted so that the “middle notes” are very light in order that the flavour of the spirit can be tasted and celebrated, and not overpowered or lost. Jason says this is referred to as the liquid’s “hollow centre”.
Customer feedback in recent months has been exceptional, with a huge social media buzz calling the spirit enhancers “the taste of the summer”. The British edition of GQ magazine included Merchant’s Heart in its “Hundred Hottest Things in the World Right Now” feature, proclaiming: “Mixing is dead. It’s now all about spirit enhancing.”
Merchant’s Heart positions itself at the luxury end of the market, with exclusive products not found at high street chain pubs. It combines high-end branding and label design with the latest in drinks technology. It’s available in upmarket bars and restaurants around the UK (there’s a bar finder on its website), through the Craft Gin Club (a subscription service) and via an exclusive retail partnership with Sainsbury’s.
With two new flavours due to be launched in the near future, Merchant’s Heart is currently pulling together a new, beta group of bartenders, this time from around the UK, to help with the development process. The company is also in the process of international expansion, with a move into the United States this summer, and plans to launch into new markets such as Japan and Australia after that.
For now, Merchant’s Heart hibiscus tonic is its most popular flavour. “I think it’s an incredible liquid,” says Jason. “And it’s one that works with all styles of gin: spicy, floral, sweet or umami. I’ve really not found any style of gin that it doesn’t work brilliantly with.”
Research shows that Merchant Heart’s customer base is the original Fever-Tree crowd, who are now looking for something better. “They’re discerning explorers who have already made the move from standard mixers to premium mixers,” says Jason. “They’re affluent. They’re interested in having experiences. They already spend a lot of money and time being discerning with their premium spirits, and they now want the very best mixers to go with them, and they’re prepared to pay for them.”