Mixologists and baristas would be lost without the convenience of bottled flavourings and syrups. Robin Lynam on what’s available.

The range of bottled flavourings available to Asia’s mixologists and baristas keeps expanding with a growing number of companies joining the field, but the market is still dominated by a small number of brands with some heritage to use in their marketing. France’s Monin, and Giffard and Italy’s Fabbri are among them.

“We’re a sub-distributor for Monin Syrups, which has a lot of its business in coffee bars,” says Howard Palmes, General Manager of Fine Vintage (Far East) Ltd. “That’s where the business has been, but obviously it’s important for bars too – although I think a lot of mixologists at the higher end now take a pride in making their own syrups and bitters.”

Palmes notes an increasing interest in distinctively Asian flavours in syrups, and also in the liqueur ranges with which mixologists use alongside or instead of syrups to flavour their creations, and which several of the flavourings companies also produce. In Hong Kong Fine Vintage represents G. E. Massenez Crèmes, which unlike syrups these do have an alcoholic content of up to 20 per cent , but tend to be used in a similar way.

“At the moment the G.E. Massenez line of premium Crèmes is doing well. They have quite a range – Crème de Cassis, Crème de Framboise, Crème de Mure, Crème de la Fraise, Liqueur de Litchi, and Liqueur de Gingembre, among others, and they’ve been increasing steadily in volume over the years. Litchi [Lychee] and Gingembre [Ginger] are particularly popular with the cocktail bars, I think partly because they’re Asian flavours, and there is a trend in Asia’s bars towards making drinks with those,” he observes.

In recent years Monin has introduced an increasing number of products made exclusively for the Asian markets, and recent additions to its signature syrup range include Flower Blossom, Osmanthus, Tropical Island Blend, and White Grape.

The company has not forgotten its barista customers – its new L’Artiste de Monin caramel or cocoa flavoured topping solutions are specifically designed for “latte art” – but it is certainly focused on bartenders.

One way of getting the message across is through sponsorship of cocktail competitions, as Maggie Beale, publisher of Bar Talk, a magazine for bartenders and the industry which also organizes many of the Hong Kong competitions, explains.

““The competitions are an opportunity for sponsors to get bartenders to familiarise themselves with their product ranges, and although they are usually based around a spirit rather than a flavouring, the distributors for syrups such as Monin and Giffard often participate as co-sponsors,” says Beale.

“Monin also has its own competition every two years, called the Monin Cup, for bartenders aged between 18 and 27 years old. We will be working with them again this year for the Hong Kong Edition of the Monin Cup 2018, which will be held in early July. This will be followed by the Greater China heats in Shanghai, then the Grand Final with 57 countries represented in Paris in December.”

Going head to head with Monin in the Asian markets is Giffard, established in France in 1885 and so a little older than Monin, which was established in 1912.

Giffard also runs a prestigious cocktail competition, the Giffard West Cup, which was established in 1997 and in 2017 had heats in more than 14 countries in which more than 300 professional bartenders competed. Despite the cup’s name, and there being only one other Asian entrant, the winner, David Hans, was representing Malaysia. He got into the final with a cocktail including Chinese tea called the Dynasty Poem, and won with another called the Angers Potion (Giffard is headquartered in Angers, France where the competition was held). A twist on the gin and tonic, using Giffard’s Caribbean Pineapple and Menthe Pastille, it was he said “a very tropical kind of drink to reflect where I am from”. He now travels the world as a Giffard brand ambassador.

In Hong Kong the Leung Yick Company Ltd. handles distribution of the Giffard range. Marketing Manager Kitty Wong says bartenders like the line partly because of its authenticity – the products are made exclusively in France – and because the bottles look good on a back-bar shelf, but also for more practical reasons.

“The products are made from concentrated fruit juices and carefully selected plants or spices extracts, and Giffard only uses sugar which comes from French grown sugar beets, which are adapted to the climate. These beets are transformed into a naturally white sugar, unlike sugar cane which has to be refined,” she says.

“They also offer innovative flavours, answering to widening market needs.”

Leung Yick also distributes Angostura bitters, a heritage brand which has a place in any serious bar anywhere in the world, but which in recent years has acquired some serious competition.

Companies such as Germany’s the Bitter Truth – which this year [2018] released its take on the long-lost bitters used by Jerry Thomas in the 29th century, Bokers Bitters, which it is calling Bogart’s Bitters – have taken a slice of the Angostura market, and as Howard Palmes notes leading mixologists are now keen to make their own bitters and syrups.

However in Drinks International’s Annual Bar Report 2018 Angostura was recognised as both the world’s number one selling and number one trending bitters.

House of Angostura Chief Executive Officer Genevieve Jodhan notes that “today’s bitters market is more competitive than ever” but points out that the brand has dominated the category now for almost 200 years.

“We are delighted that we are the Top Trending Bitters — that tells us that our education program, fuelled by our Global Cocktail Challenge that targets young, up and coming bartenders and mixologists, is yielding positive results,” she says.

Even for the most established of flavourings brands, it seems, it takes competitions to stay competitive.