Boozy foods – could this be a thing? Prosecco has been particularly fertile testing ground for the possible trend, as food innovators tap into the UK’s obsession with the sparkling wine. First, there were prosecco crisps; then the Great British Cheese Company launched its prosecco-flavoured pink cheese, enriched by raspberry undertones to give it the distinctive colour.
Now, the family-run business Jam & Tipple is giving people prosecco on toast – and it doesn’t stop there, with a range of boozy artisan jams made with gin and tonic, beer, amaretto, mojito and mulled wine. The company suggests trying them with not just meringues and scones, but also cheeses and meats.
M&S has also gotten into the spirit with a range of creative crisps unveiled in September. The flavours include smoked salmon, cream cheese and champagne, and bloody mary, which has tomato, Worcestershire sauce, vodka and, erm, glitter.
With figures from the Office for National Statistics revealing a rise in teetotallers in Britain and almost half the population shunning a regular drink, will alcohol transform from liquid refreshment to food revolution?
Spirit to staple seasoning
Just A Splash is a company that approaches alcohol as a food ingredient, rather than a beverage. The UK start-up positions individual cooking pouches of seasoned alcohol as an essential cupboard staple, like salt, pepper and stock cubes. The idea has clearly tickled the taste buds of at least some people, as the company was named as the winner of the 2017 World Food Innovation Award for Best Ingredients Innovation in March.
The 100ml pouches come in five varieties – rum, port, sherry, marsala and brandy – with a shelf life of eight weeks. They are formulated to contain a slightly lower alcohol by volume than normal, which, the company says, allows the natural flavours of a dish to come through more. It also helps with regulatory compliance, something that had been challenging due to the rules on alcohol in food products.
Just a Splash sources from producing countries: the brandy is imported from France and the marsala from Italy. It also taps into the popularity of meal kits, and there are plans to distribute to Canada, South America and Asia. Future products on the cards include reduction sauces and glazes.
Dishes made with alcohol are also appearing in new restaurants in London. Rochelle’s Bar and Canteen at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (which has an original set-up in Hackney) put a bacon and rabbit pie on the menu cooked in liquor.
Meanwhile, Chef Tom Brown, who was at Michelin-starred Outlaw at The Capital Hotel, is opening his debut restaurant in March and plans for the menu include octopus cooked in cider with an apple and lentil dressing.
Alcohol manufacturers have long been inspired by food, with Waitrose releasing a watermelon-flavoured beer this month. Dessert-inflected spirits – such as red velvet, cheesecake and clotted-cream flavoured gins and vodkas – are predicted as a major trend for 2018. But will it be the same for the food industry?
It’s a toss-up between consumers’ increasing awareness and focus on health, and the craze for creative foods (plus, alcohol is touted as a major flavour enhancer). Over to Sparkie…
In terms of ready-to-eat food, I think there’s always room to co-brand, when it’s pertinent. For instance, Tesco had a crispy pork belly with Thatchers Cider sauce in their Finest range. However, it’s important to remember that if you want to launch a dish that has, say, Gordon’s gin in there – like a little gin and tonic sauce with quail – Gordon’s will then want a licensing fee. The benefit of working with a brand and establishing provenance is an important consideration, but it also cuts into margins, and suppliers don’t want to do lots of products that cut into their margins.
Another issue is that retailers want to make sure that a product is for as many people as possible. Social responsibility is very important these days, and they don’t want to be seen as selling alcohol to children via pork belly or a packet of crisps – even if these product don’t actually have any alcohol, just the flavours. This consideration won’t stop the retailers necessarily, but it does make them think twice.
I think alcohol as seasoning is absolutely something that works in restaurants, but things like prosecco jam and bloody mary crisps are probably at a peak. I think you’ll see less of that rather than more.