The 86 Company launched in 2012 after two professional bartenders decided to create a line of spirits catered specifically to their profession. Simon Ford, whose Brighton bar Koba won numerous awards, and former Absolut marketing director Malte Barnekow hit upon the idea at an after-hours bar in New York. They took bartending seriously, which isn’t to say they didn’t enjoy it – they really did – but to them it meant more than just pouring someone a drink. They wanted their line of spirits to be as useful to bartenders as possible; for the bottles to fit snugly in the hand and include the most accurate measurements on their label. Through further conversations with the bartending community, they created a long list of goals to achieve – not least the goal of producing some fantastic spirits.
They faced a ton of troubles along the way. Aside from the bemusement they were met with by distillers who couldn’t comprehend what they wanted to do, they also ended up in severe debt. Still they soldiered on. Three distillers finally agreed to join them on their venture: Thames Distillers in the UK, Las Cabras Distillery in Panama and El Ranchito in Jalisco. Interesting mix. Las Cabras Distillery contribute Caña Brava, a rum made from locally-grown sugar cane which is aged in new American oak barrels before being transferred to old American whisky barrels. El Ranchito’s Tequila Cabeza has particularly strong fruity flavours thanks to a long fermentation process which takes place in winter. Then there’s Fords Gin, which is made at Thames Distillers and is a mix of 9 botanicals: juniper, coriander seed, angelica, cassia, jasmine, orris and lemon, orange and grapefruit peel.
A fourth distillery – Domaine Charbay Distillers – provides the water for the group’s Aylesbury Duck Vodka, which is made from soft white winter wheat in the Canadian Rockies. Despite their intentions of providing honest and accurate labelling, they had a little more fun with the vodka – as you do – and claimed it was inspired by the bird which shares its name, an “exceptional breed” which “can be seen flying around the rolling hills of England”. Ironically, The Alcohol And Tobacco Tax And Trade Bureau – who regulate the advertising of alcohol – approved Aylesbury Duck Vodka faster than any of their other spirits.
They have turned out to be very popular. The main draw for bartenders though is the bottle they all come in. Its neck is long and lets the liquid flow consistently, with a rim at the top and at the bottom. They arrive with no foil on the cap – this makes it easier for a bartender to open it when switching to another bottle. We mentioned that The 86 Company are very thorough when it comes to the information on their labels, but they are also easy to remove in case you want to re-use a bottle for water or syrups. On top of that, each bottle has a scale running up its side displaying litre measurements and fluid ounces; in the middle, there’s a ridge for bartenders with small hands; and the base is tapered for more security when grabbing it from a high shelf. Over a 100 bartenders were consulted during the planning stage of this bottle and the group even approached a physical therapist to help reduce the possibility of repetitive strain injury when using it. With no hint of sarcasm, that’s pretty darned considerate.
We at Thirst.Scot think it would be great if all drinks manufacturers thought this way; if bottles were designed to be easily manageable as well as aesthetically pleasing. When a bar gets busy, it’s hard to avoid the occasional mishap. We’ve all been sitting enjoying a pint when the sound of smashing glass suddenly fills the room. Let’s make things a little easier though for those busy souls frantically topping up the crowd. Let’s learn from 86.