What you put With the Spirit is as Important as the Spirit Itself…
Working with a small team of bar tenders, Merchant’s Heart are looking to provide the finest spirit enhancers are looking to provide the finest spirit enhancers
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
You appear unable to move in London these days, let along throw a G’n’T, without stumbling across the premium mixer market. Fever-Tree is everywhere and other players such as Fentimans are also taking a share of the action. Into this market steps Merchant’s Heart.
Coming under the Suntory umbrella, Jason Sennitt, the brand manager stresses these, “are not just mixers, they are spirit enhancers.” Unlike other straightforward mixers, Suntory has spent a time developing a “hollow heart” to the liquid that allows it to complement and round off the spirit it’s paired with rather sit on top of the alcohol. Merchant’s Heart certainly took a different route to market. Rather than spend an entire research and development cycle working up a completely finished product, it was launched after only six months and has been refined in the marketplace with Suntory using a small “beta test group” of 10 London based bars with bar tenders such as Hawksmoor’s Ali Reynolds, the Punch Room’s Davide Segat and Happiness Forgets’ Ali Burgess.
The result is a collection of six spirit enhancers, three tonic waters to sit alongside certain gins, a ginger ale, lemon and a hisbiscus. Jason describes the hisbicus as, “rather sweet. It’s there to sit alongside aged dark spirits and some – more navy strength – gins.” As well as a “straightforward” tonic, Merchant’s Heart offers peppercorn infused and floral varieties. Given gin’s extraordinary popularity there are certainly tentative plans for more tonic options to compliment this particular spirit. Jason has seen their ginger ale option as having already become very popular when used alongside high grade blended whiskies and bourbon.
Much work was put into producing the highest grade product possible. Jason – who after a 10 year career at Diageo moved to Suntroy – remarks that Suntory spent a lot of time refining the carbonisation of all the Merchant Heart enhancers and the firm believes they hold their fizz far longer when put alongside any other premium product; the brand had full access to Suntory’s Spanish research and development facility during development. He is confident that, with their initial success there is much scope for Merchant’s Heart, “other products such as Fever-Tree opened the door but especially in London, it is all too easy to forget 90 per cent of outlets in the UK do not stock any premium level mixer.” There is also the inevitable market evolution as products mature, enlarge their market share and thus leave space at the top of the rarity pyramid for fresh brands to enter the arena.
With Merchant’s Heart, the focus has most certainly been, “on the journey and experimentation.” Refining the product live with input from top mixologists means Jason feels very confident on where the brand currently sits. They have currently released their second formula to market following initial feedback from their beta group and a “light” version is in the process of being rolled out as this is written. The brand is also working with Seedlip non-alcoholic distilled spirits. As Jason stresses, their wholesale footprint is still deliberately small, but they are stocked by Amathus Drinks and the Gin Foundry has become their e-commerce partner.
What of the name? With Suntory a family owned company, Jason comments that the firm still holds onto its cherished standards and thus relationship with its customers, dealing with them with, “an honest merchant’s heart.” He points out that, “people make emotional connections to product – it’s about nurturing that relationship.” With other products aside from further tonics in the pipeline – a smokey ginger ale is being looked into – those serious drinkers amongst you may want to nurture a relationship with Merchant’s Heart.