If you have been to South Africa then one of the most striking differences is the vast array of flowers, fauna and the distinctive fynbos that you can’t find in any country. Local drinks company Geometric Drinks hopes to capture the unique flavours, spices and aromas to be found in all that wildlife in its range of products that includes the Symmetry collection of natural botanical distillates that have been turned into three tonic essences. Here James Thomas of UK wine importer, Tiger Vines, explains why he is so pleased to be able to bring the brand to the UK.
Tiger Vines’ James Thomas is hosting a tasting next week to introduce the new Symmetry tonic essences range to the UK bar and drinks scene and is running a cocktail competition for top bartenders to help shine new light on the low and no drinks category.
Tell us about this new Symmetry low and no project and why you think it has such potential?
Symmetry (by Geometric Drinks) is a range of natural botanical distillates from South Africa. Consisting of three individual Essences – citrus, floral and spice. New, non-alcoholic additions to the UK market, offering exceptional taste and complexity of flavour.
Hand crafted by one individual, a South African – Jean-Baptiste Cristini.
Following a career in wine, with a deep passion for what is unique, authentic and excellent. Combining his love of the land, his experience in wine and his love of cocktail ingredients, into a singular range of products.
Symmetry expresses the pure authenticity of its raw materials, showcasing South Africa’s rich abundance of flora and fauna, notably fynbos – the most diverse and unique in the world.
At Tiger Vines we seek to partner with individuals who choose small, ethical and sustainable production over mass farming and the use of additions and preservatives. We’re passionate about Symmetry because it embodies the true spirit of craftsmanship.
The demand for quality alternatives to alcohol that taste distinctive, represent good value and aren’t filled with sugar or preservatives is growing, and we feel there is a very exciting future ahead for Symmetry.
The tonics have been steadily gaining popularity in their home market, we are proud to launch them here, in the UK, with an online tasting event on April 1.
Are you positioning it as an alternative to Seedlip?
Seedlip has shown the extraordinary demand for low and no with botanical tonic essences. The market leader in its field, you can’t help but be in awe of what they’ve achieved. The market needs Seedlip, paving the way for the rest of the field, much like Champagne needs Moët. Interestingly, both started at the same time, back in 2015.
Symmetry (derived from pure concentrates) is a complex and potent range of products that are extremely versatile. Cinchona bark from the Congo, provides natural quinine while the myriad of individually hand foraged botanicals create a hedonistic bouquet of flavours. The tonics, bursting with pure, natural flavours, are equally delicious poured over ice with just soda or sparkling water as they are when paired with gin, vodka or mezcal. They don’t require additional tonic, a crucial factor.
The design and creation of Symmetry, was born of a singular, humble intention; to showcase the natural beauty and abundance of South Africa’s landscape, in its purest, liquid form.
How did you decide on the ingredients?
The product has been designed by Jean-Baptiste, who studied and worked in France’s wine trade from Chablis to Champagne, with a genuine passion for cocktails and mixology. On his return to South Africa, he spent a vast amount of time researching and foraging natural ingredients with unique flavour compounds to make these distinctive tonics.
Combining raw ingredients in the purest way possible – using natural sweetness (from citrus), florals (from fynbos which are indigenous to South Africa, including rose pelargonium, buchu and kapokbos) and bitterness (from ginger and cinchona bark) he sought to showcase these complex flavours from all-natural ingredients.
Each individual tonic (citrus, floral & spice) is distinct and contains unique ingredients and flavours. Much like wine, there is a genuine sense of ‘terroir’ in each of the essences.
How is it made?
Using techniques such as vacuum distillation, lower boiling points allow for the natural oils and flavour compounds in each ingredient to be preserved and accentuated in the resulting tonic. Taking the time and effort to do this is critical, there’s no way they would taste the way they do were they made using some of the quicker, more commercial methods commonly used by others.
Why the Symmetry name?
The name and branding encapsulate the oneness with nature and scientific approach towards product creation that is at the heart of everything Jean Baptiste does at Symmetry.
How are you involved?
Jean Baptiste and I have been great friends since we met at Domaine Laroche in 2004, where we were working together. During that time, we discussed and tasted his creations at length and I was captivated by his journey and plans for Symmetry. When he expressed the enter the UK market, I jumped at the opportunity as it made perfect sense to have Symmetry within our Tiger Vines portfolio. We are proud to be exclusive importers of Symmetry in the UK today.
How are you introducing and distributing it to the trade – who are your core customer base?
Our core customer base is definitely the more premium sector of the on and off-trade, including the likes of The Fat Duck, Hawksmoor, Gymkhana, Brigadiers Granger and Co & The Clove Club as well as independent retailers such as The Good Wine Shop and Bottle Apostle.
We’re currently positioning the tonics all over the UK with our existing customers in London, Scotland and the West Country, whilst actively looking to expand with the right partnerships. Our target market are brands and individuals who, like us, are passionate about the quality and provenance of what they serve. From where it comes, to who makes it, and what goes into it. Creating for their customers the most genuine, unique and memorable of experiences.
We have already launched 50cl bottles of all three tonics, with 20cl miniatures and gift packs to follow over the summer.
It’s hard to get breakthrough without the power of a big spirits company behind you – what is your strategy?
It sure is, but I’ve learnt first-hand from my experience at Billecart-Salmon that when you have a product that you truly believe in and one that marries quality, taste and value with a uniqueness of provenance and a strong, genuine intention behind it; you can create a healthy, loyal and long term following, after some initial persistence. Thankfully though, it’s truly all in the tase.
Our first shipment of Symmetry landed just as lockdown hit back in March 2020, and the response from tastings and orders has been very encouraging. We continue to educate individuals about the product, one virtual tasting at a time, and have often noticed that one whiff or taste of the drink is enough to convert them.
Retailers who stock us have already seen returning customers. This will grow with rules relaxing over the coming months and more and more buyers and individuals championing Symmetry.
Part of that comms strategy is having a zoom trade tasting on April 1 – what is that going to involve?
We’re very excited to have Jean Baptiste, live from South Africa, sharing his story and taking us through the nuances of each tonic. Every attendee will be sent 100ml’s of all three tonics, some to use for the tasting and the rest to mix in any way they fancy!
How are you choosing who to invite?
We’re hand-picking guests for the tasting on April 1 (due to the limited spots available), from sommeliers, mixologists, independent business owners and trade influencers.
Can people put themselves forward to take part?
Yes. However, as we only have a few spaces left please email us as soon as possible at email@example.com if you’d like to be part of it, telling us who you are, where you’re from and why you’d like to be part of it.
You are also asking those who do take part to join in with a competition to come up with a cocktail recipe using the new Symmetry product. What are the mechanics of that?
Yes. The great thing about Symmetry is its versatility. So we’re following up the tasting with a little competition to encourage people to get creative with the tonics and mix their own non-alcoholic or alcoholic cocktails with Symmetry as the core ingredient. The winners will each receive a case of Symmetry. Further details of the competition will be in the tasting packs going out next week. We can’t wait to see what people come up with.
Who do you have helping to judge the winning cocktail?
We’re very grateful that since we landed Symmetry here, we’ve had a lot of industry names getting behind the brand and endorsing the products. Ryan Chetiyawardana AKA Mr Lyan, Alessandro Palazzi from Dukes Bar and Alice Lascelles from the Financial Times will be judging the competition.
How will you use the winning cocktail?
Thanks to you we’ll be publishing the winners in The Buyer alongside our social media channels. We’ll also be featuring the winning recipes in our marketing materials to inspire others.
How do you see the low no category and where Symmetry fits into it?
I recently heard that one in three of Generation Z don’t drink at all, that’s a major eye opener for our industry. Projections of the total value of the low and no market by 2025 are absolutely staggering. Seeing big players like Diageo react so strongly and proactively, investing heavily in low and no, only reiterates that the sector is set to grow exponentially.
Symmetry remains niche due to being a craft, natural product, produced by hand. However, in a market this vast, we foresee a clear demand for it from a discerning customer base.
How is the rest of your business?
Like many others, we switched to home delivery back in March 2020. It’s been incredibly encouraging taking our craft imports straight to people’s homes and watching repeat orders coming through. Hosting producer-led virtual tastings and corporate events, helping people learn more about the wines they consume as they look to gain access to better quality and more information at the same time; has been novel and exciting. Despite these new avenues, the lack of trade has had a huge impact, but we’re looking forward to a busy second half of 2021.
What have been the biggest challenges in last few months?
Constant changes in the guidelines, the trade going dark suddenly, a crushing impact on cash flows and running a company with very limited resources – to name a few. I guess there was some solace in knowing there are so many others in a similar position. If it wasn’t for the genuine empathy and gratitude from our customers, things would be very different.
What have been the opportunities?
It’s no secret, there’s been a tremendous demand for better quality wines and information from individuals to consume in their homes. Disposable incomes have risen, and people have been more open to treating themselves. I believe these trends are here to stay. The past year has shown us the power of retail and the B2C market, which we will no doubt continue to grow even once the B2B market is back up and running. We have also seen the importance of diversification to stay resilient and maintain a healthy cashflow, even in the most testing times.
On the personal front, to come face to face with the consumer who gets a real kick out of your products has been very satisfying and encouraging.
Where do you see future growth coming from?
The events of the past year have led to a great thirst for knowledge. We’ve found that the consumer is a lot more adventurous yet discerning today. The market for direct to home delivery and corporate and individual tasting events (online and in person) will continue to grow. No doubt this will lead to a demand for craft wines and spirits in the on and off-trade. Alongside our carefully curated wine and spirit offering to match this demand, we’re positive that Symmetry will open up a lot of doors in the post-pandemic market.
How do you see the specialist retail sector / push to online doing once the on trade comes back?
We’re never going to compete with the big players like Naked or Virgin Wines. However, like any market, their recent growth only shows the rise in demand for home delivery and education.
With an expanding market comes a diverse consumer base. We know who our customer is and we don’t deviate from that. We seek to give our customers access to the purest and most authentic products we can find. To educate and connect individuals to the source and continue to discover the new, rare, and exciting is what drives us.
How have you been sourcing new products?
Over the last year we’ve been focusing on our core producing partners to give them as much support and consistency of ordering as we possibly can. Adding producers like Franc Baudron from Montagne St Emillion or Domaine des Gravennes from the Rhone on our House or Essential Cases for home delivery has meant we can continue working with them. Moreover, the response from customers has been fantastic.
Anything else to say?
A big thank you to everyone who has helped, bought a box, spread the word or left a positive review. You’ve helped to keep us going and we’ll forever be grateful.
- If you would like to find out more about Tiger Vines, Symmetry or how to take part in next week’s tasting then contact James Thomas on firstname.lastname@example.org.