Every week on The Primer we ask a local business or product to introduce themselves in eight simple takes. This week we talk to Wellington-born Jonny McKenzie and Canadian-born Amy Alexander, founders of luxury pre-bottled cocktail company J.M.R. Cocktail & Co.
ONE: How did J.M.R. Cocktails start and what was the inspiration behind it?
Amy Alexander (AA): I’ll never forget the first time I met Jonny [McKenzie, co-founder]. I’d just said yes to a house I’d never seen, with some guy I’d never met, in a city I’d spent one weekend in. I walked up to his bar, Hawthorn Lounge, to pick up my new house keys. He said ‘Hello, welcome to Hawthorn! Are you my new flatmate?’
This introduction then blossomed into two friends working together in bars, restaurants, and events. We both have a passion for hospitality and have been lucky enough to travel, experiencing and enjoying many delicious drinks on our international journeys.
What we both agreed on was the struggle to find a consistent, well-made cocktail as found in a decent cocktail bar.
Born was the concept of J.M.R Cocktail & Co where we imagined opening a picnic basket, aminibarr, or a fridge and having a perfectly mixed Negroni to drink. It removed the hassle of having to carry all the bottles, equipment and so on.
TWO: Was there any interest/experience in business or entrepreneurship prior to starting J.M.R. Cocktails?
AA: I’ve always wanted to run my own business and enjoy the complete creative freedom. I love working with people and in the hospitality industry, and after years of running other people’s businesses (luxury hotels, events, bars, restaurants etc.), I finally decided it was time to move on and focus on something for myself. A combination of my past experience and a drive to have well-made cocktails led me to working with Jonny on this project.
J.M.R started as a very small side project. But now, as we’ve gained an incredible amount of attention over the past year, it’s really time to focus on growth and follow this dream. I’ll be leaving my full-time job at posBoss in March to take the plunge. It’s very exciting and slightly terrifying, which is a good combo.
THREE: What makes your pre-mixed cocktails different from other pre-mixed cocktails already on the market?
Jonny McKenzie (JM): When I was first introduced to cocktails, I was shown how to make simple three ingredient crowd pleaser combos like the gin and tonic, vodka lime and soda, or the tequila sunrise. These are simple drinks to make, yet if you get the balance wrong, they can come across too strong, too sweet, or oddly sour.
Today’s pre-mixed cocktail market has been focused on this style of simple crowd pleasers. We didn’t struggle to find a good G&T, but we did struggle to find a good negroni or martini. This is why we focus on the three ingredient cocktails that take that next level of skill to balance.
FOUR: What manufacturing processes do you use?
JM: I love this question because people think we must have this super sophisticated process. But no, we do everything by hand. We mix all the cocktails in large format in a commercial kitchen, leave them to settle for a period, sterilize the bottles, fill them, cap them, wipe them all down, label them and box them up for our stockists by hand.
As we grow this will become harder to maintain due to the sheer volume increase, so down the track, we know this will need revisiting.
FIVE: Who would you say is your target market?
JM: The classic cocktail drinker who appreciates something well-made, a little bit more boozy, and not filled with added sugar or preservatives.
We’re focusing on those who want the cherry-on-top accompaniment to that memorable experience.
SIX: What difference is there in taste and freshness when comparing one of your pre-mixed cocktails to a freshly made one?
JM: No difference in taste as all our cocktails are made to traditional recipes with a dash of filtered water. This helps replicate the crucial dilution process you’d otherwise receive in a cocktail bar.
The key in the serve is good ice – get some big cubes for a slow melt. If you wish to add a garnish, make sure you get some good olives (we like the big green ones), decent cherries (not the bright plastic looking red ones) and fresh juicy oranges.
SEVEN: Do you have any other plans to scale/grow further and if so, what are they?
We have a ton of plans. The hard part is filtering them to focus on what comes first! This year we’ll be expanding the team, introducing online retail, holding a number of experimental events, increasing the range, and working on some pretty cool collaborations. We’re also keen to start looking at different markets and what the export process looks like.
EIGHT: Lastly, tell us about a New Zealand start-up or business that you really admire right now.
We love watching what the creatives at Yu Mei produce – Jessie and her team deliver such beautiful collections. Secondly, Whittakers. Having tasted the collaborations and seeing the support that they put into the local market while delivering a world recognised food sensation. Then there are our friends in the arts like Chris Morley-Hall of Koko Creative who produces a ‘once in a lifetime’ party for Weta Digital every year among other projects.