With Craft Cocktails and BAR 1661, Dave Mulligan has come up with a way of keeping all cocktail drinkers happy 

It’s been just over a year since Dave Mulligan set up Craft Cocktails and what a year it’s been. Launched in October 2020, the range of premium bottled cocktails is available today in over 40 independent retailers and venues around the country. The Craft Cocktails team has tripled in size and just recently, the brand opened Cuckoo Lane, its new cocktail factory in Dublin 7. Named after the local area, Cuckoo Lane has been designed as a multi-functional space that acts as a working cocktail lab, a retail and event space, a mixing, production and bottling line, tasting room and brand showroom. The new space is adjacent to BAR 1661, a bar specialising in Irish spirits, particularly poitín. It’s also owned by Dave Mulligan and was named after the year the once notorious Irish spirit was banned and driven underground in Ireland. Only seven months after opening, BAR 1661 was named ‘Best Cocktail Bar’ in the country at the Irish Craft Cocktail Awards. On the same night, it also took home awards for Ireland’s Best New Cocktail Bar, Best Bar Team as well as Best Bartender, which went to Gillian Boyle. “BAR 1661 was open for just 11 months before the pandemic hit. We were really starting to find our feet; we’d won Best Cocktail Bar and were very busy but in March, everything dried up. I very quickly decided I wanted to go down the retail route and create a proper brand that could transcend any sort of lockdown. So we got working on an idea within two weeks of Covid hitting the country and six weeks after that, we had six months stability on the shelf,” says Dave.

Initially, signature bottle cocktails from BAR 1661 were available for delivery. “They’re high end, niche cocktails which did well for a while but in June 2020 when the country started to open up again, sales dropped off.” The opportunity was there, says Dave, but the concept needed tweaking. “We took a step back and asked ourselves, who’s drinking bottle cocktails? What is the consumer actually looking for? That’s when we decided to start Craft Cocktails and move away from the high end, technique driven side of things that we do so well in BAR 1661. People wanted the classics, they wanted the big heavy hitters and so that’s what we did.”

The concept worked; over 300,000 Craft Cocktails were sold in the first year. The range consists of 12 cocktails designed to be drank over ice, with special limited-edition cocktails available at various times throughout the year. It’s a simple, unpretentious, fun range of cocktails. “Obviously, we know that you’re not supposed to drink a martini over ice but for ease of messaging, the entire Craft Cocktails range is designed to be enjoyed over ice.”

BAR 1661 appeals to about 5% of drinkers in Dublin; Craft Cocktails was about appealing to the other 95% who may never pay a visit to BAR 1661. “It’s not a complete success story yet but it’s turning into a great survival story. We’ve doubled the footprint of the bar by taking units next door for Cuckoo Lane, we’ve tripled our team, we’ve quadrupled revenues and we’ve managed to bring new business to BAR 1661 that we fought so hard to protect. That’s made all the hard work even more worthwhile.”

A launch into Northern Ireland is on the cards before the end of the year and plans are in place to enter the UK market in 2022, made possible by obtaining a bonded warehouse status for Cuckoo Lane. The new cocktail factory has, says Dave, improved the efficiency of both businesses. “With one or two extra hires, we’re now able to run both businesses. As well as the expansion into the North and the UK, we’re planning on launching a poitin-based RTD early next year and a canned cocktail in partnership with Intrepid Spirits, something I was working on pre-pandemic. Essentially though, craft is what we love and it’s what my staff and I are invested in. We don’t tailor our offer to try and draw people in. From day one, we’ve been very clear on our mission, which is to promote Irish poitin and we want to get back to business on that.”