From humble beginnings in a bartender’s basement to becoming New Zealand’s fastest-growing non-alcoholic beverage brand – Bootleggers handcrafted tonics and mixers is set to hit the Australian market with a new export deal.

The Bootleggers range is made from locally sourced and organic ingredients designed for gin drinkers is riding a global wave of category growth – with gin sales up 34% and will set foot, or rather boot, on Australian turf in the third quarter of this year.

Brand founder and Wellington bartender James Waugh, says he hopes to double current production and sales volumes in the coming year as their trans-Tasman distribution grows.

The concept for the range of mixers comes from the prohibition era when bartenders in speakeasies blended drinks with various mixers from bitters to soda, juices, and fruit garnishes, to hide the flavour of the poorly made alcohol or ‘bathtub gin’.

Waugh’s research into this period found dry ginger ale was the most popular mixer to offset the potent taste of the contraband alcohol.

He says premium tonic and soda is one of the fastest-growing beverage categories globally and is forecast to continue growing at >7.5% in volume each year.

“The New Zealand market has been underdeveloped for some time but more recently there has been an explosion of gin consumption with over 200 brands available here now. There is a lot more science and experimentation with gin now and the growth of premium tonics is a natural extension to that.

“The priority for us at the moment is to meet the demand of the local market, we are heavily focused on growing our distribution through hospitality and FMCG channels, and as a result, our annual sales are up over 100%,” he says.

Waugh says Bootleggers is one of the largest locally owned and manufactured tonic brands, and global supply challenges faced by their competitors during the pandemic have provided the company with an opening into a number of new retailers including Liquorland and premium hospitality venues such as Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers.

“We have used the last year to prepare the product and increase our workforce for the coming expansion programme which will see us move into new channels and global export markets.”