Inspired by a trip to Bolivia and the cherished coca leaf found there, CEO John Ralph was not only fascinated with the country’s cultural history surrounding the coca leaf, but with its many lifestyle uses for the plant, which guided his creation for botanical spirit, Cocalero Clásico.

Cocalero Clásico, bottle on marble background

Cocalero Clásico

Although Cocalero is best served ice cold with a wedge of fresh lime, the spirit also offers bartenders and drinks enthusiasts alike an exciting base to create innovative cocktails. We spoke with John Ralph, about the brand’s best uses and to learn more about how the brand gave back to bartenders during bar closures.

Tell us about your botanical spirit, Cocalero. 

Cocalero Clásico is a botanical spirit that is truly unique. It has a gin base that is infused with a proprietary recipe of 17 natural botanicals and herbs including coca leaf, juniper, guarana, orange peel, ginseng, ginger, green tea and lavender. We use a specialized steam distillation process pioneered by the perfume industry to extract the coca leaf and essential oils from the plants to give it that complex, layered flavor.

What inspired you to create Cocalero?

Cocalero was inspired by my travels to South America, specifically on one such trip to Bolivia, where I became fascinated by how much the coca leaf was an intrinsic part of the lifestyle. It’s deeply regarded for its medicinal and healing properties, brewed as a tea to alleviate altitude sickness, or simply chewed as a way to boost energy.

It sparked an interest in me, so I researched the history of coca in the beverage industry and found some interesting stories about Vin Mariani, a French “tonic” that was made from coca leaf extracts and red wine. It was popular amongst the Victorians and the Queen, and is rumored to be the inspiration for the creation of Coca-Cola.

This led us to develop our own coca-based beverage, fueled by extracts of the coca leaf, but with no mind-altering chemicals that have been associated with Vin Mariani and similar drinks of the time.

The name “Cocalero” is a tribute to the Cocaleros in Bolivia—the traditional coca leaf farmers—who are an essential part of the rich heritage and history of the country.

Cocalero Cocktail, lime wheel, rocks glass

Cocalero Cocktail

What should bartenders know about Cocalero?

The first thing I would like bartenders to understand is how complex Cocalero is. It is both subtle and deep at the same time. The green tea notes are light and bright, slowly giving way to a playful host of botanicals such as lavender, ginseng and orange. Subtle yet expressive, gentle enough to drink on its own, hardy enough to stand up in cocktails.

What ingredients mix well, what is the best way to serve? 

The flavor profile here both emulates and compliments the common gin profile. One of my favorite ways to enjoy it (aside from chilled, neat) is to use it in a Last Word variant. That being said, it also plays beautifully with, or in place of, agave spirits. On the other end of the seasonal spectrum, try it in a hot chocolate on a chilly day — wonderful.

Cocalero Highball, cocktail with garnishes, highball glass

Cocalero Highball

Talk to us about the low ABV trend and why you think this category has taken off.

It is all about intricacy of flavor, I think. We all may love a deep, smoky Scotch, or a rustic and beautiful Armagnac, and it is true all fine spirits possess a deep well of flavors to plumb. But, to be frank, often the richer, higher proof spirits disallow for continued exploration. Lower ABV spirits and cocktails, especially when not overwhelmed by sugary elements or one single, aggressive botanical, are able to leave both your palate and your mind clear enough to continue the journey.

Tell us about the Send Our Spirit Soaring Program. 

We created the Send Our Spirits Soaring challenge as a way to engage with bartenders during the pandemic. We had planned to do a traditional cocktail competition, with a winner and runners-up, but when Covid hit, we decided to eliminate the competitive element and make it more inclusive. We wanted to create a program that would benefit all who participated.

The Cocalero challenge allowed us to share the spirit with over 80 Chilled 100 members in markets where we’re distributed. We asked them to use ingredients they had on hand—or simply their imagination—to craft some spirit-lifting libations for us. We were overwhelmed by the response we received! We’ll be using these incredibly inventive recipes in marketing materials and sharing them with our fans on social media.