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What’s everyone’s drinking?

Ever wonder what goes into flavouring the drinks you buy? The iced tea you’re drinking, or that vermouth you mixed into your martini? We talk to Australian expat Nick Garfield about his super-cool job in flavour development, and what’s trending in the drinks market.

Born in Adelaide, Nick gained an educational background in chemistry and microbiology, and first started working in the beverage industry for French distilled beverage producer Pernod Ricard in Australia, where he held several roles in yeast and fermentation, and winemaking and beverage making, including spirits and Ready to Drink (RTD) beverages.

“Never during my education, or even early in my career in the alcohol industry, did I consider working with flavours. I didn’t even fully understand that there was a flavour industry!” Nick says.

Nick Garfield Flavour testing

The flavour factor

His foray into “flavouring” came about when he wanted to make the move from a production environment to product development, working with a variety of markets outside Australia. Nick moved to Asia in 2008, living first in Singapore, before relocating to Shanghai for two years, and returning to Singapore in 2014. Now, as Global Technical Director of Alcoholic Drinks at Swiss fragrance and flavour company Firmenich, he’s responsible for developing beverage flavours with a variety of both large multinational companies like Diageo and Heineken, to smaller, local players in developing markets. For example, delivering a quality spirit at an accessible price point for Myanmar. Or another market in which a HK$300 bottle of gin isn’t realistic.

“I’m essentially responsible for helping develop Alcoholic Beverage Liquids, from low-alcohol RTD beverages and flavoured alcoholic drinks to high-proof spirits, for companies all over Asia and the world,” says Nick. “That means working closely with manufacturers to help them design the taste of the next product they’ll bottle and sell.”

A typical working day consists of tastings and evaluations of products under development. And planning the next stages of those developments, as well as coordinating work flows in all regions globally, and managing customer requests. “What I love most is the variety of products and people I get to work with, from Pakistan to Africa to Japan – it’s fascinating!”

Depending on the complexities, it can take some time to create and perfect a flavour, according to Nick. “I’ve worked on projects with some customers for several years developing not just the flavour profile, but the physical appearance of the beverage as well, and developing new technologies to do so along the way.”

Upcoming trends

Keeping up with consumer trends and what the market needs is another key component to Nick’s job. “We do a lot of work on spotting trends. This means collecting information from all over the world on what ingredients leading bars are using, and talking to the head bartenders.”

For 2019, Nick predicts top flavour trends will include rhubarb, flavoured gins and vermouth. As well as mezcal, which he says is one of the fastest growing alcohol categories globally, with its influence really starting to spread across Asia.

“Gin has been trending for some time with quirky new flavours. Rhubarb and pink gins are very hot right now. This might evolve more into vermouths with the trends on lower alcohol, but still sophisticated, flavours,” Nick says. “What we are seeing now is quite a trend toward non- and low-alcoholic beer, and other nonalcoholic substitutes, which I expect will continue to grow and expand. Non-alcoholic spirits are also new and trending, but I think it will expand further into ciders and wine.”

As for Nick’s current drink of choice? “Right now, my favourite cocktail would still have to be a Negroni. But there are some great twists on the basic Negroni, which keeps it interesting.”


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This article first appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.