Being a Mojito girl myself, I really couldn’t say no to the glass of rum and Sekforde mixer I was offered during one of the blogging events (I think it was Blogosphere). But it was listening to Tom, who started the company alongside his wife, Talula, that made me really want to get to know the people behind this delicious ‘new take’ on my favourite cocktail.
I had quite a conversation with these two when we first met – about everything from cocktail tasting to life philosophies. So, when the idea to invite Tom to my blog to share his crazy amount of knowledge on spirits and flavours with all of you popped into my head – well, I didn’t really think twice!
I hope you enjoy this little journey into the world of alcohol, flowers, fruits and pesky printers who never get anything right the first time.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post.
Where did your passion for spirits come from?
It was a gradual process. When I was younger, I used to drink just to have fun, pretty much like anybody else. It was later in my life when I took things more seriously. I started going out for cocktails and got fascinated by all the things I could learn about them. It quickly turned into a sort of reputation amongst my friends – it is not that difficult to get interested in spirits when you end up in a house with heaps of them gifted to you.
It really is an appreciation that builds up slowly though, a lifetime of learning experience. There is always something more to discover, new brands, regions, history, tastes. For me spirits are less about drinking and more about getting to know them and learning from them. A sort of voyage of discovery, if it’s not too cheesy a term.
Did you ever think that your passion might turn into a job?
No, definitely not. We got to Sekforde one step at a time, it was not a short process. There is a metaphor I like to use when describing our journey: it felt as if we started pushing an open door and there simply wasn’t anyone on the other side to stop us.
So how did it all begin?
With the cocktails I used to mix up. I have never been much of a gin and tonic drinker, and some of my favourite spirits, rum and whiskey, don’t usually go hand in hand with long drinks. So, I started making my own mixers using soda water and fruits at first, then fruit and botanical extracts. One day the light bulb moment came: it was so annoying that there were no commercial alternatives to ginger beer or coke and someone needed to do something about it. Perhaps this someone could be us?
Were you not afraid of the stigma around people interested in spirits? Did you ever have a problem with people judging you for it?
I know what you mean, but luckily, I managed to insulate myself from it. Mostly because my love of spirits goes hand in hand with my love of cooking – and people understand that I am on the lookout for the perfect taste, not just for getting drunk. But the drinking world is an opaque one and I am very fortunate to have friends like mine.
I do believe firmly in the drink responsibly slogan. It is very important to be grown up and understand when it is the best time to stop – grab yourself a pint of water instead of beer and go to bed.
How do you feel your cooking and cocktail making passions fit together? They do seem like two very distinct hobbies! For instance, I am an avid baker yet I absolutely hate cooking anything – the mere thought of standing above a hot pan for so long makes me tired.
My favourite part of cooking is seasoning. I enjoy making sauces, for example, the combinations of what tastes go well together is what interests me. The same with creating deconstructed meals! I do like elaborate baking too, but I feel like I could not just bake ‘a good cake’, if you know what I mean? It is not what creating food is about for me. It is the act of creating something new and flavours enhancing the main meal. In this sense cooking and making cocktails are very similar.
Mixing some sauce with a spoon in one hand and a good cocktail in the other is very much the perfect evening for me.
In cooking, which flavours do you gravitate towards the most?
Southern French and Northen Italian. Rosemary, thyme, bay, lavender, rose, these all often appear in my mixers. Also black olives, though you’ll be pleased to know we do not put these in our botanical extracts!
I think my favourite Sekforde mixer is the gin one – and it has quite a strong rose taste, no? I am a great fan of rose in general, but finding rose flavoured things that actually taste of rose and are not just sickly sweet is very difficult.
You’re right. Rose is sweet but at the same time a little bit astringent. They really suffer from a bad reputation; only a few of the rose products I know of are not too sweet because of the high sugar content often following them.
The truth is, too much sugar is the enemy of flavour. If you want to taste any of the botanicals, you need to add less sugar – which we ended up doing with our mixers. We kept cutting it, till we could taste the subtle flavours instead of just overbearing sweetness.
Is less sugar one of the values behind Sekforde?
Yes and no. Our priority is keeping things as high quality as possible. We use only natural extracts that come from good sources, which brings a degree of trouble to us but it is necessary to convey our message. But the purpose of Sekforde is not to create healthy and lighter mixers – this is just a side effect of other design decisions we took.
We’re trying to build a product that allows our customers to be more open to new sprits and experiences, to develop themselves in a brand new way and, most importantly, experiment with enjoyment. As soon as you tell people something is sugar-free or has reduced sugar levels, you sound like you’re trying to take the fun out of it. It’s not us. We want fun.
When did you start your company?
It was around the end of February. We’ve been working on it for years though, our first prototypes were created in our very own kitchen, but it was no more than a twinkle in the eye.
Any big victories? Moments that made it all worth the effort?
My story will sound a little nerdy, so we may want to ask Talula for hers.
Because of how precisely all our ingredients need to be measured, up to a fraction of a gram, our products were first created in a lab. I remember the time we picked up the results of our first production line, it was the gin mixer, the one I think I am most proud of. It was 11.15 am and we were in a back room in the factory, so it wasn’t prime drinking time, but wow, that’s when I knew it worked and our ideas translated into reality!
Talula: Nothing makes me happier than going to bars and seeing people order our mixers. Hearing them tell us how we converted them to drinking spirits they didn’t like before. Seeing all the photos and comments. It is fantastic.
Would you say that customers are what motivates you most?
We have quite a range of motivations. For me it is of course the act of creating new flavour combinations and just discovering new things. But also the idea of making some of the spirits, like whiskey, usually drank neat or with coke, more accessible to regular drinkers.
I believe that all good things come back to you if you share them. We want to spread the joy and pleasure of drinking; I don’t want Sekforde to be something exclusive and pretentious, but an experiment with taste we can all enjoy together.
I like to keep my blog a rather honest place where we, of course, discuss good things but also remember to mention the bad things too. Did you have any hurdles or problems you particularly remember? Things that didn’t go according to a plan?
Touch wood, so far we have not had any major disasters. But even though we entered the production world with some understanding of the market, there is always so much one doesn’t know. I remember lots of little situations like that: a list of ingredients that could not be sourced anywhere, missing delivery trucks, prints coming back to us in all the wrong colours…
Striking out on your own is all about constantly recovering and carrying on instead of being discouraged.
There is one funny story though, one about our paperwork. Notice how U and I are very close to each other on the keyboard. Our company is registered under the name of Sekforde Drinks Ltd, but for the longest time it stood in the unsubmitted paperwork as Sekforde Drunks Ltd, because our lawyer had misspelt it.
That was a good lesson in last minute checks! Because even though one can change the company name, the original always stays on record – so if I didn’t stick to my habit of double-checking everything, we would forever be remembered as Sekforde Drunks. Cute, but maybe not the best.
Talula: I remember the day just before we sent out the first batch of products and I suddenly reminded myself that all of the bottles need to have barcodes on them. Every single one. It was a very long moment of panic that barcodes are one of those bureaucracy things that take weeks to get sorted. Luckily, they got done overnight, but it was close!
My advice is: as Tom said, just keep going. Don’t give up. Self-employment can be lonely – there is no one really to share worries with. I am looking forward to having a team one day; Currently it is just Tom, me and one of my colleagues.
Tom: Running a small company is a little bit like moving into your first adult flat alone – suddenly your fridge breaks and there is no one to fix it but you.
You’re working full time, right? How do you manage to juggle two jobs at the same time?
I don’t really think of Sekforde as my second job. Bills and paperwork, maybe, but for me this is a passion. It’s like a hobby with a purpose.
Life cannot all be about the office; you need to find something to put your energy into outside of work – and you will get energy back from it. Having a passion is very important, it makes you feel refreshed and happy.
Would you care to describe your mixers to my readers?
Sure. Let’s start with the whiskey one. Its base is Sicilian orange, which in itself is not too sweet, and rosemary. Overall it is a rather warm taste, only a bit bitter. Lots of people say it tastes a bit like a more refreshing version of Old Fashioned. But because it has less sugar and less of any strong flavours like vanilla or ginger (typical for whiskey cocktails), it allows one to distinguish between different brands and flavours of the whiskey itself.
The rum mixer is of course lime based, as rum works best with the zing and freshness of lime. Adding mint to make it more refreshing and we have a grown-up mojito. It’s a natural long drink for an outdoorsy, hot day – at least that’s how we would drink it in the UK. The darker the rum you choose for it, the more chocolatey it will taste too!
And finally, gin. As a base we picked rose, raspberry and sage. Sage is such an interesting herb – it has a very silvery flavour. It is a very cool mixer, it really has the leafy aroma of an English country garden, as its name suggests. As more and more manufacturers focus on a second botanical in their gins, besides juniper, we wanted to create a mixer that will let it shine through instead of toning it down. Your regular gin and tonic will just try to balance the juniper to make the gin taste more agreeable; we wanted to soften the juniper but still allow the second botanical to shine.
And a bonus round: if you could have any spirit right here and now, what would you pick?
I think I would go for my current favourite – dark rum. It has quite a chocolatey flavour and I have a bit of a sweet tooth. Also, it is a rather… easy spirit to enjoy – in the sense that it really will not make you work too much to discover it, it’s just there waiting for you.
If you enjoyed this little interview and are excited to learn more about Sekforde’s wonderful mixers, check out their website for more information on the company and its mission, and all the ways to try out their products!
All photos courtesy of Sekforde Drinks.