The Tastemaker asked founders of Butler & Brewer, Laren and Kirst, about their exciting new brand. Butler & Brewer is a brand new all natural tonic enhancer – the ultimate addition to a Gin and Tonic to give it an exotic twist.

Can you tell us about the backstory of how you came up with the flavours for each tonic?

Rosemary, mint and lemon was driven by what was growing in our garden, that was the starting point for our proof of concept. And was actually a really good lesson in developing balance because too much mint and you have toothpaste, too much rosemary and you have cough syrup or lamb dinner! But get them working harmoniously and it’s a glorious combination for juniper forward gins.

Elderflower, cucumber and apple is a homage to what grows in Kirst’s family’s beautiful garden in Wiltshire. We love that garden, it’s just divine, and sitting on the lawn enjoying a G&T In the summer with a hedge of elderflowers and rows of apple trees in front of you is heavenly. It’s the one flavour that doesn’t have a citrus-type note in it, instead relying on the crisp tartness of a green apple.

Hibiscus, lime and pomegranate was inspired by a trip to Turkey, and in particular Istanbul. Now there’s a place for inspiration. Buying pomegranate juice squeezed to order from street vendors and enjoying delicious Turkish delight made with honey, not the stuff they sell in boxes to tourists. It was something we wanted to capture, but rose water can be pretty polarising, and so we moved to Hibiscus which is just divine and has none of the sort of cosmetics/soapy vibe that rose can sometimes have.

We knew we absolutely wanted to do something with orange, but wanted it to be orange rind, not the fruit itself, as that was one of the first crude concentrates we made when playing with the proof of concept. And we didn’t want citrus on citrus because that would just muddle the flavours, so we didn’t want to add lemon, lime or grapefruit. Laren makes a fantastic pickled watermelon rind in the summer and so there happened to be lemongrass in the kitchen and it was like a lightbulb moment. And that’s how we ended up moving towards a marmalade type orange flavour with just a hint of lemongrass, but it needed a herbaceous note to balance it out and so there’s just the softest addition of thyme.

The raspberry, basil and lime was a slight indulgence. Laren loves adding fruit, especially berries, to our salads in the summer. And in particular he loves combining them with basil. Sitting on a small beach south of Barcelona in a Chiringuito sipping Puerto De Indias Strawberry Gin meant that when we got back home our salad berries became G&T berries! So it was just a natural flavour combination that we wanted to pursue and ended up honing in on raspberries as the berry of choice.

There is a large market for flavoured gins – what inspired you to enhance the tonic?

I guess the very starting point was not wanting to be tied into the same flavour for the whole bottle, and also with Kirst and I having different taste preferences, wanting something that gave us the variety and freedom of choice to be able to serve what we felt like when we felt like it. Plus flavoured gins had gone completely off kilter and all sorts of things like gin liqueurs started appearing. I mean gin liqueur! Which are essentially sweet things that are trying to appropriate shelf space in the gin aisle. Like us, clearly the market was trying to find flavour, but the way it was being offered seemed, well, wrong really. So the natural thing was to find a way to flavour the tonic without adding any sweetness, and while still allowing gin to shine through. And hey presto, we have Butler & Brewer Tonic Enhancers, allowing you to flavour your G&T if you want to, how you want to, when you want to, while still using your regular gin and regular, plain tonic.

Where are your tonics crafted?

Crafted in Bristol, manufactured in Gloucester

Will you expand your range at a later date, or stick with the classics?

Oh, we definitely have other flavours lined up for next year. A Christmas edition of clementine + cranberry, a summer favourite of watermelon + pink grapefruit and we’re looking into whether something off the wall like cactus will work. But like our original flavours, we want to avoid trying to be clever for clever’s sake. Our goal is always flavour, flavour and did I mention, flavour? There are a ton of flavourings available and it can be really tempting to do something zany that creates a buzz, but that when you get down to it isn’t actually that great. And while we want to challenge our customers’ flavour journeys, we also want the flavour combinations to be approachable. So we only put something into the recipe if it adds to it and is better as a result.

Can you tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced launching a brand during Covid?

Beyond the delays in the supply chain as companies adapted to their own challenges, the biggest challenge was the inability to all meet collectively in the development kitchen. Instead of being able to collaborate in person all at the same time we had to do something, ship it to each other, taste and adjust, ship it back… and that process was repeated so many times. But we managed to find some good in that as well in that we were forced into having extra time to reconsider, re-evaluate and not chase impulsive ideas.

Anything else that you would like to add?

We were really lucky that the product and the brand developed in the way it did. It was so natural, and developed so organically, that it just feels right. It’s honest, relatable and a complete extension of ourselves, the history of our families, and the myriad of experiences that brought us to this point, so nothing had to be forced, we just needed it to come to life and were really fortunate that we worked with the right people to make that happen. After all, at the heart of it all is pleasure and joy, and that’s something we can all do with in our lives.

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