Full name: Rob and Jim Berry
Role: Liqueur Makers
DOB: January 77 and March 85
Twitter Handle: @asterleybros
Fun Fact: “Our all time favourite videogame is Shenmue 2”
So, let’s start at the beginning. Two brothers crafting unusual spirits in Forest Hill (…did I get that right?). Where did this all begin? Were you both raised in a ‘foodie’ family? Rob’s the oldest, Jim’s the youngest – but what do you both bring to the business? I’m going to assume that although you’re both guys who know the hospitality business pretty well, your experience was more in management/ops, as oppose to producing drinks? Or am I wrong?
Jim’s been in the bar industry for the last ten years, and that is where he got his love of craft cocktails and concocting various liqueurs. I’ve been in restaurants, bars and hotels since I was 16, so between us we have done a few shifts over the years! We’ve always loved food, drinks and ingredients, so this felt like a natural extension of that for us.
Please tell us a little about the stuff you’re making. I generally find amaro to be too much for me, but yours was fantastic. And don’t get me started on the fernet…!
Well, thank you! When developing our Amaro recipe, we knew we wanted something suitable both as an aperitif as well as a digestif and for it to be less sweet and viscous than many classic Amari. By reducing the sugar content and increasing the bitterness, you are able to create more nuance and complexity, so it doesn’t tire out the palate which makes it quite moreish.
The beta testing you use for your releases – that’s a cunning system you have there. Where did the idea for that come from? I’d definitely be doing the same if I were a producer…
The idea actually came from the tech industry. When tech companies work on a new product, they’ll often roll out a similar beta testing program to ours to get feedback and customer input. We thought it would be a great way for us to engage with our audience and let them have their own say.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into what the Asterley Brothers do?
In between preparing botanicals, macerating botanicals, fining, filtering, bottling, labelling, receiving deliveries, sending deliveries, hitting up twitter, managing the accounts and training you can find us you know, relaxing.
By relaxing, I mean falling asleep while standing.
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
There have been a lot of great moments so far but the first time we walked in to a bar and saw our Amaro on the shelf has to take the award. A close second would be drinking it in said bar.
Where do you get your ideas?
So we looked to the tech industry for the beta testing ide, and as for Dispense, we wanted to make a London Amaro, so we looked at texts dating back to the 17th century and started researching London’s history of bitter tonics and liqueurs. We combined those with a family recipe that was handed down to us and that became our British Amaro. For our Vermouth, we wanted to make something that was different, but still with quite a classical base and our Fernet, is again an Anglicised version of an Italian classic. I guess that’s the running theme here!
What’s your philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
“Handmade with integrity.”
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
Getting the label design just right took us some time. Our original design had so much embossing that it wouldn’t stick to the bottle properly. The whole design process took us probably 12 months longer than it should have and we changed designers twice. We’re really happy with what we have now but it was definitely a learning process.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – drinks industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any culinary influences?
My wife’s grandfather gave us their family recipe. We played around with it and added our own modern, British twist. He gave us the inspiration to start out on this venture and we owe a lot to him for that.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
Have a guess at what we enjoy the most. You guessed it… tasting. Making sure the Amaro passes the taste test is a tough job but someone’s got to do it. As for the least, this is a bit of a cheat answer but it’s all fun. From macerating the botanicals to bottling to talking to our customers, There’s never a bad moment. The work is so varied, it never gets dull.
What advice would you give to aspiring food and drink entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Having a strong social media presence has been vital. We couldn’t have done it without the direct connection to our audience. We often reach out to peers and ask questions when they arise. It’s all a learning experience. Getting to know bars, restaurants and shops face to face also helped.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
We would sitting at the bar, drinking someone else’s Amaro!
If you could get anyone to try your drinks (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the drinks would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
It would probably have to be Nicholas Culpeper. Culpeper was a botanist from the 17th century who wrote the seminal text, The London Dispensatory, from which Dispense gets its name and a large part of its inspiration.
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for the business? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Money and reality are no obstacle, so shoot for the moon…
We would just like to be making great quality products, with interest, intrigue and creativity, that people want to drink. That’s it really! Quality products that excite people and are innovative, versatile and delicious. We want to be makers, not marketers. We want to get our hands dirty, as that’s what makes us the happiest.
Where next for you guys?
We have a Vermouth on the horizon which is launching in the imminent future and we’ve got another round of beta testing coming up for our London Fernet that we’re very excited about. There may or may not be a couple of other top secret projects in the works. We like to keep ourselves busy.
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you had a time machine that could send you backward in time as far as you wanted (without any logical paradoxes, timeline contamination, etc.) – what period of time would you visit and what are the first 3 things you’d do once you got there?
I don’t think we’d go back too far, to be honest, we love modern life just as it is, but it would be amazing to step into the Mad Men era in New York in the 60s. Once there, we would obviously mix up a swift breakfast Manhattan, go for a three Martini lunch and then spend the afternoon sleeping it off.
If you were forced to live on one kind of alcohol for the rest of your life (assume that your metabolism becomes specifically adapted to use this as your sole source of calories, so you had to drink this to survive) – which would you pick, and why?
It’s got to be wine. We love all sorts of drinks but there’s so much variety in wine that we could never get bored. Having to drink it as the only source of nourishment doesn’t sound all that bad.
If you had to employ anyone from Game Of Thrones to come and work with you guys, who would you pick, and why?
Definitely Tyrion. I’m not sure how much he knows about alcohol but he certainly drinks a lot of it.