For a man who trained to be a physicist and who used to work in corporate strategy at Virgin, you make a mean bottle of mead! Could you tell us a bit about how it all began and how you learned to brew what is still a rather obscure (…if not historical) beverage? I’m aware that, ironically enough, you discovered ‘good’ mead in a road trip in the US of all places!
I’ve always loved food and drink and as I grew up, my interest in booze grew. I always enjoy taking on projects, especially in the kitchen, so it was only a matter of time before I started to experiment with fermentation at home.
I began, as most people do, brewing beer from a malt extract kit; and this gradually turned in to full grain mash, and then eventually to cider. A good friend of mine has an orchard in Dorset, and it was autumns spent here, picking and milling apples, that gave me the taste of production on a larger (though still small) scale. Making cider was fascinating, blending art with science, and really piqued my interest in alcohol production.
Shortly after this, around 2012, I was travelling along the East coast of the US, and it’s here that I was first exposed to great mead – mead that was crafted with real, love, care, and respect for the honey. The mead I had in Maine, at Maine Mead Works, was amazing, and I was fascinated by their innovative fermentation techniques.
This really lit a fire in me, and I was determined to give mead making a go back in London. Shortly after I started experimenting, quickly outgrowing the domestic setting and renting some space in a micro-brewery in Walthamstow.
Following this, I began to look for a permanent home, and chanced upon a small first floor industrial unit in Peckham (dubbed the Honey Cupboard). This industrial estate is still our home today, though I’m pleased to say we’ve really expanded and taken on a few of the other units on the estate.
As I understand it (…and I don’t understand it very well) – there are a few different ways to make mead, depending upon the type of yeast you use (beer yeast or wine yeast, for example…right?). Could you tell us a bit about the approach you’ve chosen with Gosnell’s, and what the process of coming up with a new recipe is? Every now and then I see you come out with a new one, so you must be doing some experimentation…
For our new format we’ve decided to concentrate on the purity of the honey and make a really clean easy drinking mead – made with just honey, water and yeast. We don’t use any other fermentables (wheat, barley, rice?!) etc., to stretch it. We’re always indulging in a bit of experimentation, as that’s always interesting, and challenging as a winemaker.
Onto you personally, if I may? I’m going to assume you have somewhat eclectic tastes, helping to revive a thousands of year old drinks category and so on. So, what are your most and least favourite food and drinks? Anything that sticks in your memory as particularly wonderful or nightmarish?
I can generally enjoy almost all drinks, from a decent vermouth, or sherry as a sharpener through to a decent single malt after a meal. However there are two notable exceptions – Mezcal and Baijou! I’ve had a number of bad experiences with Mezcal, but I put this down to my lack of knowledge in being able to discern a decent bottle. Baijou on the other hand, I just don’t have a taste for. I remember when I was working in Beijing having to drink a lot of it over the course of a dinner – I could barely take one glass, so ended up doing the polite thing and throwing it over my shoulder!
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the mead business?
When you’re running a business there’s always a huge amount of variety of tasks and priorities which are vying for your time – so whilst I try and keep some structure to the day, this can often go out of the window before lunch!
Generally, I try and get up on the earlier side and do some exercise, either the gym or climbing with a friend, following this it’s into the office to run through things with the team.
I’ll catch up with the brewery team about how production is going, taste any experiments we’ve got on the go and talk about any issues / bottlenecks coming up. After this I’ll chat to the sales team about how things are going, what interesting things are going on that we’d like to talk about on our social channels, and anything they need my help with.
My afternoons and evenings are generally spent meeting people either on sales calls or just to find out more about them. Before I go to bed each night I normally try and update my to-do list so that all my thoughts are out of my head and on paper!
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
Winning the YBFs was a really big highlight. The YBFs (Young British Foodies) celebrates new and visionary talent from across the food and drink world. It was great to have the recognition that we’ve taken what was a bit of a mad idea and made it real!
Where do you get your ideas?
Generally in the shower, with a glass of ice cold fino.
What’s your philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
We should always be asking ourselves: “Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?” – Epictetus, Enchiridion
This classic stoic philosophy sums up what I’m always striving (at times successfully) to achieve. If you can get some perspective and realise that there’s only a limited sphere over which you can control, you can concentrate on that and not be distracted by all the other myriad of things going on
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
Greatest challenge: Writing all these words! [Ed: lol] Overcome by: Pouring a long cool drink.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from, or do you have any specific influences?
Mother Theresa. And all that ‘inner calm’.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
The Most, making booze and people happy. And being a trailblazer.
The Least, chasing invoices!
What advice would you give to aspiring drinks professionals who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
I think that at some point you just have to go for it – there’s always going to be some risk in trying anything new; you just have to have the tenacity to see it through.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
I’d gotten pretty sick of larger organisations (being a bit too precocious) so I think I’d always have ended up working in something on a smaller scale in booze.
If you could get anyone to try Gosnell’s (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the meads would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
Marx – Karl OR Groucho
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If, for some reason, you were forced to turn your business into a travel agency, what would you call it, what types of holidays and locations would you specialise in and what would your game plan be?
Bee’attitudes. Holidays to natural un-spoilt places which inconsiderate travellers and ego-centric human beings haven’t ruined.
If you had to employ any character from The Simpsons to come and work with you guys at the brewery, who would you pick, and why?
It has to be Duffman – great for activation [Ed: Oh Yeah!]
You have acquired a pet T-Rex and are morally obliged to look after it. It is 13 ft tall at the hips, eats half a ton of raw meat a day, and likes taking long walks. What would you call it and what would you do to keep it entertained and housed?
Name: Dave. Entertainment: lock it in the honey cupboard!