Meet the Makers: James Oag-Cooper of HYKE Gin and Tom Bishop of El Rayo Tequila
London has one of the best bar scenes in the world, and with a new pub, wine bar, speakeasy, or immersive cocktail joint popping up around every corner its easy to see why. If you’re like us, and looking beyond your local for your next summer cocktail, we’re getting our recommendations straight from London’s most innovative drinks producers.
From HYKE’s sustainable gin made with surplus grapes, to El Rayo Tequila's stereotype subverting tequila, we met up with the newest players shaking up London’s drinks scene — each one creating spirits meant to transform the drinking experience into something a little more Less Ordinary.
HYKE: A Sustainable Ending for Surplus GrapesHow did the idea for HYKE gin come to be?
Every year, Britain’s supermarkets import table grapes by the boatload from as far afield as Africa and South America. The grapes are cut and trimmed to fit the punnets, leaving loose grapes and tiny bunches that can’t be sold. The size of the trade means that hundreds of tonnes of grapes end their journey as compost, animal feed, or in an anaerobic digester.
We thought these grapes could be reinvented in a different (more delicious) way, that also eliminates the needless waste. Together with Richard Hochfeld Ltd, we came up with an ingenious solution that transforms surplus grapes into our newest gin - HYKE.
How important is sustainability to the ethos of your brand?
Its integral. Foxhole Spirits is a company that has been founded on quality and sustainability. Myself and co-founder Sam Linter established Foxhole Spirits with passion and determination to, not only produce great tasting spirits, but to promote sustainability across the drinks industry and reduce industry waste.
What are your favourite bars in London? What makes them special?
B&H Garden Room opened at the end of last year and has incredible 180 panoramic view of London. They do great drinks, but also fantastic brunch. It's an awesome place both day and night. The Shrub and Shutter is much more local to where I live. They serve wonderful, inventive cocktails and are super hands-on so it's an enjoyable place to chat and learn.
We hosted the HYKE launch party at Nine Lives as not only do they make exceptional cocktails, but they also share our sustainable ethos so it was a natural fit as one of the first bars to serve HYKE. It's a very cool space with great DJs and a laid back vibe.
In what ways do you try to be Less Ordinary with HYKE?
There are 3 things which differentiate HYKE from other gins and make it ‘less ordinary’: First, HYKE gets its distinctive character from our grape spirit and a unique blend of botanicals. Rich, sweet citrus characters lead, followed by velvet-textured spice and complex aromatics. Second, HYKE is made by applying the same know-how behind our limited edition Foxhole Gin to create a beautifully unique, hand crafted, sustainably conscious, premium spirit at inaccessible price point. We believe that sustainable products should be available to everyone.
Finally, our base spirit is created from surplus grapes which helps reduce food waste in the supply chain. Our aim is to reduce it by up to 80% when we are at full production capacity. Every element of the bottle is made from recyclable material, with each detail of the process and materials considered and the environmental impact reduced where possible.
What’s next for Foxhole Spirits and HYKE Gin?
For Foxhole Spirits, our vision is to create high quality, premium spirits made from otherwise unused resources. We need to be as resourceful as we can with the products that we are using. That’s why we’re looking at alternative solutions for packaging as we believe that there are always enhancements that can be made.
Alongside growing the HYKE brand, we’ll be working on a project which involves taking the grape material, then fermenting and distilling it to a neutral grain spirit which we can then use as a base spirit for our expanding portfolio. Further down the line, we also want to be at a scale where we are using as close to 100% of Richard Hochfeld’s surplus grape materials. We’d also like to work with other partners to source and lend our knowledge and expertise to whoever needs it.
How did the idea for El Rayo Tequila Come to be? We heard it all started one night in Peckham…
It really did! Actually it all started with a bottle of Siete Leguas Anejo brought back from Mexico by my brother. I’ll be honest, he gave it to me and I put it on the shelf. A few weeks later, we decided to give it a go. We never had tequila like that before and it lit a spark, from then we started drinking as much as we could get our hands on. The more we understood what brands were out there, the more we felt that there really wasn’t a brand we could truly engage with.
You had two ends of the spectrum. The cheap end that relied on lots of intent; (basically getting people drunk as quickly as possible) Towards the more premium end, the offering was aloof and exclusive. It was all about sipping tequila in armchairs and you weren't really sure if you were allowed in. We wanted El Rayo Tequila to invite people into the category. We wanted to be the tequila that got you drinking tequila.
How important is Mexican heritage and the origins of Tequila to the ethos of El Rayo Tequila?
It is important because the history of tequila is wrapped around Mexican identity, so the heritage of tequila definitely demands respect. However, what threw us when we first started was the over reliance on traditional and stereotypical notions of Mexico, that a lot of the brands seem to depend on when engaging with consumers.
Modern Mexican culture is at the forefront of a lot of global culture at the moment, and we want this to be represented within the tequila category. Having the origins of tequila behind our name was a respectful nod to the heritage of tequila, but I wouldn’t say it influences our ethos. Our ethos is more about looking forwards rather than backwards, to grow the category into new territory and champion modern Mexico and its contemporary appeal.
What are your favourite London bars? What makes them special?
London’s got the best bar scene in the world - I know we kind of have to say that but it’s true! We love The Vault (Greek St) and TT Liquor (Kingsland Road) because they are proper little drinking dens. Outside of that, Scout (Hackney) does some really interesting stuff with infusions. Shrub & Shutter (Brixton) is also a favourite, it's our local and has an ever changing cocktail menu which means you can always find something new.
On the tequila side, there is a seriously cool agave bar opening up this month called Hacha (Kingsland rd), which we are really excited to be a part of. Expect a rolling list of 25 agave spirits on rotation and food pairings to match. It’s going to be a big hit I think.
In what ways do you try to be Less Ordinary with El Rayo Tequila?
Our key belief at El Rayo is that the whole experience of tequila can be different. We set about to create a brand world that was colourful and contemporary and that hopefully looks different to what is currently out there. We decided to make tequila differently on the product side too. Our tequila uses a combination of highland and lowland blue agave which is unique. We also think tequila should be served differently. No more shots. It's time for people to start drinking tequila and tonic — they’re absolutely delicious, very clean, and refreshing — the opposite to lime and salt.
What’s next for El Rayo Tequila?
To make people fall in love with tequila, just like we did.
We only got our first bottles in the UK last week so the next few months will be about establishing a distribution network in London. We have some listings lined up already so we will be working closely with them to build brand awareness. Oh - and serving tequila and tonics all summer long!
Interviews by Hannah Tan-Gillies
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