March’s Gin of the Month box is all about giving back to the world we live in. William Fugard and Craig Sams ethical approach to business guaranteed a spot for their tasty Fiery Ginger and Chipotle in the box! Plus it’s seriously tasty…
Craig, you’ve founded several ethical companies – Gusto Organic is just the latest! What’s the appeal of establishing companies with a strong ethical backbone in a business-oriented world?
Craig: I started out with a macrobiotic restaurant, so was committed to whole grains, organic farming and low sugar right from the start. Whole Earth Foods led the charge on organic products that created the market for all kinds of organic food production. With Green & Black’s, we were asking cocoa farmers to take the risk of converting to organic, so we had to create a mutually beneficial relationship. Those kinds of relationships have all sorts of tangential benefits, including to the ultimate consumer, who can have a wholesome, guilt-free pleasure.
Gusto is committed to using natural, organic and Fairtrade ingredients. Why is it important to stick to these commitments?
William: Organic and Fairtrade are key elements of our brand DNA, and they’re very significant point of difference – they give our customers two layers of confidence when buying our drinks.
How does the ethical dimension of an organisation like Gusto impact the day-to-day operations?
William: Both organic certification and the Fairtrade mark involve a considerable level of oversight. We’re inspected annually, and often pay much more for our ingredients, as the cost of ingredients will reflect both fair wages and living standards, and the greater investment organic production takes.
We see it as part of the deal. We don’t take short cuts, we only source the finest organic ingredients and we believe the quality and provenance of our ingredients comes through in the exceptional flavour of our drinks.
Craig: It’s also immensely gratifying to know that something you are doing is making life better for others in your supply chain and making you money at the same time.
Have you seen a change in how conscious consumers are about the ethical side of their day-to-day purchases since you started Gusto in 1990?
Craig: We’ve always put taste and quality first and foremost. Ultimately, people buy our drinks because they offer an unrivalled taste experience, which is further enhanced by its ethical credentials.
William: People are drinking less and drinking better – it may have taken 20 years, but the ethical message resonates with consumers now. They’re turning away from the fruits of exploitation if there is a better alternative.
If you look at our agave supplier in Jalisco, Mexico, they have 200 families farming some 15,000 acres of agave. It’s hot, hard work in an area that is perhaps not famous for workers’ rights. For every kilo of agave we buy, 15 per cent of the value goes into an account shared amongst the co-operative for the benefit of farmers and their families, so they have support with heath care, education and infrastructure. Their blue agave is an amazing, nectar-like product, and Fairtrade secures its supply and ensures a sustainable future for the area. It’s an all-round win that starts when you crack open a bottle of Fiery Ginger...
Can you tell me about how you craft drinks at Gusto?
William: I take my approach from some of the experience I gained working briefly as a chef – I like to create complex layers of flavour. Every drink I make will go through a process of many hundreds of iterations. I love ingredients sourcing. Our ingredients reach their roots into organic soil and, rather like wine, you can taste where ingredients grow.
How did the idea for a ginger and chilli drink come to you?
William: When we looked at ginger drinks, we saw very sweet drinks with quite brutal ginger profiles. Working with fresh ginger you can reveal an enormous complexity of flavour from earthy to citrus notes, sharp, hot, sweet – it’s an extraordinary root with thousands of years of culinary and medicinal use.
We use fresh, organic ginger juice and Nigerian and Indonesian ginger extract to create complexity. Then we add Mexican chipotle to add some smoke and heat – a perfect complement. I think it’s the quintessential adult soft drink and has certainly powered me through Dry January – if I’m allowed to say that in a gin magazine!
I also love it with gin on the rocks, and I’m also a sucker for a Dark and Stormy.
What are some other Gusto flavours that discerning gin-lovers can start experimenting with?
William: Our Sicilian Blood Orange is special, and a perfect mixer. It’s a simple blend of blood oranges and sparkling Devon spring water. We have a Sicilian Lemon with fresh yuzu juice launching in April – it’s the cat’s pyjamas and will take gin and lemon to a new level!
What excites you most for the future of Gusto, and your mission to change the world of soft drinks?
William: We’re now exporting our drinks around the world – it’s a crazy thought that a small British craft brand is now selling its drinks in the Marriot in Singapore! We have a whole world to bring around to our organic and Fairtrade approach, and it’s a wonderful challenge.