Meet the Producer: Slake Spirits
Dr Tom Martin-Wells launched Slake Spirits after leaving a career in organic chemistry. The brand combines his love of science, foraging, and flavour, and its principal product, Sussex Dry Gin, has already picked up a Great Taste Golden Fork
What were you doing before you launched Slake Spirits?
I used to work in academia as a research chemist. I spent most of my time in the lab tinkering with exotic and often toxic chemicals, making novel synthetic inorganic compounds.
Why did you decide to start distilling?
I fell out of love with academia, but not chemistry. It was time to move on. I wanted to work in an environment that brought innovation and research closer to the consumer, and to experience that journey from start to finish. I was also a passionate forager and foodie, so making wild-inspired spirits, drawing on my chemistry background to build and explore a library of wild flavours, felt like a natural progression.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned?
There is never enough time to do it all. You need to work with people that truly understand your vision and ethos. A brand’s values are like a lens through which you must view the world. Once you start the journey you must not put that lens down or you may not arrive where you expected.
What makes your spirits stand out?
Putting our passion for quality aside, the importance of people and place cannot be overstated. It is our meticulous methodology and wild inspiration that creates spirits of unique character, crafted to reflect where and how they are made. We pursue character through natural connection because we believe there is great value in that relationship.
How has your career in organic chemistry influenced your distilling?
The ability to break down the complexities of a finely balanced recipe into the constituent stages and ingredients has been invaluable. When combined in just the right way, this creates something much greater than the sum of its parts. That’s always the goal and there are no shortcuts, but the scientific approach helps immensely, particularly when untangling the sometimes raucous and variable nature of wild ingredients.
Why do you forage for regional ingredients?
Natural connection is at the heart of what Slake is about. It’s through our passion for harnessing wild and locally grown ingredients that we hope to foster this connection to land in others. While it’s not yet possible to grow or gather all the ingredients we use in Sussex, by drawing our focus to such ingredients it unlocks the unique character of a place, and the necessity of a limited palate boosts our creativity.
What is the best thing about being a small business?
Everything about Slake, from the products to the working environment is built around the company’s and my values. We’re passionate about quality and believe in the importance of people and place. We unashamedly put our whole heart into everything we do.
…and the worst?
There are an awful lot of resources needed to support and grow a brand, particularly in a crowded and noisy global market. As a small business, even with a strong brand and good products, it’s tough to compete and you have to choose how you allocate resources carefully.
What’s next for Slake Spirits?
We’ve been kept rather busy of late renovating an old Victorian granary in Worthing to rehome our growing distillery and there will be two new spirits from Slake launching later this year to watch out for, too.