A conversation with everleafs drinks founder Paul Matthew
Paul is the founder of Everleaf Drinks and co-owner of a boutique group of London venues including The Hide Bar, The Arbitrager and Demon, Wise and Partners.
Everleaf Drinks were recently listed in the top 3 best-selling and trending non-alc brands amongst the world’s top 100 top bars and is the chosen non-alc brand of Cocktails In The City.
Why did you start Everleaf?
There are two parts to that. Firstly, I used to be a conservation biologist working primarily on plants (following in my dad’s footsteps – he’s a botanist). Bartending supplemented that career, but eventually one overtook the other, and I opened The Hide (15 years ago now). I’ve always wanted to combine the plant and drinks components though!
The second part is that 4-5 years ago we started seeing more and more of our guests asking for no and low abv options at our bars. We wanted to offer them something we felt was as good as any of the best products on our back bar, and that kick-started the experimentation that led to Everleaf.
What do you enjoy most about the new business?
I really enjoy telling people more about the amazing properties and stories behind some of the plants we use. For example, gomme syrup, such a bartender staple, should include acacia gum (the gomme part) which creates a softness and silky texture, it seems mundane as it’s so prevalent but when you actually look at the acacia tree it comes from it’s just fascinating – from the sustainable harvesting of balls of dried sap, through to the use of acacia planting as part of Africa’s Great Green Wall to combat desertification and biodiversity loss (something our acacia supplier is working on with Tree Aid).
The other part is about building our team and growing Everleaf to be something meaningful in the drinks industry – it has been full of challenges, but I’ve really enjoyed the journey so far!
You’ve released a range of products for Everleaf, what was the thinking behind that?
We originally launched what became known as Forest – something that fitted what I wanted from a non-alc – full of bittersweet earthy flavour, complex aroma and texture. Something that felt grown up and appealed to my palate. I wanted it to be unique, rather than copying something we already had on the back bar, and as such, I’ve been delighted to see bartenders using it with alcohol as well as without – that shows me it’s unique and good enough to stand up against anything else on the back bar. It’s quite amaro-like in some of the flavours (gentian, liquorice, angelica for example), but then also has a lot of floral aromatics like orange blossom and saffron.
There were loads of other plants and ideas we wanted to experiment with though, so using the same principle that we wanted them to be unique flavours, I worked on Mountain and Marine to try and capture the characteristics of those biomes. We use fermented Japanese cherry blossom in Mountain (along with vermouth botanicals, rosehips and a touch of strawberry), and seaweeds with bergamot and olive leaf in Marine, so they all now offer things I can’t readily find in other products, plus they’re very versatile. Our signature serves are all just as spritzes with light tonic, but a bar spoon of Marine is great in a martini to add that savoury umami for example!
Covid has affected people and businesses in many different ways, what was the effect on Everleaf?
At the time we were 85% sales in the on-trade so that was an issue, but on a personal level it was more of a frustration as it meant I couldn’t go out and tell the story of the plants and ingredients directly to people. We are growing the business at an organic pace and it’s important that we support our sales with education around the people and ingredients that we use.
I think lockdown in general concentrated people’s attention to their mental and physical health and the statistics show that alcohol consumption has decreased and more of a general move to quality over quantity. People are more interested in legitimate stories, people interested in provenance and what they consumer and this rise in awareness is good for Everleaf.
With multiple businesses and a family how do you relax?
I find running my place to unwind and relax, it gives me mental space to think things through, decompress and escape. That and an Everleaf Spritz at the end of the day!
Is there a book you would recommend for people interested in launching their own brand?
Philip Duff, founder of Old Duff Genever, recommended “That Sh*t Will Never Sell” by David Gluckman – it’s great for encouraging you to get out there and go with what you think. The other one I’d recommend is “Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, about how to make what you do count beyond the numbers alone.
And finally, what are your plans for 2022?
I’ve got a lot of ideas for new products and plants I’d love to use, but we should probably try and focus this year – one of our goals is to support the recovery of the on-trade as Covid has hit everyone so badly, and in so many different ways.
I also really want to tell more of the stories of our ingredients. If Covid allows, I hope to be visiting more of our suppliers and delving into the detail of the plants, along with contributing more to the conservation of plant biodiversity as we build out our sustainability strategy.