Hello Marcus, Hello Max, …
Hi Max and Marcus, can you tell us more about you? Are you two distillers? or two spirit makers? or two spirit creators?
Max: Hey Valerie, thanks for having us. I would consider ourselves as a spirit maker or creator. Although we know people in the industry that define a distiller similar to a chef in the kitchen, creating a fabulous meal out of raw ingredients, I always associate a distiller with somebody that also owns a distillery. We don’t own one currently, but we are very interested in good spirits and the process of creating high quality products.
Can you tell me about your first encounter with spirits?
Marcus: Yes, that dates back when I was working in a bar in my home town for a couple of years. I started with Peter Bohrmann’s Mixing book that was very inspiring at the time. There I got in contact with different spirits, different tastes and drinks and people who enjoy them.
How would you describe your spirit? What makes it unique?
Max: I would describe Lōkal as a fresh aperitif full of fruity pome fruit and gentle bitterness. That is also why we call our first aperitif – Pome Fruit Yellow Gentian. It has a great natural sweetness thanks to the use of different juices such as quince, apple, pear. Our different distillates and macerates like rowanberrys, yellow gentian and centaury then add a very pinpointed bitterness that balances the sweetness. As a basis we use fruit brandy. It is a superb spirit that has so much potential but unfortunately is too often considered out-dated and square. We want to change that. Lōkal is ready-to-drink. We recommend trying it on the rocks actually. Of course it works very well as a Spritz, Mule, Soda or as the base for more complex cocktails as well.
Did you start on a trial and error basis?
Marcus: Yes, a lot of trial and error, to be honest. It took us around a year to come up with the final recipe. It really was a journey. But it was worth it. From our kitchen sink where we started with our own maceration, asking almost 70 people, friends and family for feedback, adding components, removing components, to this final product. And we are not shy to say that we got professional support from some of Berlin’s finest bartenders and culinary experts. For example the KINK bar with its amazing bar crew led by Arun (check the interview with Arun Spiritsfully made in the podcast series here)
Is there something you did not like about the process of creating an alcoholic beverage or at least something you hadn’t planned at all?
Marcus: Of course we had some ups and downs during the process. Not being spirit makers for many years, I guess we encountered some unexpected problems that an experienced distiller would not have encountered. For example the interaction of natural unfiltered fruit juices that we initially chose and our fruit brandy. We never had heard of pectins, so in the beginning they were giving us a hard time 🙂 Once we collaborated with professionals we could really improve our process though. The other topic that we hadn’t planned on was the state of the packing and glass industry. Choosing a bottle that would fit our brand was not that difficult, ordering 1000 bottles for our initial batch was. We had to wait many months but finally could hold a finished bottle in our hands.
What would say to someone who wants to start a career as a spirit creator?
Max: Go for it! Get the basics right. Be open to expert opinions. Go and test your product. Do not be happy with a mediocre product. That is the one part of the medal. You also have to have the stamina with the business side of things.
Would you consider you’re doing a craft spirit?
Marcus: Good question. That depends on the exact definition I guess. We started very hands-on. We tried to make everything by ourselves as long as we could. This works for very small production with limited quantities of raw materials. In our case, when you target a bigger market and you are using juices in your aperitif, you have to adapt a little bit. For our production we try to source the raw materials from Germany whenever we can. Certainly not from overseas. We also use natural ingredients only, which is of superior importance to us. We are experimenting with different ingredients in our recipes and testing those, developing them further and so on. So I would say “yes”.
How much does the expression make sense to you?
Marcus: Well it makes sense. But even in our case you have to admit that it is getting blurry. We can produce our spirit by hand, yes. We did it for over a year in small units. But for good reasons and for scalability we have chosen to work with a partner at our side that has been in the business for almost a century. We consciously opted against the initial investment needed for a complete own production line as it was not feasible for us at this point in time. So maybe we are no distillers but craft our own spirit.
How do you cope with them using the word craft? What would be your definition?
Max: “Craft” for me is related to the process of finding your recipe. Trial and error. If you offer a purely distilled product such as gin, whisky or fruit brandy, you have to own the distilling process, since this is the “craft”. In our field of aperitifs, I would argue that distilling is one part of the equation but creating an excellent new product from it, is, at least, equally important. So I would still consider creating this new aperitif with natural ingredients only a “craft”.
Where are your base material and ingredients coming from?
Marcus: Our base is a German fruit brandy from the black forest. We are working closely with two partners to source all our ingredients with the quality standards that we demand. We only use natural ingredients for Lōkal. Our juices are all produced in Germany and we try to keep the transportation routes as short as possible. We are monitoring these processes. If some of our ingredients are not available locally we try to source them from other countries in Europe.
Did you know when you started that there would be so many new adult beverages launched each year on the market? How do you see this profusion of choices?
Max: We did not know in detail but of course we had experienced a continuous influx of new products in the last years. Looking back it has always been this way. At one point you might think: “There must be a big enough choice of Gins on the market” but then you again see new brands popping up. It is getting more crowded. I do think there are still parts of the market that are super interesting such as low ABV, Aperitifs and the wish for more natural options.
Do you think that making high-quality spirits is enough to exist in the spirits industry these days?
Max: To simply exist, I would answer “potentially”. To create a thriving business out of it, it is a clear “no”. Similar to other industries, not always the best will come on top. You need to create a product that customers love and will come back for. You also need to be consistent and persistent. A big part of the business is the business part.
How do you see the major trend towards less alcohol or no alcohol in spirits? Marcus: I think it’s positive. It broadens the field for consumers. Alc. free wine did not work for me though, I have to admit. But I know people that appreciate those. I would compare it a little bit with vegan products in the food industry. Some are superb, some are not. But having an alternative is positive.
What do you think about the idea drug legalisation could be a threat to the alcohol industry?
Max: Weed over Wine? No, I do not see a threat there. No matter which drugs, you have to act responsibly. And to be honest, I do not see people going to bars and restaurants or even at home and choosing a THC product over a drink. Drinking and inhaling are not two sides of the same medal.
What are you working on these days that makes you excited?
Marcus: We are working on so many things! For example we are currently working on our distribution strategy and positioning of our product. We do want to be accessible for consumers. But what I am most excited about is our cooperation with KINK in Berlin that challenges us when we come up with more recipes for future tastes.
Thank you for your generosity and honesty, Max and Marcus!