Serious Eats: Drinks
Meet & Eat: Mark Rajeski of Brands of Britain, Importer of Fever Tree
Mark Rajeski is the president of Brands of Britain, the US importer for UK-based Fever Tree mixers. You've probably seen their tonic water, ginger ale, bitter lemon, club soda, and ginger beer in bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. Mark took some time to talk to us about why working with Fever Tree appealed to him and what makes these drinks so unique.
Name: Mark Rajeski
Occupation: President, Brands of Britain
Location: San Ramon, California
What inspired Fever Tree to focus on creating high-quality mixers?
Recognizing a void in the market. The products are meant to be mixers—although people may enjoy ginger ale, for example, as a beverage on its own, the founders of Fever Tree—Charles Rolls and Tim Warrillow—keep cocktails in mind when they're sourcing the ingredients and producing these products. They're designed to go well with the best bourbon and gin, and manufacturers of premium spirits have given us great feedback.
Did Rolls and Warrillow make homemade sodas before getting into the business?
No. The way they came up with the product was very appealing to me; they realized there was a total disconnect with an ongoing movement towards premium and craft spirits and the mixer that people were using to create the cocktail. The mixers had just not kept pace at all with what was going on in the industry. They were both in the spirits world: Charles worked with a gin brand and he realized, tasting his gin with some of the mixers on the market, that they didn't do his product any good at all, and that's likely where the idea originated.
Why is the the Cinchona Tree, in which quinine is found, known as the Fever Tree?
When the British were in India, malaria was a problem. People would use the bark of the tree to treat malaria. One of the major symptoms of malaria was a high fever; hence, fever tree. That's how the gin and tonic came about—the British decided to put the quinine in a beverage, and created tonic water.
What makes your products different from others on the market? Sometimes the best products and ingredients aren't easily accessible. Our quinine is a good example of that; it's being sourced from the Congo/Rwandan border because they've discovered that's one of the best sources of quinine. The second is that we do not use any high fructose corn syrup; we use pure cane sugar, so you get a much sharper, crisper taste. We don't use any preservatives—no sodium benzoate, which many of the major brands have.
Can you tell us about your ginger ale?
What separates our ginger ale is a number of things, including our use of cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup, and there are a lot of ginger ales out on the market that use ginger flavorings. We use three different types of ginger, and it's fresh ginger that needs to be extracted and distilled within a very short period of time—they do it within 24 hours of being harvested.
Is that blend used in the ginger beer as well? Your ginger beer has an amazing spiciness.
The ginger beer is much stronger. With ginger beer, the ginger is brewed, which is why it's called a beer, and you get a much more intense flavor, and the ginger isn't filtered out, it actually settles on the bottom of the bottle. The mixology crowd has found it to be great in drinks like the Dark and Stormy or the Moscow Mule.
What's next on the horizon for Fever Tree? Do you think fine mixers are here to stay?
We started with all the major metro areas and we're continuing to roll out and expand into other areas, but we're basically pioneering this whole premium mixer category and there's still a lot of work and education to be done. As far as introducing new items, we're in the process of launching a large 500 milliliter bottle as there have been a lot of request for that at some of the high end restaurants and bars where they do bottle service. I don't think this is a passing trend. Obviously the mixology thing has helped us quite a bit; it's not just people slapping drinks together. People recognize that if you're going to buy a premium spirit at 25 or 30 dollars a bottle, the idea of mixing it with a low-grade product just doesn't make any sense. I've been managing brands for about 25 years and this is the most interesting thing I've been involved with.
About the author: Laren Spirer is yet another lawyer (and freelance writer) obsessed with food and drink. When she's not eating, drinking, cooking, or thinking about what to eat, drink, or cook, she can often be found cycling, running, or swimming, likely in preparation for a triathlon. She also blogs at Sweet Blog o' Mine and tweets at @sweetblogomine.