The Founder - Tom Baker of Mr Black Spirits Co
In the same way that London is associated with gin and Scotland with whisky, if Australia were to have a signature spirit, we wager it would be coffee related, such is the Australian love for all things caffeine. And although there's no shortage of coffee liqueurs out there (Kahlua anyone?), it was only a matter of time before Australian had one it could call its own. Whilst there's now a plethora of Aussie coffee liqueurs in the market, we've long had a soft spot for Mr Black. In fact, one of the first few events we ran involved a parallel tasting of some coffee spirits out on the market (including Mr Black) and the unofficial consensus from guests on the night was that such was the quality of the Mr Black, it was the best one to be sipped straight.
Since then, Mr Black has gone from strength to strength, launching in the UK and US market as well as teaming up with Campos Coffee to release two limited edition liqueurs made with different beans (including the rare Panama Geisha variety). This year, they've added the special edition Mr Black Coffee Amaro to their lineup and if you're wondering whaaaa.....read on as we speak to co-founder Tom Baker about the whats and the whys.
What's your background?
I'm an industrial designer by trade and training. After graduating, I worked for an innovation agency with brands such as Absolut, Nestle, Chivas Regal, Jameson and KFC.
How did you go from industrial design to...booze?
In 2013 I was looking into the craft gin category so I found a guy who made the best gin in Australia and walked into his distillery on a quiet Sunday afternoon. That was how I came to meet Philip (Moore from Distillery Botanica in Erina, Central Coast NSW). He already was committed to producing a gin with another company but then he asked me that #1 question - "do you like coffee?" He whipped out a sample he was working on - different ABV and a different name to Mr Black - and it was love at first taste. I honestly thought “this shit could change how people drink”. Four years, four countries and many, many bottles later, we’re getting there.
How many months/years of testing did it take before you were able to publicly launch Mr Black?
Phil legitimately spent 6 months and 240 different iterations creating Mr Black. We launched it in two weeks. No plan. No strategy. Just ‘lets walk into a few bars and see who wants to buy this’.
We used Pozible (Australian Kickstarter) to see if people - like normal punters - wanted to pick up what we were putting down. Thankfully, they did, and we sold 250% more than we anticipated and set the stage for a number of distillers to follow in our footsteps - Four Pillars and Poor Toms to name but a few.
The focus has been on Mr Black as a coffee liqueur (the limited editions in the past focussed on utilising different beans) - why amaro?*
What people might not know about Mr Black, is our coffee roastery is also a world-class gin distillery. Philip Moore is Australia’s highest awarded gin distiller [being the only Australian to have won Gold at the London International Wine & Spirits Competition]. We make coffee by night and distill botanicals during the day.
Sure, Australia might not have booming amari culture, but our coffee amaro is the extension of my love and worship of coffee and Philip’s 30-year botanical obsession. I get it - it’s esoteric and a little left of centre, but if we don’t show the world what coffee can be in the bar, who will?
*Amaro is Italian for "bitter" and used to describe the category of bittersweet Italian herbal liqueurs that are traditionally drunk after dinner as a digestif.
Most memorable cocktail you’ve had with the coffee amaro?
I’m still in that ‘new parent’ phase - so it’s going to take a few months to get beyond anything other than a lump of ice the size of your fist.
The Mr Black Coffee Amaro is now available to purchase from www.coffeeamaro.com. We're working with Mr Black on the fulfilment of this one so not only will you be supporting a great little Aussie distillery with every bottle you purchase, but also our mission to influence better consumption in Australia!