Interview: Tom Savano

Are you sitting comfortably? It’s story-telling time.

Tom Savano had time on his hands. As a business entrepreneur, he enjoyed the good things in life that he had worked hard to achieve. But, in time, Savano tended to avoid places where the affluent set gathered to party in summer, or rendezvous in winter.

Travelling for its own sake wasn’t part of his natural character. Living for experiences rather than to accumulate trappings he began to seek out new and authentic cultures.

‘Jungle’ gardens at Hever Castle.

Shunning the five-star lifetyle, travelling and staying with local families in villages, a fascinating world of hidden heritages and crafts began to open up.

Trekking through the rainforest in Panama, Savano came across a small group of people distilling an authentic, raw and unmoderated rum, developed over decades and using a 50-year old still. Taste, aroma and memory are closely connected. Regional dishes, regional wines and craft spirits embody the essence or soul of a place. He began to seek out more family recipes for distilled spirits, handed down through the generations.

Tom Savano Caribbean Dawn Mai Tai.

Back home, Savano set out to source the best ingredients to combine in different cocktails of unique flavours that would bring you as close as you could get to the original experience. He wanted to recreate not only something related to the classic drinks of the world but, at the same time, transported you to somewhere new and unexpected with every sip.

The main hero spirit had to be from a craft distillery. Ideally, a family-run set up with a fascinating multi-generational story. Heritage was imperative for Savano, a distinct relationship to the place where the spirit was made. Authenticity and a continuation of the original traditions and methods were to be the cornerstones.

A perfect picnic with Tom Savano.

Savano began immersing himself in cocktail culture, revisiting London’s best bars to learn from the bartenders. Through long conversations, trying out the more unusual spirits on the back bar, sharing ideas and passion, he was gradually learning the world of spirits. Savano was a regular at the classic Connaught Bar in Mayfair, where the highly knowedgeable bartenders and the refined but unpretentious attitude, captured everything about Savano’s style that would underpin his new cocktails.

Shaken or stirred?

He came to appreciate the professional bartender who knows how to ice up a glass to ensure the perfect temperature. That the best way to make a margarita is Tommy’s style*, and swapping out the triple sec for agave syrup gives a slightly sweeter, but much smoother cocktail.

When making an Old Fashioned, hold the fruit, and never shake a drink which doesn’t contain citrus or egg white. Shaking produces small shards of ice that splinter off into the cocktail, making it harsher to drink and ruining the silky, layered taste you get from a stirred cocktail.

In time Savano’s unique cocktails were served at private events. Guests clearly enjoyed them and their reputation grew. As an entrepreneurial soul, it was enough to know that he had created a unique and very special experience to share with the world. The Tom Savano Cocktail was born.

Tradition

Organic in terms of products is a relatively new concept. When you have a third generation master distiller at 70 years of age still tasting every batch, then it becomes a whole different level of artisanal quality.

“When it comes to independent spirit makers it is character, story and heritage, that are important in defining flavour,” says Tom Savano.

To make tequila, for instance, the jimadores rely on centuries old know-how to take care of the hand-harvested Blue Agave plants. Ocho tequila, in a Savano Margarita, is one of the only tequilas still made the old fashioned way. The piña, the succulent core, is roasted in brick ovens and crushed between stone wheels. The family grow their own agave, and the people working on the farms and distillery go back three generations or more.

Tom Savano Cocktails

Tom Savano Cocktails Founder, James Kerslake.

James Kerslake created his alter ego Tom Savano to encapsulate his dream to create a fresh new cocktail that people had never tasted before, with unexplored flavours. “We’ve all had Grey Goose, Patron and Havana Club, so there’s nothing new to discover there.”

James admits he has always been a bit of a dreamer, a romantic and ‘very idealistic’. If the spirit you’re drinking has a great story behind it, it always tastes so much better”, he says. “At Tom Savano we love drinking chartreuse because we know it’s made by traditional monks in the remote mountains of France!”

The Tom Savano character is entirely fictional, or course, but not so very far from the truth. James is following the familiar story of City to Startup. After 20 years of working for financial institutions, he wanted to build something of his own. No stranger to hard work, in a past life, James ran an artisan café in London for four years around his day job, with a similar ethos around sourcing exceptional ingredients and creating artisanal food.

Having grown up in New Zealand, one of the ‘smallest but most beautiful places’, James appreciates the simple beauty of the natural world without the need for big bustling cities. Some of his annual rituals in the UK include a blossom tour around London, Hampstead and Notting Hill and seeing the botanical gardens in spring. In summer, eating pizza during Golden Hour on the Amalfi coast, or a beach picnic in California, are amongst his best-loved experiences. The leaf trail at Westonbirt is a favourite pilgrimage in autumn.  

Westonbirt in autumn. Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash

The Mojito Years

“Because I love sensory experiences and colour in my life, cocktails have always appealed to me. They’re just a visual and taste feast, full of complexity that seem to take you on a journey.” James isn’t a professional mixologist but was inspired by his first visit to Ibiza ten years ago, which included the classic sunset-watching at Café Del Mar, accompanied by a mojito and a great soundtrack.

Returning to London, James would rush home from work to commuter-belt Surrey each day to mix a few mojitos, sitting on the roof to watch the sunset at the end of the garden. For the next four years or so, that was all he drank and he became known as the ‘mojito guy’. On outings with flatmates, friends and family, James would always bring along mojitos for everyone. Initially, watching a sunset in a park meant enjoying a bottled mojito and he began taking them to the cinema and on special train journeys. And many years later that seed became Tom Savano Cocktails using only small batch, founder-run, craft distilleries.

James’ aim is to open up the world of craft spirits and world class mixology to make them accessible for everyone. Tom Savano Cocktails are ready mixed to bar quality, and bottled at bar strength. Designed to be drunk straight, nonetheless they can hold their own with a little ice. Better to chill the bottle or the glass, and add a fresh garnish of your choice.

Prices from £12 (double serve) to £27 (five serve). Delivery service available currently with 15% off your first order. Join Tom’s Club to access discounts on cocktails, invites to events, and rewards including engagement on social media. Club members also get a chance to taste Tom Savano’s new cocktails before they’re released. https://tomsavano.com

*The Tommy’s style Margarita was conceived in San Francisco in 1990 by Julio Bermejo at his parents’ restaurant called Tommy’s.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. My thanks, however, to James Kerslake who kindly gifted a delicious Tom Savano Single Estate Reposado Margarita and English Garden Lychee Martini for me to try. I admire anyone who starts up a new venture in difficult times, and enjoyed James’ story and wanted to share it with you.

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