Making the shift from food preparation to drink-making was an interesting progression for Duncan: “The interesting thing for me was working by hand with ingredients as a chef and taking this hands-on approach into the drinks world, which is dominated by big machines. It was very different to the pots, pans and cocktail shakers I was used to.”
“I don’t think many people would try and create a drinks company the way we did, as it involves an awful lot of trial and error,” he continues. “It’s much easier to outsource everything from the start, but then you lose the hands-on connection with your ingredients, as well as the delight of exploring great natural ingredients, spices, fruits and herbs.”
Fast forward to 2012 and Duncan was making and bottling his colas out of tiny kitchens in East London. The inspiration behind Dalston Cola? “The pure and simple underdog mentality of going up against Coca Cola; an enormous and established company.” No one could accuse Dalston’s of lacking moxie.
FIZZING WITH FLAVOUR
The company has come a long way since those first days hand-making cola to sell at Passing Clouds and is now stocked in stores, restaurants and pubs in the UK and even further afield. Recently, Dalston’s launched three new flavours in redesigned packaging – Fizzy Elderflower, Ginger Beer and Cherryade – to join the existing can line up of Cola, Lemonade and Orangeade.
The process that Duncan used to bring to life new drinks is essentially how you’d approach developing a new recipe. “The ideal way [to approach it] is to find what’s seasonal, best and closest to you.”
When visiting suppliers, the first question is always “What have you got?” From there, it’s a case of finding something that hasn’t been tried before and if it sparks excitement, go for it.
“This is exactly what happened with our cherryade,” Duncan explains. “We tried a bunch of cherry juices at one of our suppliers and thought ‘man, we could make an amazing cherryade.’ And that’s often how the best products come about.”