Fever Tree founder Charles Rolls speaks to us about his passion for the Costa Brava and his growing business
Charles Rolls co-founded the tonic 6 mixer brand ‘Fever Tree’ in the UK in 2005. Following a call from the sommelier at the world famous el Bulli restaurant on the Costa Brava, the brand quickly became established in Spain and is now served in some of the world`s top restaurants. Through Lucas Fox, Charles recently bought a seafront house in Llafranc on the Costa Brava where he plans to spend time lunching and lazing.
CF: How did you first come across the Costa Brava?
CR: The first time I heard of it would have been in the 1960/70s as a destination for UK package holiday makers. We were not amongst those foreign visitors to the beaches.
CF: What was your impression of the area once you visited it and how did it differ from your expectations?
CR: My first view of the Costa Brava was from the Far de Sant Sebastia with a Catalan host. We ate well in the restaurant and watched the sea sparking below us. It was a stunningly attractive scene and bore no relation to the mental image I had previously in my mind. Later that year I stayed in Girona and also with some english friends inland near Madremanya, visiting the ruins at Empuries. The ancient city, the coast, the inland countryside, the views of mountains and sea, and the unspoiled nature of the area left a strong impression.
CF: You recently bought a property in Llafranc, for those unfamiliar with the town, how would you best describe it?
CR: A perfectly formed, unspoiled, Mediterranean coastal village, facing south and west, away from the wind, full of wonderful bars and restaurants.
CF: What are you most looking forward to experiencing in future visits?
CR: Pottering along the coast in a small boat, swims in the sea, more lazy lunches at the great restaurants in the area, walks and rides in the hills nearby, and occasional visits to Barcelona – my favourite Mediterranean city.
CF: When you visit the area, do you have a list of ‘must-dos’?
CR: We have some artistic genes in the family so the Dali, Miro, Picasso trails will be in our plans. But golf and tennis are also priorities for the family and I expect to enjoy many competitive games, no doubt being increasingly outdone by my children, and also by my wife. I have had to learn to live with this.
CF: What are your favourite restaurants in the Costa Brava and why?
CR: In Llafranc the Hotel, at Simpsons, and of course Casamar – really wonderful. Toc al Mar in Aigua Blava is also exceptional. The setting on the beach is magic and the fish perfect. But just a general comment about how good the food is in the whole region. I travel a lot and in comparison to so many places I have been, you have to try quite hard to be disappointed by the food in the Costa Brava.
CF: You set up the tonic & mixer brand Fever Tree in 2005, how did the concept come about and what is behind the name?
CR: Premium gin was my background. I was MD of the team that rescued Plymouth Gin from extinction. In that journey I realised that premium gins could not hope to flourish without premium tonics which would need to be less aggressive in aroma, taste and mouth feel than those Tonics on the market. With my co-founder we literally went to the ends of the earth to find the best ingredients to make this possible, including the purest source of quinine from the Congo. That source of quinine is the Fever-Tree. We loved the name and decided to use it for the whole range of mixers which we now sell including our world beating tonics but also ginger beer and lemonade.
CF: How did it become established in Spain?
CR: Serendipity. We had become established in the UK and wanted to come to Spain but had not found an importer. Out of the blue came a call from the sommelier of El Bulli restaurant. Meeting with Juli Soler of El Bulli and Marc Calabuig we quickly arranged the importation. And with the perfect tonic, we also hit the perfect time to launch as a handful of top gin brands were also working hard in top gastronomic circles in Spain. So we had the perfect storm of the right product at the right time and in good hands. And with the fortunate endorsement of Ferran Adria, of whose fame and influence I need say no more, we created a whole new market – the Premium Mixer, truly worthy to mix with the best spirits.
CF: How do you feel when you see your product served in outlets in Spain?
CR: Still very proud of what we have done of course. We have had a part in transforming the whole experience of one of the world’s greatest drinks – the gin tonic. And the highest highlight was being served “a sopa de tonica fever-tree” as a course at El Bulli in 2010.
CF: It is served in some of the world’s best restaurants, what do you think the secret of Fever Tree’s success is ?
CR: It is quality. One is almost tempted to adapt Bill Clinton’s “it’s the economy stupid” in his election campaign to say that for us “it’s the ingredients….”. No other soft drinks company has gone or is going to all parts of the world to get these fabulous tasting ingredients that we use. The results, quite simply, taste better than the others on the market.
CF: How globally established is it?
CR: Very. We sell to 48 countries now including the US, Spain, and as far as Australia and Japan. And in Horeca, that is to say hotels, restaurant and bars, we are leading the category in all markets.
CF: What are your plans for the future both professionally and personally?
CR: I am very lucky to have a great team at Fever-Tree and there is no-one here who is not motivated to continue to drive forward with what we started. Being a pioneer in a new market segment is very invigorating, as is a good gin tonic in the spanish style! ¡Salud!