Delightfully distinctive, Curio are undoubtedly a staple member of Cornwall’s spirit drink community. Officially established in 2014, they were one of the first Cornish gins to set the pace for the spirit’s popular revival and Curio’s inquisitive nature continues to produce consistently innovative and authentic creations.
Entering into a new decade and Curio are still steeping in the success of their latest product, their Blueberry Gin. Walking away as winner in the competitive Flavoured Gin category of the Great British Good Food Awards 2019, judged by Raymond Blanc, added yet another impressive accolade to Curio’s collection and finished the year off on a high.
“We never planned to go down the flavoured gin route because there was nothing locally growing near us. I always think if you’re going to stick to something, then you’ve got to stick to it and if you want to say you only use natural products, then you have to only use natural products.”
Rubina Tyler-Street is the co-founder and one of the driving forces behind Curio. Alongside her husband, William, they are a formidable pair when it comes to experimenting with flavours and unusual creations. For Rubina, Curio’s ethos is one of their most important aspects as a business, only ever using natural and locally grown products within their gin range. In many ways, it’s a restrictive ethos, but one that has ultimately seen Curio achieve its status as an authentic, niche gin with admirers worldwide. Thankfully for them, the story of their award-winning Blueberry Gin was a stroke of fate, as Rubina explains,
“A local farmer contacted us who cultivated blueberries for jam. He’d had an abundance of them in his latest crop and as he knew we liked local produce, he asked if we wanted some.”
The story alone behind Helford’s blueberries is a captivating one, dating back to 2002, when during a Time Team dig archaeologists found existence of blueberry cultivation in Bonallack. Situated on the upper reaches of the Helford River, Bonallack was once the site of an early bronze age settlement, including a monastery. It’s believed that monks were responsible for the initial cultivation and offered proof that blueberries and other vaccinium could be grown beside the iconic river. The result – Curio had yet another delicious, award-winning new gin under its belt, the first flavoured gin of the range, and they were still able to proudly stick to their natural code.
“William and I went down to visit the farm and when we discovered the story behind the blueberry cultivation, we knew we had to get involved,” Rubina explains. “To be able to say that the blueberries used in our flavoured gin are from just down the road is incredible.”
It’s this same ‘no-nonsense’ attitude towards their ingredients that first saw Curio become a household name, when Rubina and William initially started experimenting with gin. The family home in itself is a botanical paradise as the duo grow mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, red sage, a variety of coriander, fennel and even horseradish. Their Cornish Cup, trademarked for its use of Cornish Mead and Honey, includes Rubina’s home grown Lemon Verbena, an aromatic and flavourful green plant that offers the scent and taste of its fruity counterpart. Matching flavours, some a little more experimental than others, are something Rubina and William relish in doing, as Rubina describes,
“Let’s say for example we’re using a piney juniper, what do we want with that, what accompanying taste is going to work with that. There are no boundaries when it comes to these flavours, you just have to try different things, it’s about having a go and seeing what works. When we produced our first gin we were still working full-time and couldn’t distil every day, but the Rock Samphire and Seaweed Gin took us two years to get right.”
From the very beginning, Rubina and William set the bar for alternative botanical experimentation within the gin community and their focus on native flora and fauna and local foraging soon made them pioneers. Curio’s Rock Samphire and Seaweed Gin, now known as Wild Coast Gin, and secretly referred to by Rubina as ‘her’ gin, was a recipe of her own creation that would go on to change the face of gin making for craft distillers everywhere, combining unusual but harmonious flavours of the sea to create a fresh, exciting and revolutionary gin unlike any other on the market at the time. Inevitably, the gin’s success and its acclaim led the couple down an explorative path of botanicals and craft spirit creativity.
“We started in the kitchen,” Rubina says, “when friends and family would visit, they’d walk in and see me surrounded by labels and boxes. Then I’d suggest we take a trip somewhere like St Ives, and whilst they’d be having a walk round, I’d be rushing about trying to sell the gin. It was a real heart and soul situation and very hands on!”
Six years on and Curio has expanded its notable gin range to include the likes of award-winning vodka and rum. Their Cardamom Vodka was awarded three stars by Great Taste and Rubina has noticed a recent spike in demand for their Cocoa Nib Vodka, which sees the company collaborate with another fellow small Cornish business, chocolate makers Chocolarder,
“I think today, people really care about what they’re eating and drinking,” Rubina says, “our Cocoa Nib Vodka is a really smooth vodka. We buy the cocoa nibs in from Chocolader, they’re organic, fair trade and already roasted, so it stops us from having to go further afield and keeps our carbon footprint low. We like to collaborate as locally as possible with brands that also adhere to an ethos similar to ours and at the end of the day, everyone gets something from it. The nibs from Chocolarder are as fresh as can be and when we distil the vodka with them the flavour we get is amazing and it’s because Chocolarder treat them with such care and attention.”
To Rubina and Will, the sign of a good spirit is its ability to be drunk neat, on ice. Every single one of Curio’s range is designed to fit that style and whilst Rubina doesn’t expect of recommend everyone to do that, it’s the best way for the team to test the quality of a product they’re making,
“We take pride in the fact that we quadruple distill our gins and vodkas and that we only use pure natural Cornish spring water in each distillation. We always think, if you can try something neat and it doesn’t make your toes curl, then it’s the sign of a good product!
Also under the Curio belt is their brand of rums, Coyaba. A selection of rums each individually and naturally flavoured, Coyaba was designed to be a funky, light-hearted spirit perfect for party cocktails or laid-back neat sipping. In the range, Coyaba rum features Salted Caramel, Spiced Banana and Charred Pineapple, all perfect with their own soft drink pairings or served neat and crisp on ice.
Of course, it wouldn’t seem right for Curio to leave the rum exploration there and to no surprise for the Curio range Rubina has another, utterly unique product in small batch production,
“We have a special Jamaican rum that we’ve been ageing in a Pedro Ximenez barrel. Pedro Ximenez is a famous Spanish sherry; we bought a barrel three years ago and our rum has been ageing in it ever since. The resulting taste profile of this rum is superb, it’s exciting, it’s full of flavour, you can pick out the raisins, the oak, all the different aromas. There’s not much of it, so we’re just selling privately at the moment, we’ve already got people returning for more. We will make another batch, but it’ll have a completely different taste profile, as is the nature of aged rums.”
Together, Rubina and William’s passionately inquisitive characters continue to lead Curio to exciting projects, some requiring years of thought, planning and production. With the distillery, and their home, residing out on the Lizard Peninsula, this beautiful but isolated region works as both an office and a retreat as the two co-ordinate the businesses demanding roles together. Whilst Rubina takes on more of a business management role, William is often referred to as the ‘alchemist’ of the duo, constantly developing new ideas and projects for the Curio brand to take on,
“It can be hard for us to switch off from the business,” Rubina explains, “there’s always something popping up in our heads and whenever one of us gets an idea or a thought it’s easy to just bring it up. William is always focused; he’s always thinking up new ideas but that’s what keeps him thriving. Whilst the Wild Coast gin was my recipe, all our following products have been mostly William and the rums were his idea too. Meanwhile in my little world I’m looking at botanicals, I’m looking at things I see all the time out on my walks, and I draw inspiration from the natural world around me. When I find something interesting, I start looking at what would match well with it as a flavour combination, what citrus might go with it or what woodiness might suit. Then William comes up with the ideas and we bring the two sides together.”
These shared processes have helped Rubina and William bring their latest venture to fruition – a Curio tequila. Much like the Cornish Pasty, tequila is classed as such by its location, made from the blue agave plant grown in the surroundings of the city of Tequila in Mexico. It’s a connection already embedded deep in Cornish culture, with Mexico having long retained a historic bond with Cornwall since the 19th century. Then, Cornwall’s miners and engineers were some of the most highly sort after in their field in the world, and hundreds travelled across the globe to work in mines. In 1825 alone, 130 Cornish miners and engineers emigrated to Mexico to work in the silver mines, bringing with them their love of pasties, which can still be found engrained in Mexican culture today. Now, Curio are bringing their own slice of the region and its heritage back to Cornwall, and Rubina is excited to continue this international connection in a new, modern way,
“We’re the first distilling company in Cornwall to have a tequila license and one of very few in the entire country. It took eighteen months to get our license and we’ve been working closely with a distillery in Tequila discussing what we’re going to produce and the best way we can produce it. It’s inspiring for us to think that so many Cornish people went there in the 19th century and now we’re going there and bringing something back to Cornwall.”
Evidently, when it comes to Curio, the clue is in the name. Driven by curiosity and encouraged by it, what started as a kitchen hobby has now grown into a small empire championed by Rubina and William, two intrepid explorers who use their larder of natural resources to turn spirit making into an artform. With so much already accomplished and so much on the horizon, it’s certainly looking like it’s going to be an exciting year for these masters of botanics.
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