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Pushing the envelope

Words by Dan Warden

From a Cornish kitchen to Hong Kong; Curio Spirits is proof of the importance of innovation.

For Rubina and William Tyler-Street, founders of Curio Spirits, it all began back in 2012. “It started with us playing around at home with small bits of distilling kit on the kitchen table. We knew we wanted to make our own spirits, but at this point we were just trying to work out the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.”

Experimenting and making various concoctions, she explains that some were better than others. “We’d invite our friends to parties to sample and have them completing surveys on the drinks! It quickly became apparent that we had a real passion for the provenance and quality of what we were making, and so we decided to ‘go pro’,” Rubina laughs. “There were a lot of conversations, research, investment, and a great deal of soul searching to boot, but out of sheer hard work, determination and experimentation, working with our brand agency and with support and amazing reviews from friends, family and potential customers, we finally realised the future that lay before us.”

The rest, as they say, is history, and so it was that Curio Spirits was born. In the decade since those formative days, the company has been on an incredible journey, “from the kitchen table, to the garden shed, to the wildlands of Mullion, all the way to creating a HQ in Porthleven”. Expanding with constant drive, innovation and experimentation, Rubina, William and their team’s story is replete with inspiration, and at DRIFT we’re delighted to welcome another fantastic business to the harbourside of Porthleven. “For several years we’d been asking Trevor Osborne for a shop space in Porthleven, and in 2021 we finally got lucky, opening a spirit shop, distillery and experience room in the Shipyard. We all really missed seeing our customers and they missed seeing us. It’s a massive change in our operations as we moved from being a B2B business to one that very much faces the end consumer, but it’s so exciting,” says Rubina, “and we’re loving every minute of it!”

Despite such a whirlwind of change and transformation, Rubina says that the same core ethos has remained consistent throughout. That is, a dedication to innovation and creativity. “When we started, for example, we were well ahead of the times, being the first to distil with sea vegetables because we wanted to include the beauty of our Cornish locality.” Also fundamental to Curio is a commitment to provenance and, of course, premiumisation in taste, design and service. “As times have moved on, and obviously with the impact of the pandemic, we’ve been led to incorporate new systems and technologies. But we also know that there’s always room for improvement – it’s never ‘perfect’ – and because giving our customers our best is what’s really important to us, these key principles will always be at the heart of what we do.” Finally, their ongoing commitment to sustainability, which includes the manufacture of bottles from 45% recycled glass, plus the reversion to paper labels. As Rubina says: “We are doing all we can to be responsible, to challenge ourselves and our business to make more improvements.”

Starting with premium gins and vodkas, with ingredients sourced from Cornwall including rock samphire and Cornish seaweed, plus those from across the globe like cardamom and Yuzu, consumer research quickly led Rubina and William to diversify into the world of flavoured rum. “William is the alchemist,” says Rubina, “coming up with flavours and mixes such as Spiced Banana and Scorched Pineapple, which just hit the spot!” But, of course, as is the way of the world, what’s inside the bottle doesn’t matter if the label doesn’t inspire you to pull it from the shelf. Fortunately, with the expertise of branding agency Kingdom and Sparrow, Curio were able to create a fresh, funky design, “something totally different to the rest of the market”, and so Kyabba Rum was born.

With the ‘Spirit’ side of Curio working hard for itself, as the pandemic hit, this dynamic couple found themselves – as we all did – with time to reflect and look to the future. “William suddenly had the time to create something he’d been planning since 2019. He’s always ahead of the curve, in fact he’s known for it in the industry,” says Rubina, “so he got to work creating Curio Hard Seltzers, a range of low-alcohol sparkling waters. In true ‘William’ style,” she adds, “he went the extra mile to make them vegan friendly, gluten free, with zero sugars, zero carbs and low-calorie. He also made them deliciously refreshing.”

This level of research, creativity and diversification is at the heart of any business determined to ‘go the distance’. Finding new trends before they emerge, spotting the gap in the market before it opens up; this is what sets the best in business apart from the rest. For Curio, this is evident in many forms, from the aforementioned Kyabba Rums and the Curio Hard Seltzers, to the discovery of the botanicals and taste combinations that no other brands are experimenting with. But it must necessarily go further than that, as Rubina says: “We’ve found that it’s important to follow through with these ideas which, alongside the all-natural ingredients that we include within our products, gives us a streamlined way of working that sets us apart from other brands.”

I’m interested to pull on this thread further and ask where Curio positions itself within the food and drink industry. Does it consider itself a Cornish brand for Cornish customers, or has it been able to tap into a wider market? “Curio fits into the premium end of the drinks industry,” says Rubina. “As we’re very much a Cornish company, we produce premium yet accessible drinks, and because our customers see our products as a chance to enjoy and savour a delicious drink, ours is not a ‘down the hatch’ type of product! But yes, we are very much a Cornish brand, because the majority of what’s in the bottle is Cornish. We’re very proud to have invested in our own bottles, too, with Cornwall etched in, so there’s no mistaking where the drink is from.

“Having said that, we have branched out further afield, through our own ambassadors and through distributers such as LWC and Mathew Clark. We export as far as Canada and Hong Kong, working closely with agents and the DIT.” This, says Rubina, doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time to form the necessary relationships and supply chains, however, she explains that Curio has been fortunate to work with some of the top 100 bartenders in the world! This, in addition to the accolade of being listed on the menu of Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental by none other than the Chef de Patron, is testament not only to the company’s reach, but the quality it distills into every drop.

But drink is just one of two timelessly inseparable companions, which is why Rubina, William and the team have decided it’s high time they began tapping into culinary Cornwall, too. Sharing the name of their popular flavoured rums, Kyabba Kitchen will be launching at this year’s Porthleven Food Festival, from 22nd to 24th April. Bringing foodies a delicious range of fish, meat and vegan tacos, mixed with spicy and tropical flavours from across the world, Rubina says: “Our street kitchen offers Mexican style street food with a classic Kyabba twist, delivering fun food to excite the taste buds.”

With 15 regional, national and international awards to their name, Curio set themselves apart through their products and passions, distilling innovation, creativity and Cornish flavour into everything they produce. Now, as they embark on a new, culinary journey, it would seem that the Curio spirit remains determined to continue to push the envelope.


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