Six Barrel Soda Co.
You know that now infamous hummus story in the 'about us' section? Well, Ma Brash was ahead of the trend on something else too - Elderflower cordial. We would scour the back roads for the elusive white florets every spring and make litres of the stuff. Combine that with our sodastream and it was the perfect summer treat.
Because fizzy drinks for us were a treat growing up, we weren’t allowed the bought stuff, which was SOOOO annoying at the time, but can understand Mum's reasoning now of course - it’s just sugar and chemicals, terrible stuff. Not surprisingly, it is an attitude I now hold in my adult life and it seems so does Joseph Slater. Sick of using standard big brand sodas and syrups in his cocktails at Monterey, he started making his own. Realising he was on to a good thing, he set up Six Barrel Soda Co. and the world is a better place because of it. The first time I had their lemon soda (another Ma Brash special) I was instantly transported back to my childhood – when putting the sprinkler underneath the trampoline could occupy me for a whole day and we would babysit lambs while our friends were on holiday. But these sodas are the good stuff; the lemon soda tastes like lemons, the lime like limes, the kola nut, I assume, actually tastes like kola nuts, the snozzberries... no, wait.
This is no cutesy, soda pop shop - it's all pinewood, greens and exposed brick. It looks like a lumberjack designed it*. This is a grown-up's soda shop. You walk in and you can feel your coolness factor rise a few notches. This is largely to do with Joe, who no doubt was in the cool club at school. And if he wasn’t, he definitely is now.
Together with Mike Stewart, they have set up some of Wellington’s greatest hang-outs, the now-closed Kreuzberg summer café – a caravan tucked in amongst picnic tables in a leafy courtyard at the top of Cuba; Monterey – playing a large part in the gentrification of Newtown and Six Barrel Soda Co.– which, now that they have their liquor licence, is going to become the perfect after-work summer spot. We chatted to Joe, the late afternoon sun pouring in, while sipping on a Mulberry Street.
How did Monterey and Six Barrel Soda Co. come to be?
I moved back to NZ and set up Kreutzberg with Mike - we wanted a nice outside spot in the city, and we were there for about 3 years. From there, Monterey happened because we were both living in Newtown and we wanted something that we would both want to go to, and we felt like there wasn’t much happening in that direction. We saw the suburb changing so much, but nothing was really changing with it, so we approached the owner of the Cantonese restaurant who was there before us to see if he would be interested in leaving, which he was, so that was that. Well no, that sounds like we strong-armed him, but he had a long while left on his lease and he had a new wife, so was happy to leave. We liked the place because it was a decent size, the kitchen was really nice and the bathrooms were done and that’s the expensive stuff if you are doing a place up. We liked that it was on the corner and at the start of Newtown in a good position. It felt like quite a good fit.
After a while we had been making sodas for Monterey and Kreutzberg and had had lots of interest in the product. We had wanted to do something closer to town and we had seen this space had been empty for ages and we'd always loved it. It is so light, sunny and central, but still quite tucked away from all the chaos of the street.
It started at Monterey; we were making turn of the last century cocktails and they all needed ginger and raspberry syrups. We then started using our ginger syrups instead of using [mainstream ginger beer brand], and lime syrup instead of [mainstream lime syrup] and lemon instead of lemonade. After a while I wanted to focus on them being sodas instead of cocktail mixers and once Quina Fina came out that really rounded it out, because tonic is difficult to make and they have done that right, so we got rid of the [mainstream soda brand] altogether.
Where does the name Six Barrel Soda Co. come from?
Well, it’s a take on the sixth barrel that wine makers, brewers and distillers use to try stuff out and for their small batches. It is a sixth of a regular barrel, which is why it is singular as opposed to plural.
Is the design and decor important to you?
It is pretty important - it is important to have somewhere nice to go and hang out. I think for us the atmosphere is more important, but the look of the place plays a big part of that. We wanted it to be a place that was comfortable to hang out and still quite unique and not too crimson and mahogany.
Did spending time overseas influence the type of place you wanted to open up?
Yeah, I think that is a pretty typical Wellington thing, per capita we have a lot of more original and interesting places than other cities because a lot us go and live overseas for a long time, then come back and want to recreate the experiences we have had. But yeah, there are a lot of things that are possible overseas that you could never do here because they are so niche. If only 1% of the population go to your shop, it's fine if you have 10 million people, but not OK if you only have 300,000. We went to a place in Portland that only sold bitters and salt! It’s crazy, the guy is a salt expert in the US and they have 150 bottles of bitters from around America. You could never have a bitters and salt shop in NZ.
Have you always worked in hospitality?
Yep, I started working in hospitality at university and then went overseas and worked in cocktail bars in London and Paris.
What is your favourite dish on the menu?
I’m vegetarian, so I mostly eat the tofu sliders and the scrambled tofu.
What is your favourite soda?
Grapefruit and Hops is really good; we have a batch on today with some really nice hops we got from Garage Project.
Probably my favourite is Vanilla Cream, which is our least popular seller, maybe because it sounds funny but it is really good. It is essentially a classic creaming soda.
What influences the limited edition sodas?
I guess a few different things. Some of them are seasonal, so the Grapefruit and Hops is on while we can get grapefruit, We have these guys we get all our citrus from in the Hawkes Bay, who are pretty radical organic citrius growers - Produce E Central. They drive down every fortnight with a van full of citrus. But something like Sarsaparilla, which is a root, we can do all year round, so those are sort of one-offs instead of seasonal. A few are influenced from classic recipes. I’m working now on a celery tonic, which is a NY Jewish drink. I have no idea if it is going to be any good, it sounds pretty crazy.
What do you make for yourself on a day off?
I eat a lot of Mexican at home. Probably my favourite dish at home my wife and I call Non-Quesadillas, they are quesadillas with refried beans instead of cheese, with tofu and chipotle on top.
Did you have a sodastream growing up?
Nah, never had one, but we had Thrifty. Thrifty is the worst! It is so insanely concentrated.
Who do you admire in the food industry?
Abroad, Avery Glasser of Bittermans Bitters. I met him years ago in London, he was going around the best cocktail bars giving out his bitters for bartenders to try. Now he has a whole range of cool stuff including an amaro and bitters bar in Brooklyn NY, which is so specific, but really cool. Here in New Zealand some of the young brewers (not necessarily youthful young, but start-up young) that are doing some ballsy stuff. Garage Project and Parrot Dog, those guys are making wicked beers.
Also Jonny McKenzie, him and Justin opened Hawthorn Lounge when he was just a youngun' and it is still the best cocktail bar in Wellington.
Where do you eat out in wellington?
We don’t go to fancy restaurants that much, mainly because most of them don’t have great veggie options. I eat here and Monterey a lot, Auntie Mena's, Little Penang and Viva Mexico, all their stuff is incredible. Now that I work in town I have lunch out a lot, so Milk Crate, Customs or Deluxe.
What’s happening in the future for Six Barrel Soda Co.?
We are still pretty young here, so we are trying to work out how to grow, but still do what we do here well. I guess that is what is good about having a product that we can expand without having 20 shops around the place. We are hoping to expand the customer base more outside of Wellington and also want to do some pop-up soda shops around the place.
Tell us something about yourself that most people won't know
I was a super fussy child. I wouldn’t eat anything that was weird or two things that were touching on my plate, even eating something like McDonalds I would only go for the chips and nuggets.
I think when I became vegetarian I had to eat a lot better - after that I ate exotic things like pasta and noodles.
Do you have any special home remedies?
I worked a whole winter at Kreuzberg without getting sick, I’m not sure if it is because I couldn’t get sick or that I drank a lot of straight ginger syrup. That is going to sound like a plug, but it’s not! That stuff will treat you right.
Where can we find you?
Level 1, on the corner of Dixon Street and Eva Street. Sharing the alleyway with some less than salubrious neighbours. One time I overheard a little girl ask “Mummy, Mummy, what is Dream Girls Happy Pants? I want to go there!” Because that sounds amazing if you were a kid right? It sounds like some sort of Barbie Theme Park!
Being all very meta, I wrote this post while sitting in the sunny corner spot at Six Barrel Soda Co. I had the weekend special of scramble, soda and bottomless coffee. Distracted by listening in to the wonderful and hilarious conversations happening around me, I was there for about 6 coffee top-ups. I was so wired when I was walking back home, it felt like I was in a pinball machine going up Courtenay Place.
Six Barrel Soda Co. Corner Eva and Dixon Streets, Wellington.
021 119 6257