Interview Hour: Sam Paget Steavenson

 The Wordrobe chats tricks of the tipple trade with 31-year-old Sam Paget Steavenson, founder of The Rum Runner, a bespoke cocktail service that designs cocktails for any event, bar or restaurant


What’s been your favourite event with The Rum Runner so far?
It’s almost impossible to choose just one as we’ve been lucky enough to work on some ridiculously cool parties both here in the UK and abroad. However, one event really comes to mind as an opportunity to really show off our ability to follow a brief, the opening party for the new Design Museum in 2016. 

We were asked to design and build a copper bar from scratch (which was a challenge in itself) along with creating a bespoke cocktail menu. It was an amazing brief to work towards and it was incredibly satisfying to have been able to pull-off.  

Having this creative free range was incredible and proved to me that I am equally as passionate about the design and styling of bars themselves, as I am the drinks. This design service is something we now always offer clients and I feel gives us originality with both our bar setups and drinks.  

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Tell us more about the air stream…
We had an original 1960’s 24ft Airstream shipped over from the US and converted it into a fully equipped cocktail bar. I wanted one of these when I first setup the company, but had to wait a few years to save up the cash. We designed it to look unique and impressive from the outside and with everything that a cocktail bartender needs inside. 

 It is popping up everywhere from festivals, to race courses and private events – watch this space.

 Do you have a favourite cocktail?
My favourite classic would probably be a very well made Old Fashioned, or a Tommy’s Margarita with Mezcal. If we’re talking about one of my own, then I love the ‘Well Seasoned’ – Gin, Celery, Black Pepper, Thai basil and Soda. I don’t like sweet drinks and this is a very green tasting and refreshing drink. 

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Name us three excellent cocktail and food pairings.
A dry sherry cobbler goes brilliantly with tapas style food. A margarita (or even better a spicy margarita) is the perfect addition to a great cheese burger and fries – Honest or Patty & Bun are winners in my eyes. Finally, I love crab rolls and these go really well with one of our house drinks ‘Dock of the Bay’ – Gin, Pink Grapefruit, Fennel and Bay Leaf.

What inspired you to launch the business?
I got into the business when a client from the last bar I worked in asked me to make drinks for him and some friends in his house for his birthday. One job lead to another and I started to do some research on the competition in the event bar world.

I found that there was largely a real lack of thought and effort that went into their menus and nobody seemed to use fresh ingredients. We prepare everything that we put into our cocktails in-house and take real pride in the fact that we only use fresh ingredients. This to me makes all the difference. 

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Tell us more about your culinary background.
There is not a huge amount to tell really, my first job in hospitality was in a kitchen and I did expect to go down the chef route. I moved to the bar however, as I loved the interaction with customers and the process of making drinks. 

 My ability to create drinks came almost entirely from getting geeky and reading books from the history of various spirits, to homemade tonics, flavour pairings and anything food / drink related. 

What’s been your favourite career highlight so far?
The part of the job I enjoy most is menu development and being a tiny company, I seem to spend more time on things I am less interested in such as bookkeeping and the general admin that comes with running a company. 

 I got approached by an incredible Indian restaurant called Kricket to design their cocktail menu. If you haven’t been there I really could not recommend it more – their food is completely delicious. This was such a great brief for me as I have been to India many times and love both the ingredients they use and their culture.

What makes an excellent cocktail?
In my opinion, an excellent cocktail is one that is balanced, well-thought out and makes you appreciate an ingredient that you might not think you like. 

 Have you noticed any 2018 cocktail trends?
There is a real surge in the non-alcoholic spirits and non-alcoholic cocktails which I am a big fan of both. Bitter Salvation is particularly delicious and of course the pioneer Seedlip too. 

Bars seem to be making more bits in-house from bitters to fermented elements which made well make for really interesting ingredients as well as the supposed health benefits – so win win!

What keeps you inspired?
I am sure anyone that works in events would be aware of the hard work that is involved. Creating a temporary venue, party or setup out of nothing requires a lot of physical work and shifts that regularly last over 20 hours.

Having said this, I love that each event means a different view from the bar, each brief for the cocktail menu results in a new set of drinks and this keeps me inspired by always having to develop ideas.  

From a cocktail design point of view, as soon as I feel stuck in a rut I spend a day playing around with one new ingredient. It’s strangely therapeutic. Coming up with great a new drink and getting a positive response from a client reminds me why I love what I do.

Describe your mixology ethos in three words.
Fresh. Homemade. Un-fussy.

Lastly… what’s your favourite midnight snack?
I love a chicken goujon, anytime of day or night!

Find out more about the Rum Runner via therumrunner.co.uk

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