Celebrating A Decade of Six Barrel Soda Co.

Joe Slatter holding two gold ballons with the numbers 1-0.

Joe Slater

On 2nd May, Six Barrel Soda Co. will celebrate 10 years. We chatted to Joe Slater, Co-Founder and Managing Director, about how he feels to be celebrating a decade making these utterly delicious drinks.

Interview by: Kelly Tapper

Images supplied by Six Barrel Soda Co. 

Happy Birthday! Did you have any idea at the start this is where you’d be after 10 years? 

No, we didn’t look that far ahead! We thought, let’s just get it off the ground and take it year by year. As the years passed by, we started thinking about what the next five years might look like. 

Along the way, we've had milestones, but we’ve always tried to be fluid, never too concrete, that's just how we are. We’re still having a lot of fun playing and experimenting with flavours. The goal was always to create a drinks brand that had a national and international presence, and we’ve achieved this.

Can you share with us how Six Barrel Soda Co. came to be?

I was making syrups in our bar, Monterey, in Wellington and we had a good following of people coming in regularly to find them. We saw there was an opportunity to be part of the buy less, buy better movement that was already taking hold amongst the beer and wine industry, and we wanted to create beverages that tasted a million times better than your average soft drink manufacturer. 

People were looking for craft products. When we started, kombucha wasn’t even being sold in the supermarkets. There’s been a phenomenal amount of growth in this area. Customers have attuned themselves to purchasing food and beverages in a different way, and Six Barrel’s success is definitely part of that. 

In 10 years there must have been some interesting experimentations. Disasters and triumphs. Can you share some memorable moments with us?  

Thankfully, not too many disasters. In the early days, we purchased a load of grapes from Martinborough and made a batch of pinot noir sodas. The result was a lot of exploding bottles! We had become accidental winemakers with the (unexpected) amount of natural yeast which caused the bottles to explode. It tasted delicious but was short-lived for obvious reasons. It was a useful learning experience for us. 

We also made a yummy eucalyptus syrup a few years back, which I quickly discovered humans can’t consume. This one was for koalas only.

We did a collab with Twenty Seven Names inspired by their collection that happened to feature a lot of floral prints. We came up with our Rose Lemonade which is now one of our most-loved drinks (still in production today). 

How do you decide what flavour syrups to make next?

To bring a syrup to life is a combination of factors. Sometimes we will think about an interesting fruit we can use that’s in season.  For example, last summer we decided to make a spiced cherry soda with a bunch of different spices. 

We work with other brands too. These syrups are typically limited quantities and allow us to be more experimental. Occasionally growers will approach us directly about a product they have in abundance that could be used, that’s always interesting.

Wellington On A Plate asked us to create some syrups based on dishes from the festival a few years back, and we had a lot of fun with those. We had to work out how to translate flavour profiles from food into a syrup. I remember a dumpling syrup we created had miso, mushroom, sriracha, ginger, chive and soy sauce. Pretty memorable stuff. 

We started out with 6 syrups in 2012 and we now offer 18 products. We recently counted up that we had made 150 different flavours over the last decade. We’ve been busy. 

The most divisive flavour? 

Hands down the Pickle syrup we made in partnership with McClures. We got hate mail. Personally, I really liked it! 

How will you be celebrating your 10th year?

It’s a hard time to plan a party but we will be celebrating. 

We are putting together a special birthday cake syrup with vanilla, raspberry and citrus flavours, and working with a cake mix company so you can get your hands on a birthday syrup and cake party pack. We have also commissioned a limited run of hand-blown glasses, which is super exciting.

For me, it is also a chance to sit back and reflect - a decade seems like a weird turning point. Contemplating what the next decade will look like, but also how far we’ve come.  

What inspires you to get out of bed? 

Learning. I learn new things a lot, and am constantly learning how to do this job better. There is new stuff going on all the time, new opportunities, new collaborations and interesting mail popping into my inbox. 

This year we will be exporting to Japan so that’s a new development that I’m excited about.

Saturday drinks at your place. What’s on the menu? 

Obviously G&T’s with our Rosemary Cucumber Tonic and Feijoa fizz for those wanting a non-alcoholic option. Our Feijoa syrup has recently become available all year round (thanks to some giant freezers) and is made from organic Hawkes Bay feijoas. 

 What’s next for Six Barrel Soda Co.?

There’s always new stuff coming, it definitely changes, but we have a plan. We see so much potential; more product ideas, range extension and growing our suppliers. Just within New Zealand, there are still so many places selling average soft drinks so there are lots of avenues to explore.

Joe's Neat Places