Meet The Maker: Tom Baker & Martin Hudak, Mr Black Spirits

Meet the guys making the cocktail biz buzz with the feistiest Aussie export since Shane Warne

We're in the midst of a craft coffee liqueur BOOM, and this is the brand that lit the match. We chatted to Mr Black founder Tom Baker and Mr Black brand ambassador Martin Hudak to chat java, cocktails and what's hot Down Under.

Let’s start at the beginning: who are ya and what are you the makers of?

TB: I’m Tom Baker, Founder and CEO of Mr Black Spirits. We make an astoundingly delicious cold brew liqueur, and we’re on a mission to bring craft coffee into the night. 

Tom, what is it that inspired you to co-found Mr Black? And what makes Mr Black different from other coffee liqueurs on the market?

TB: Genuinely there was no strategy or spreadsheets. Just a belief that what we had created was so vastly different to other products on the market, and we couldn’t think of a reason why every bar wouldn’t want a bottle of it. Coffee is one of those things right – it’s a flavour yeah, but people’s affinity for coffee sits deep in their heart. Sure there were lots of things before us that said “coffee” on them, but really none of them bears any resemblance to the coffee that people drink today.

When we first made Mr Black – and really still to this day – coffee liqueurs were made with too much sugar and lots of fake flavours. Horrible really. Coffee deserves better. 

Mr Black comes from just north of Sydney. Tell us about its home city and what you love most about it?

TB: Sydney is a special place to live. We’re 10 minutes from the beach, not far out of the city. The cocktails here are world-class, and that undoubtedly had an influence on Mr Black. If it wasn’t for bars like Rockpool, Vasco, Low302 etc back in 2012/2013, Mr Black would look very different. We made a great product sure, but it was the creativity of Sydney bartenders that showed us what coffee could be in cocktails. That’s when the light bulb flicked on in my head. 

Australian coffee culture is legendary.  Where serves the best coffee Down Under? What makes it so good?

TB: I’ll get in trouble if I don’t say Sammy Junior. They make the best coffee in Sydney, right Martin?

Image by DS Oficina

MH: Absolutely! And this is really true about Australian coffee culture, no matter where you go, the level is considerably high compared to the rest of the world. Melbourne holds top coffee status with its large numbers of speciality coffee shops and roasteries.

The quality really starts with these roasteries selecting only speciality grade beans and roasting them to highlight their specific profiles. And then – of course, not forgetting the baristas who are obsessed with quality and perfection.

If we were gonna spend a weekend in Sydney, what shouldn’t we miss? Where will we find the best bars?

TB: While COVID kept drinkers away, the inner city has had a real resurgence of quality bars. Maybe Sammy, Shell House, Apollonia, PS40,  Gidley, Deans just to name a few. Our Sydney office happens to be next door to Cantina OK!, so we’re spoilt for choice around there.

Image via Cantina OK! Facebook

MH: Once you are in CBD of Sydney most of the bars are within walking distance from each other. I agree with Tom, you should definitely try the most famous and smallest agave bar – Cantina OK! Then head to Baxter Inn for delicious dram of whisky, stop by Sammy Junior for coffee cocktails and finish your night with an Africola cocktail at PS40. 

There are also a lot of great bars in surrounding neighbourhoods such as Surry Hills, Potts Point or Newtown.

Or just ask me and I’ll show you around.

Martin, you’re the co-owner of Sydney’s Maybe Sammy, AKA “The Best Bar In Australasia”. Tell us about the bar, what makes it so epic?

MH: We’ve been very lucky to be awarded this title for the past three years and I think it is purely down to our amazing team. Their commitment and focus on customer service is beyond expectation. Our main goal is to create the most memorable experience – filled with not only delicious cocktails but also with an element of entertainment and deliver the same feeling as sitting in the theatre or at a concert.

If you could teleport to any bar in the world, where would you be zooming off to and who in the biz would you hope to find when you get there?

TB: We’ve been held captive in Australia for over two years now! So it’s a long list. First priority is to see my extraordinary Mr Black dream team in London and NYC. They’ve done some truly incredible work over the last two years, I owe them a drink. Probably two. But if you make me choose, Dante and Happiness Forgets!

MH: I would love to go back to The SG Club (SG stands for Sip & Guzzle) in Tokyo and be served by my friend and industry legend Shingo Gokan. I would definitely order one of his signature Geisha coffee cocktails.  

We’re thirsty. What cocktail would you make just for BarChick using Mr Black Coffee Liqueur?

MH: Definitely something colourful and fresh, like a twist on the Paper Plane or Clover Club using Mr Black Amaro, which is really delicious!

There’s a creative boom on the horizon involving coffee liqueurs… what’s the coolest or craziest thing you’ve seen done with Mr Black?

MH: We are witnessing the golden age of coffee cocktails. There are more and more bars focusing on good quality coffee cocktails and of course, using Mr Black. It is amazing to see the more unusual combinations that are coming through. Recently I saw a Mr Black cocktail with avocado at London’s Callooh Callay, and Argo Bar in Hong Kong’s Four Seasons were using miso in a coffee cocktail coffee. I love to see these bars experimenting and breaking the boundaries of coffee cocktails.

What does a working day look like for you guys?

TB: I’m lucky to have one of those “no two days are the same” types of jobs. A the moment we’re building a new distillery, so that is occupying a lot of my time and brain at the moment. Generally, my days involve meeting with builders and engineers in the morning, then spending the afternoon working with our sales, creative, marketing and finance teams. We’re a largely remote business with staff in the UK and USA, so a lot of time on Zoom. 

MH: It always starts with a coffee! After some morning admin and checking my social media, I head over to Sammy Junior to check the coffee set up and start prepping coffee cocktails for the evening. Then maybe visit couple of accounts in the afternoon – and into Maybe Sammy for a night shift behind the bar. These days there’s less travelling, so I spend most of my time here in Sydney. 

Have you got any fun facts about your product? Any celebrity fans? Any funny stories about the team?

TB: Kate Hudson loves a Mr Black – and Almost Famous is a classic - so I’m looking forward to the day when we can share a White Russian and sing Tiny Dancer. Preferably at the Plaza. 

Mr Black Cold Brew Liqueur is available direct from the source, RRP £29.99