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SB meets… Ben Carfagnini, Friarwood

For more than five decades, Friarwood has been considered one of London’s most renowned fine wine merchants. Now, it has chosen to expand into the premium spirits sector.

Friarwood Ben
Ben Carfagnini tells The Spirits Business about the company’s decision to move into spirits

We spoke with managing director Ben Carfagnini about Friarwood’s move into the world of premium spirits retail, and the four brands it has chosen to exclusively partner with for its next chapter.

Friarwood has been an independent fine wine merchant since 1967 – why have you now decided to branch out and expand into spirits?
Portuguese aperitivo Per Se is one of the four brands that will be exclusively distributed from Friarwood

Well, it’s been quite a journey, for all these years, we have prided ourselves on delivering some of the finest wines to our customers. But over time, we noticed that our wine-loving clientele started to express a keen interest in spirits. They would often ask me when would we be adding spirits to our portfolio. Their words weren’t just flattering but also revealing. It showed me a demand – an opportunity.

So, taking their feedback to heart and sensing the evolving preferences in the market, I felt it was the right time for Friarwood to extend the portfolio into premium spirits. It’s not just about diversifying, it’s about listening to our clientele and ensuring we continue to meet their expectations.

After all, at the heart of our brand has always been our commitment to quality, whether it’s wine or spirits. And now, with the world of spirits offering so much variety and artistry, I’m genuinely excited to share this new chapter with our loyal customers and new enthusiasts alike.

How do you choose the spirits you want to stock in your two London stores and across your e-commerce site?

Our selection process is a testament to our commitment to quality and authenticity. Every spirit we consider for our portfolio undergoes an evaluation for its unique character, heritage, story, and quality. Just as we have handpicked the finest wines, we have gradually grown our portfolio to what it is today, we curate our spirits collection to ensure it is reflective of the world’s best in class, and I believe that we have achieved that with Tromba Tequila, Per Se aperitivo, Ron Carúpano rum, and Sash & Fritz vodka.

Ron Carúpano
Ron Carúpano has more than 260 years of heritage
Have you noticed a particular spirits category that has excelled so far within your offering?

Not really, in fact I believe all four are a hot topic now.

The four brands each represent a unique category, and we have seen promising traction across the board. Tequila however, as we anticipated, has truly been a standout. Tequila’s rising popularity cannot be overlooked and Tromba Tequila, backed by the revered master distiller Marco Cedano and his 50 years of experience, has certainly captured attention in this burgeoning segment.

We have long held the belief that rum would be the next big spirit on the rise, and our insights are proving accurate, especially with the UK’s evident craving for premium rums. Ron Carúpano, with its remarkable heritage of more than 260 years and its association as a family-owned brand, has been a significant contributor to this surge. It’s also worth noting the expertise of Carmen López de Bastidas, who, as the country’s first female master blender and with 33 years in the company, has significantly elevated the brand’s range.

We have also been elated with the reception of Per Se, the Portuguese aperitivo. It’s swiftly become a favourite within the range, so much so that it’s now featured in cocktail menus of some of the most iconic venues in London.

Lastly, while vodka is a traditionally steady performer in the spirits industry, Sash & Fritz vodka, under Peter Steger’s passionate direction, has set itself apart. His dedication, evident from his background of over 30 years in the wine industry as a sommelier, shines through in this superior quality vodka with an unmatched smoothness.

With fine wines having been your focus for more than 50 years, you must have quite a loyal customer base of wine drinkers – how have you gone about tapping into the spirits drinking demographic?

Absolutely, our wine clientele is both loyal and discerning. When introducing spirits, we have made efforts to educate our wine-loving patrons on the intricacies of spirits, drawing parallels to the wine world and showcasing the stories, craftsmanship, and history behind each brand. Additionally, by aligning with brands that echo our values and ethos, we are able to tap into the spirits demographic that appreciates quality, heritage, and craftsmanship.

Friarwood has aligned with brands that echo its values and ethos, including Tromba Tequila
What do you think a bricks-and-mortar site like Friarwood Parsons Green and Friarwood Wimbledon Village offers consumers that e-commerce does not?

There is truly something special about visiting a physical store. While our e-commerce platform provides convenience, our shops can offer an experience in themselves. They offer customers the ability to interact with our knowledgeable staff, and our team has deep knowledge about our products and can provide immediate and personalised recommendations. Furthermore, the tactile nature of browsing bottles, feeling their weight, and seeing their design up close provides a sensory journey that e-commerce simply can’t replicate.

And speaking of experiences, we regularly host in-shop tastings, and we always have all our spirits available for sampling. This not only makes for a fun outing but also gives our clients the confidence to make a purchase knowing they’ve tasted and enjoyed the product. Physical stores really encapsulate the essence of Friarwood, offering a multisensory journey through the world of fine wines and premium spirits.

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