We speak to founder Emma Roberts about her creative cocktail concoctions
You’re a savvy customer with your finger on the pulse of food and booze in Manchester. So you’ve surely at least heard of Into The Gathering Dusk or maybe you’ve even been to a vermouth making pop up or tried one of ITGD’s excellent cocktails at some hip event or other.
But you might not have realised that Emma Roberts’ brilliant folklore-inspired, foraged cocktails are now available by the bottle and hand delivered to your door.
I suppose that’s my aim. To be more sustainable with ingredients and processes, more ethical
Another thing you might not know is that founder Emma's day job is a psychotherapist working for the human rights charity, Freedom From Torture. She works with people are dealing with complex trauma and is passionate about supporting smaller charities in the local area too. By buying her drinks, you are supporting small but essential local charities as 10% of her profits go directly to them (see below for more details).
"The Dusk thing is a really nice contrast to the day job because it’s very hands on and light hearted in comparison,” says Emma. “What’s the worst that can happen? Someone gets a shit drink?
“Lots of the really tiny Manchester charities I support don’t even have websites. They’re volunteer led, often by people who’ve survived that experience.”
Emma is originally from Wales but having been in Manchester for 25 years, she feels more Mancunian than Welsh. She’s been embraced by the Manchester hospitality scene and talks fondly of how supportive everyone is. But she’s humble about her expertise, telling us she’s more an enthusiast than a professional bartender.
“I’ve always made drinks and foraged - which now makes me want to poke myself in the eye because it’s such a Guardian-reading, bespoke, wanky thing, isn’t it? But my dad has always gone out and found cobnuts and berries.
“When he was little, his aunts used to make him walk up the mountain behind their house with a little linen bag and collect sheep shit to put on the rhubarb. He wasn’t allowed home til the bag was full. So he doesn’t have fond memories of it. He just goes to Aldi. He thinks I’m an idiot for climbing trees and thinking about roots and stuff. I guess maybe things like that come and go, people are interested in it now.
“I would never be disparaging of people who are just getting into it as a hobby. I think it’s super cool. But for the majority of people who work full time, go to the shop on the way home and buy their tea. It’s not reasonable to say, oh you should be making crabapple jelly or whatever. You’re on a bus, you’re not wandering through a field.”
“I was cooking nettles the other day thinking it’s cheaper and quicker to grab a handful of nettles and cook them than to buy a plastic bag of spinach. It’s better for you, and it’s free. But I don’t know anybody who could be arsed to do it. My kids will eat it, but they’re not that impressed. I think they’re really tasty. There’s loads of stuff out there. You’ve got to be careful, because you can poison yourself. But everybody knows a dandelion and a nettle."
“I like making anything. I think: ‘I can make a table’ - but of course I can’t. I’ve made loads of things that are absolutely rubbish, but the drinks are something that works. Obviously you can’t make Campari, but you can make something that tastes a lot like it and is probably better for you. Now I'm thinking about classic cocktails and ratios and how I could make those but with things you can find round and about. Maybe stuff that’s a little bit less alcoholic. Although I’m quite wary of saying that because people want their money’s worth when they have a cocktail.”
There certainly seems to be a stronger desire for good, alcohol-free choices these days but Emma’s still a bit doubtful.
"Every time I do a menu for an event, I’ll make beautiful non-alcoholic drinks out of smoked sage and oolong tea and rose hips - they’re proper cocktails and they taste ace. People like the idea of it but when they’re faced with a menu they’re like, 'I’ll have the daiquiri please.'
“I hope the non alcoholic stuff takes off because people have shit choices normally, all gloopy, sugary and chemically. It’s hard to get a nice mouth feel without alcohol, so sometimes I use a glycerin base for tinctures. I’m trying to do some stuff with acorns, they’ve got really nice tannins. People want the bitterness in their palates - like kale and coffee.”
One thing we love about Into The Gathering Dusk is its witchy, folklore element.
“If I’m using a plant, I want to know the story and why." Emma tells us, "Lots of plants have Celtic meaning. I don’t believe in it per se. I’m fascinated by it but I’m definitely not making any claims in that department.
“They’re powerful, there’s no doubt about it. A lot of plants shouldn’t be in drinks if people are pregnant or taking certain medications. I’m really careful to check it all out.
“But I want to tell the stories because some of them are amazing. Some of them are very feminist. A lot of the ancient stories are about women because pre roman times, pre catholic church, women would have used the plants, brewed the beer, been in charge of alcohol making.
"I don’t want to exploit it, but I love it and I want to know more about it. The house I’ve just bought has a big rowan tree outside it and I’m like, oh yeah rowan berries, protects women, animals, homes and farms. When it works for me, I’m interested. I’ll hedge my bets, literally.”
When pop up events became impossible during lockdown, Emma got thinking.
“I thought, I’ve got a big cellar. Let’s see if people want them delivered. It grew from friends to friends of friends and then people I didn’t know.
“We’ll do workshops again in the future - just more distanced. I’m going to do some at Platt Fields Market Garden - where I went to a great dinner from Things Palace - and Isca in Levenshulme. We’ll do cocktail bar pop ups again as well. We did some really nice ones at Idle Hands. We’re table service anyway. It’s quite socially distanced.
“I don’t think people are ever going to say this is the best negroni but hopefully people say it’s different. I suppose that’s my aim. To be more sustainable with ingredients and processes, more ethical. Of course big, commercial bars do cool stuff too, give to charity and think about sustainability. It’s a reality for everybody but it’s definitely a motivation for me.”
Some of the charities supported by Into The Gathering Dusk
Together Now - "Supporting families to be reunited after separation during the asylum process. Once people have refugee status, being reunited with children and partners is incredibly complex and expensive. Families usually wait years to be together - even when they have the right. They pay for visa, flights, legal checks and help people to coordinate journeys, arranging for children travelling alone (often through dangerous territory) to be accompanied. The right to family reunion is currently under attack from the Tories."
WAST - Women Asylum Seekers Together: "A brilliant charity supporting women with holistic care, eg practical, legal and social support. Their choir is amazing."
LISG - Lesbian Immigration Support Group: "Another totally volunteer led charity doing essential work. Asylum claims for women and those based on persecution due to sexuality are the most likely to be refused so they are very much needed. They can provide safe, confidential space for women to be themselves and get their claims heard properly, when many have been used to hiding their stories due to the risks they’ve faced."
Boaz Trust: "Providing housing, legal, welfare advice and social support to asylum seekers facing destitution after their claims have been refused. Usually people just need access to a reputable solicitor and some better quality evidence to have their claims heard properly, but thats almost impossible to access once an initial claim has been refused. These guys can really turn it around for people who would otherwise be out on the streets thanks to the Tory hotel environment. Their social events and campaigning work are brilliant."