Empirical Spirits was founded in Copenhagen in 2017 by Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, both alumni of the five-time world’s best restaurant Noma in Denmark’s capital.
When Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen set off in creating Empirical in 2017, they were guided by a child-like curiosity about how the world works. This perspective blended with their knack for tinkering, exploration, and continual refinement. The result? A powerful blend that pushes Empirical to be focused on creating the best flavors possible.
The distiller has gained notoriety for its spirits, which ‘ use alcohol as a vessel for experimentation ‘. Claimed as ‘ no category ‘, Empirical Spirits blends innovative techniques, fermentation, and high-quality local ingredients to create new spirits.
To help create its first RTD expressions, Empirical recruited Sasha Wijidessa from Singapore cocktail bar Operation Dagger to lead the development of the drinks.
Prior to joining Empirical, Sasha was a part-time bartender while she was still completing her studies. Holding a pharmaceutical science diploma, she applies her scientific knowledge to cocktail making. She discovered her passion for the cocktail craft while working at British gastropub Oxwell & Co. In 2014, Luke Whearty, the brains behind the concept of Operation Dagger, invited her to join the bar and showed her the ropes. The underground bar has achieved recognition regionally and globally as it ranked 23rd on The World’s 50 Best Bars 2018 and 19th on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2018.
Sasha Wijidessa, through her recent interview with WINWSA, tells us what she thinks about working in a male-dominated industry, and how to excel in her career.
Q: How many years have you been in the wine & spirits business？
S: Almost 8 years
Q: What makes you devoted yourself in the wine and spirits sector?
S: When I was 18-19 years old, I took a part-time job as a bartender for making extra money. And it was totally different from my previous experience, it was the beginning of my career and definitely, I loved it.
Q: What are the main transformation & changes in the industry you have experienced so far?
S: I feel most at present is that the wine industry is paying more and more attention to sustainability. The industry attaches great importance to innovation, and we do not want to repeat the previous rules. I wish to give a healthy environment to my offspring except bring them up. So sustainability is critical in any industry.
Q: As a female bartender, what left you the deepest impression in the industry since you started working in the bar?
S: A lot. Interacting with guests is a very pleasant experience. Every time they came to the bar, enjoyed their pleasant time, or just relax, I would chat with them and made a cocktail. Although it was very simple, but I was proud to be the happiness creator and brought the moment to drive fatigue away.
Q: Do you have mentors in the industry? Can you simply introduce him or her? What do they encourage you?
S: Luke Whearty, the founder and mentor of Dagger, the foundation member and Chef. He believes everything is possible and he teaches me a lot, especially flavor.
Q: Are there any radical changes in your career when you became a core member of Empirical in R&D from the bartender, Could you please describe how a typical working day looks like in Empirical?
S: Definitely. When I worked as a bartender, I need to serve customers from 2 pm to 4 am every day at a fast pace. In Empirical, it’s a completely different experience for me. First of all, I no longer face consumers and clients. I am more self-driven. I do my own project, find what I want to do, and then do it. Sometimes I am busy with production, sometimes I am doing R&D, which means looking for raw ingredients. Working at Empirical makes my brain more creative.
Q: Some media believe that Empirical is a scientific institution rather than a conventional drink company, what do you think about that? How do three elements blend in together in Empirical: science, mixology and creativity? Can you give us some examples?
S: To be fair, we are a company focused on flavors. In addition to mixology and creativity, we have to understand science as part of it. Sometimes we go to the farm by ourselves to find some ingredients, get some things back, test and release the best flavor of food with different physical temperatures and then mix them.
Q: What is your upcoming project? For long run, do you have any plan in your career?
S: From R&D to the head of brand in Asia, I will move to Singapore next year. I will visit and investigate more Asian markets like Singapore, Japan, Korea, etc., directly facing customers, not just catering channels and bars. China is a country with huge potential. My goals are not to sell a lot in the first year, but to get more feedback from the market.
Q: If here comes a chance for you to select a cocktail to represent yourself, what is it? And why?
S: Penicillin. It also uses honey, an unconventional sweetener that is more in tune with the bold flavor. This new classic is made up of the spiciness of fresh ginger juice, the sweetness of honey and the acidity of fresh lemon juice, combined with the richness of whiskey and the indispensable peat notes. It’s all the usual stuff but shows a kind of understated magnificence. I think of myself when I drink it. It’s fresh and special.
Q: What you enjoyed most in your career? The biggest challenge you have encountered as a woman in the industry? What drives you to keep going?
S: Passion. This job always allows me to connect with people and good customer feedback, which can stimulate my infinite creativity, is very important to me. Customers are not always amiable, I can’t control what happens, but I can control my reaction. Actually, I was lucky. The challenge for me, like other bartenders, is that there are no gender differences, only skills and abilities.
Q: What are the main distinguishing merits or qualities in women attributing to career success?
S: Women should be good-educated and become brilliant. Of course, there will be other different voices that affect you every day, and these things will accumulate and affect you, but you need to be loyal to your heart, no matter what others say, and firmly believe in the path you choose.
Q: Any Advice to your peers?
S: You can have the freedom to do what you want regardless of gender or money.
Q: Who will you recommend us to interview as the next WWS figure?
S: Ms. Bella，the manager of Flask.