They say the best way to learn about a business is from the bottom up, and Frankie Walker would no doubt say cheers to that. Twenty-five years ago he was collecting glasses in bars; today he’s a mover and shaker in the biz, heading up thriving beverages company Black Pineapple. Frankie and his team offer everything from bespoke bars – like the popular Tiki-themed ‘party in a box’ – to drinks catering, whisky tastings, masterclasses, cocktail competitions for corporate teams and brand consultancy.
It was during UK-born Frankie’s time at Lion New Zealand – where he had gone from brand ambassador to heading up training and education for their key customers nationwide – that the idea was born. He would often be asked if he could provide drinks and staff for a product launch, store opening or wedding and for the most part, he couldn’t – he was too busy with his full-time job. But Frankie had identified a gap in the market. After two and a half years of slowly building up Black Pineapple “as a side hustle”, he launched
Why the name? “The pineapple is the universal symbol of hospitality, and historically an icon of great luxury (due to its rarity). Back in the day you could hire a pineapple to show off as the centrepiece of your dinner party,” says Frankie. “The black pineapple, from Antigua, is the world’s sweetest, so we think of what we’re providing as the sweetest type of hospitality.”
To achieve this, they select only the best – both ingredients and staff. “We only use the finest, freshest produce, with a focus on local and seasonal,” says Frankie.
“If a drink has citrus juice in it, it’s been hand-pressed by us. We make the majority of our syrups and infusions by hand, and have seasonal variations available for a huge range of our mixed drinks.
“We have a big global corporate event coming up where we’re running a Bellini station featuring different varieties of the ripest, freshest Otago stone fruit, paired with Amisfield Méthode Champenoise.”
Then there are the alchemists themselves. “It doesn’t matter if the drinks are amazing if the guy or girl serving you isn’t engaged, welcoming, or super-fast. We have around
45 professional hospitality staff on our books. We hand-pick our team, and look for people who love what they do and are brilliant at it.”
Black Pineapple promises an unforgettable experience, but it’s a two-way transaction; Frankie and the team have been part of “some pretty amazing events”.
“Last week we served cocktails for two superyacht parties simultaneously. We’ve created cocktails to launch luxury cars, lingerie, albums and to celebrate divorces. We’ve run VIP bars at festivals, turned out 3500 amazing bespoke Chivas whisky cocktails and set up Tiki bars on beaches
With low and no alcohol “here to stay”, there are always virgin versions of drinks on offer. “Seventy per cent of our events are for corporate clients, and there’s a huge focus on host responsibility for guests at events. We work with clients to create drinks that help keep their guests in the game. Espresso martini on arrival? How about a spritz Italiano instead – half the alcohol content of a glass of wine but totally delicious.”
When it comes to food and drink pairing, while Black Pineapple does beer and wine matches, Frankie says “the limitless variety of flavours available through spirits, liqueurs, syrups, infusions and fresh produce mean cocktails can be brilliantly matched to food.”
When creating a cocktail for a dish, you can look to complement, contrast, cut or even just straight up surprise. We asked Black Pineapple to create drink matches for our Taste of Home feature (see page 31) and the most “out-there” one was for the Brioche Pakora – the Reyka Vodka with Almonds, Spiced Chai, Lemon, Prunes and Popcorn. “We wanted to honour Sid’s legendary creativity by pushing the boat out too.
“Both the home-made almond croissant syrup and cinnamon-spiced buttered popcorn are there to work with the buttery brioche. The chai has a rooibos base so has some drier tannins that cut through the richness of the dish. The idea of a great match is to create something that collectively is greater than the sum of its parts, and to give an amazing experience to the guest!”
Frankie mixed us up some tasty beverage matches to go with our Taste of Home feature - click here for the full drinks collection or...