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Former Welsh international swaps success on the field for award-wins in the drinks industry

08 Apr 2024 6 minute read
Sam during his international career and mixing a G&T with his own-label gin, Toca Vida

Stephen Price

Former Welsh International and Ospreys rugby player, Sam Davies, has swapped the highs of the playing fields for success in the world of alcohol – with the launch of a new global gin brand.

Along with his partner, Elianna, Sam launched Toca Vida back in May 2023 after sharing a gin and tonic together over dinner and discussing their love for the ever-popular spirit.

Sam’s professional success on the rugby pitch began with Ospreys back in 2013 – resulting in a six year position with the Welsh favourites – before heading on to Dragons RFC in 2019 and then joining FC Grenoble Rugby back last year.

He made his senior debut for Wales in 2016, enjoying notable international success right up until 2019.

Sam told Nation.Cymru: “As a former Welsh international, I have always recognised the significance of rugby to Welsh culture and its ability to unite people.

“Witnessing this unity on and off the field inspired me to create a product that would embody this sense of togetherness.”

Fusion of cultures

Originally from the United States, Elianna saw a selling a point in the rich combination of their two cultures that has been a foundational element of their business ethos ever since.

Elianna has a passion for exploring other cultures, and initially came to Wales to further her education.

Elianna shared: “I originally came to Wales for my studies, and while doing my master’s dissertations, I developed the idea for an American-style gin, distilled in Wales.

“This idea came to formulation alongside Sam. Wales holds a special place in my heart. Its rich culture, breathtaking landscapes, and warm hospitality have truly inspired me.

“Launching a product here has been an incredible experience, as we’ve received tremendous support from the local community.

“We understand the love for home-grown Welsh products and take great pride in showcasing the best of Welsh craftsmanship to the world.”

Sam and Elianna

Talking about the step into the competitive alcohol industry, Sam said: “Transitioning from the rugby field to the drinks industry has been an exciting journey.

“While rugby taught me the value of teamwork and dedication, the drinks industry has allowed me to explore my creativity and entrepreneurial spirit in a different arena.”

The idea of building bridges between cultures and bringing people together is a cornerstone of the brand, with the couple viewing their product as “a union of cultures, tastes, and spirits.”

Crafted in the lush Welsh countryside at Hensol Castle Distillery, Elianna described the flavour of Toca Vida as: “a citrus-forward spirit with  rich blend of flavours. From fresh Cuban grapefruit to juicy Sicilian lemon and lime.”

Sam added: “Hensol Castle Distillery is truly a gem nestled in the lush Welsh countryside. It’s not everyday that you can say you distill your gin in a 17th century castle.

“Its historic setting adds a unique charm to the gin-making process, infusing each bottle with a touch of Welsh heritage.

“What makes Toca Vida Gin special to us is not just the location, but also our commitment to quality and innovation. From selecting the finest botanicals to the meticulous distillation process, every step is a real labour of love.”

Award winning

And despite the brand only being on the market since May of 2023, the couple’s love and knowledge of gin has garnered significant recognition – including winning the prestigious title of “World’s Best Contemporary Style Gin” at the World Gin Awards.

Sam and Elianna celebrating their award

Currently based in Grenoble, France, the couple have been thrilled to see Toca Vida Gin gaining popularity not only in the UK but also internationally.

With a distributor secured in France, their gin has gained some very important champions in the drinks industry, not to mention a growing consumer base who have, most importantly, returned for more.

And Sam’s current and former team mates have been more than happy to act as taste testers. He told us: “Several of my former teammates have tried Toca Vida Gin and have been incredibly supportive of our venture.

“It’s heartwarming to see them enjoying a glass or two and reminiscing about old times.”

Global aims

In a move that would impress Steven Bartlett and the Dragons Den team – social media, has been important for the brand in its aim to take Welsh gin global, with the logo getting a special shout on on a recent post.

Sam told Nation.Cymru: “The logo for Toca Vida Gin represents the fusion of our two cultures.

“The American eagle and the Welsh dragon symbolize the unity of our backgrounds and the spirit of adventure that drives us forward.

“It’s a visual representation of our shared journey and the diversity of influences that make our gin unique.”

Sam and Elianna raise a toast

Elianna added: “The bottle design is not just a vessel for our gin; it’s a reflection of our journey and the cultures that have shaped Toca Vida Gin.

The American eagle and Welsh dragon symbolise both of our backgrounds and the spirit of collaboration that defines our brand. Every detail, from the intricate etchings to the premium materials, speaks to our commitment to excellence and craftsmanship.”

Sam said: “The journey to production has been a thrilling adventure filled with highs and lows. From the initial spark of inspiration to holding the first bottle of Toca Vida Gin in our hands, every milestone has been a moment to cherish.

“Each batch of gin represents not just a product, but we hope a story waiting to be shared and enjoyed with friends and loved ones.”

Toca Vida Gin is currently available in the UK and France. Find out more about the exciting new brand here: Toca Vida Gin.

You can also keep up to date with their lively social media posts on X, Facebook and Instagram.

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