This is the second instalment of our adventure trying to create our own brand of gin. In this post we cover weeks three to five.
So far everything is going great and we are making really good progress. In the last three weeks we have:
- Found a distillery
- Chosen our initial flavours.
- Created a recipe and made some bottles to test on friends and family
- Got a better idea of costings
- Tasted a lottttt of gin (what a hard life!)
But most of the time was spent on branding.
The above brainstorm is roughly what we came up with the brand’s direction. Let me go into our thinking a bit more.
In the last episode, I talked a little bit about market research. In short, it was clear that there is a big demand online for flavoured gin. And the more research we did, the more this was supported. On Amazon flavoured gin’s make up about 50% of the bestseller list, wheras 95% of the gins available to buy are plain. This was also backed up when we started researching the local gin bars. For instance, at Chapel Place, a gin bar at the bottom of my road, their bestselling gin by a long way is Whitley Neill’s Rhubarb and Ginger Gin.
Which is good news! It is going to be much much easier for us to differentiate ourselves through a unique flavour than by just trying to compete with a traditional London Dry gin. But we don’t just want to go and make another syrupy, sugary flavoured gin liquor. I would much rather it was flavourful, but not sugary. Partly because that suits my taste buds, but also because that is a trend I am seeing throughout the beverage industry. And I want to be at the forefront of it when it comes to gin.
Another big consideration was that we want to include a local aspect. Although the hope is that we will sell predominately online, we want to hedge our bets and leave the option open to sell it locally. By making it obviously linked to Tunbridge Wells (where I live) or Kent, it is going to be a lot easier to sell to local people.
Finally, we want to make it as high end as possible. There is no way we are going to be able to compete on price at the lower end of the market. So if we want people to spend £35-£45 on a bottle of gin, we want to really make it feel worth it. One way to do that is with the design and a high-quality bottle (we have looked through hundreds of different bottles, here are some from world-of-bottles.co.uk).
But another way to make it feel high-end is through the ingredients. Which brings us to flavours.
Choosing Our Flavours
We know we want a flavoured gin and we know we want it to be high-end. So our flavouring must also sound high-end.
One thing we quite liked was combining two flavours. I think that ‘strawberry and ginger’ sounds better than just ‘strawberry’. And we can posh it up even more by using a more exotic variant of the ingredient. ‘Strawberry’ become ‘wild strawberry’ and ‘ginger’ become ‘black ginger’.
Emma, my wife, is an expert on food and flavourings, so she took the lead on what combinations would actually taste nice. While Katie, our design expert, focused on which would sound nice. We came up with a load of different flavours we liked and then narrowed it down to four. The plan was to present those four to the master distiller and get his feedback on which would and wouldn’t work. More on that later.
(I’m not going to reveal what they are now in case we want to come back to them in the future).
Combining It All Into A Brand
We had flavours, we had chosen a bottle and we had a brand direction. But what we were still missing is a name that brings together all of those things.
And man, did it take us a long time to come up with a name. Finding one that incorporated local, high-end and unique while being memorable and sounding good was (is) extremely hard. Over the last month, we came with hundreds of names. All of which partly fit the requirements, but all of which were lacking in some way (or taken).
We’re currently swinging between Pipehouse gin and Wheelbarrow gin. They both have their pros and cons:
- The Pipe House was the first drinking establishment in Tunbridge Wells and was located very close to where my house is now. So there is a local story behind it.
- Copper pipes are cool, and there is a lot we can do with the design. Think copper pipes coming out of a copper gin still with all the different botanicals growing out of them.
- It’s memorable. When you see the copper pipes and maybe a house on the label it adds an image that will stick in your head. Whereas a brand named after a person is much harder to remember.
- It looks good written down. In the words of Katie, the artist on team gin, “I don’t object to any of the letters”.
- But, the story needs to be explained. It isn’t immediately obvious.
- We could do a lot with the imagery of a wheelbarrow. Have lots of botanicals coming out of it. If we display at local markets we could even get a vintage wheelbarrow and do it up to display our gin.
- It is very easy to remember as it has an image attached.
- It is rustic, garden of Englandy. And it gives the impression of freshness. “Straight from the wheelbarrow to the bottle”
- But, it doesn’t sound very high-end.
- And Wheelbarrow is a really long word.
We have a favourite, but I want your opinion. Which do you prefer? Please vote below! And feel free to add any of your own ideas.
In the last episode, we mentioned that we were having a bit of trouble finding a distillery who is willing to work with us on a small minimum order at a reasonable price.
The issue is that not only are we wanting them to make the gin for us in small quantities, be we also want to work with them to create a unique recipe. That is quite a big ask, as their margin per bottle is only going to be a few pounds and quite a lot goes into coming up with a recipe.
We emailed around 100 distilleries, of which only a handful fit our requirements. The rest either had no interest, had high minimum orders, were too expensive per bottle, or had really high recipe formulation costs.
Eventually, we chose a small craft distiller about 90 minutes from Tunbridge Wells. Not only did we love the gin they make, but it was a good compromise that got around the high cost of creating a recipe. We would come up with the recipe ourselves, but then spend a day with their master distiller perfecting it and turning it into something good enough to sell. Here is some of team gin busy in the lab developing our recipe.
Creating Our Recipe
After a lot of discussion with the master distiller and amongst ourselves narrowed down our flavours even further and landed on earl grey & cucumber. But deciding that was only the start of the journey. There are hundreds of different botanicals that can go into a gin, and working out the best combination that would accentuate our earl grey & cucumber flavour was a huge amount of work.
Then once you have chosen your botanicals you need to work out what proportions to use for each and how to add them.
For instance, to get the earl grey flavour do we distil the gin straight from the bergamot fruit (the main flavour in earl grey)? Or do we brew a large pot of earl grey tea and add that to the gin? Or do we do neither and add bergamot extracted flavourings to gin after the base recipe has been made. Each method can be called a distilled gin and each produces very different flavours.
I must admit, it has all been a bit overwhelming. There is an infinite number of combinations and gin is so versatile you can create some extraordinary flavours. I keep finding myself going off on tangents and wanting to experiment. And keep needing to remind myself that to begin with we only need one gin. Once our first product is a success I can make lots more.
The day with the master distiller cost us £590, which is a good deal, but meant we needed to be as prepared as possible beforehand. Luckily you can make gin at home using the compounding method (see episode one for the definitions of different types of gin). So we spent some time trying out different flavours and researching the properties of different botanicals.
The planning and the day itself was a success. We ended up creating slightly varying recipes using the same seven botanicals. We then made some gin from each recipe and are currently running focus groups to work out which is best.
What is very exciting is that once we declare a winner, we will have our gin! And will be able to start mass producing it.
Which brings me on to costings.
If you remember from episode one, the plan is to try and build this brand of gin for less than £10,000. So far we have spent about £650, almost all of which was on perfecting the recipe.
Let’s say that we spend another £1,350 on bits and bobs: Incorporating a company, creating a website, applying for the various licenses, applying for trademarks, buying tonic to drink our gin with, etc. That leaves us with about £8,000 to get our first batch together and start selling it.
The distillery is happy to do batches of 250 bottles a go at around £4-£5 per bottle of gin (including VAT). Tax is about £9, the bottle and cork about £1, and the labels about £1. So we are probably looking at about £16 a bottle all in. That means our first order will cost somewhere in the region of £4,000. So far so good.
Obviously it is not quite as simple as that. There is probably going to be really high minimum orders for labels and bottles. And we will have extra packaging and shipping costs for sending it out to customers and to our warehouses. But so far, touch wood, it looks like we will be able to get our first batch of gin into the stores for under £10,000.
We have been moving pretty quickly (especially as we are all doing this part-time along with our other businesses). But I expect the pace will slow down quite a bit now. As part of the due diligence of the distillery, they have said that we need to be signed up to the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme. This is just an online form, but we then need to wait for it to be approved and will probably have to host a site visit. Where we will need to show a business plan and some letters of intent from purchasers. Apparently the average time for approval is about 6 weeks. Until then we can’t start selling the gin.
But that doesn’t mean we can stop working. The label design and getting our bottles perfect is going to be quite a big job. We also need to:
- Finalise our brand name, incorporate and build a website.
- Choose our fulfilment partner.
- Sign up the Warehousekeeper or Owner of Warehoused Goods Registration (this would allow us to only pay tax once we sell our gin, which would save a huge amount of money).
- Get some letters of intent from potential buyers.
- Continue testing our gin on friends, family and strangers.
- Maybe start taking preorders…. potentially through an IndieGoGo campaign like Patrick Ryan did with his vodka.
- Create a sellers’ account on Amazon and get permission to sell alcohol.
- Read up on what the laws are about marketing alcohol.
Wish us luck for the next stage!