Mark Long – Brindle Distillery
Brindle Distillery, the makers of Cuckoo Gin if you’ve not yet heard of it, is one you should be focussing your attention on sharpish. From their part-grain to glass efforts to triumphing at blind tastings, there’s no denying that quietly determined momentum is being built and that there’s a team that’s hard at work here. We met co-founder Mark Long and got him to talk us through just some of the elements that make his distillery a little bit out of the ordinary.
You started in July 2017, can you remember that feeling of completing the first run?
Mark Long: There was a real sense of achievement mixed with huge nerves. The journey from some admittedly terrible gins that I had offered to my close friends to try, to a product to be proud of was such an accomplishment. However, this was where the real pressure began. Not only did we need to sell this product, but we needed to make sure we grew the business to ensure the investment was well placed.
Your first 12 months were spent trying to establish the brand locally. What made you take this geographic focus?
We gained a listing with North-West supermarket chain, Booths, before we even had a finished product, as they love to support their local producers. Our farm diversification – which includes alcohol production from crops we grow on the field, all underpinned with fresh water from our own spring – added provenance and authenticity to our product. Booths, with 30 stores, was the perfect opportunity to gain traction in bars and other independent bottle shops in the area. This led to distributors being able to have enough volume up front to stock our product.
It’s always a tough balance to try and grow yet try and keep relationships centred and personal. It gets harder as your reach grows too – did you deliberately go slower to try and maintain that personal touch over the first few months?
We are fortunate to have gained some funding from the Rural Development Program known as LEADER. This is to help farmers diversify, with the goals being job creation and new tourism for the area. This, along with capital investment from the family, ensured we had no pressure to shift volume fast. We planned to grow into our distillery, taking a following with us along the way, and we’re now pleased to say we employ four full time staff. It can be challenging to keep that personal relationship with customers but we have found that showcasing our work ethic, commitment and passion via social media channels has given customers the chance to keep the relationship alive and involve them in our growth. Communication is key for any business and we try to ensure it’s always authentic.
There’s a strong start up culture in craft distilling, what’s it been like for you in terms of running a distillery and the feedback you get from consumers?
The feedback from consumers has been the key motivating factor for me personally. That, along with wanting my in-laws investment to work! I truly believe people are prepared to spend money on both quality and authenticity, but they must be able to see passion. Running a distillery, balancing quality production, paperwork for HMRC, sales invoices and purchases along with being out on the road has been an interesting challenge!
Having an open door policy makes yours an in demand distillery to visit, how many people visit you each week now?
The locals wander through our sliding door throughout the week to keep their cabinets topped up and to keep updated with any news! We provide tours for around 35 people every two weeks and have just started our new Distillery Workshops. Twelve alembic stills will give customers the chance to create their own gin and learn about its production and the principles of what a Gin is. When the bar is open, we can attract over 200 people at a time, so I usually find myself collecting glasses and washing up!
All that face time with consumers must be great for feedback?
Yes, and feedback is such a motivating factor for us. If customers have enjoyed the experience and want to shake your hand on the way out, then what more can you ask for? There is great brand loyalty; they represent us when conversing with their friends about all things Gin and their support has been overwhelming.
The challenge for us as a business is now expanding further afield in the UK and beyond. Bringing the crowds to Lancashire is something we are tasked with in terms of creating a tourism site and we have further plans to put in motion when more money is available for investment.
We can imagine that you’re a creative bunch that likes to experiment with different liquids and ideas. Do you ever test them out on visitors?
We host Gin Nights in various bars across the North West. These are intimate events, therefore to pull out a new recipe for sampling gives a real sense of empowerment to customers, and being an honest northern bunch, we expect a bit of banter and honest feedback about whatever they are tasting!
You’ve got the Cuckoo’s Nest and the new workshops too, so lots for guests to delve into should they want to visit – what’s been the most fun for you as the host though?
The look on people’s faces as they open the door into the farm building and see the distillery and it’s warm atmosphere gives me a real sense of pride. I want people to feel relaxed like they have just entered our home and I feel that the distillery delivers this in its own unique way.
Community, it seems, is key to everything that you do. Are you starting to see this grow? And how are hoping to expand it further in 2019?
Word is getting around! People are linking the Gin brand to the Distillery and vice versa. Sales have been very strong this summer and we now have distribution across the country, which has come off the back of trips down to London and various other areas. Our unique bottle branding has just started to open doors into export channels and it’s our hope that our story will come through once people start to look into the brand across the continent.
The liquid seems to be going down well, too; all three are now award winning, which certainly helps our sales!
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