Xavier Baker – Mermaid Gin
There is something about the Isle of Wight Distilery that is truly, unendingly appealing. Perhaps its the flashback to summer holidays it triggers, or maybe it’s the sheer kindness and enthusiasm that pours forth from co-founder Xavier Baker’s every word. He’s so nice it’s impossible not to care, but of course it takes more than that to succeed. In fact it takes more than even good liquid to succeed these days, which is why the distillery is set to unveil a ridiculously beautiful bottle…
Isle of Wight was the first (and still, only) distillery on the Isle of Wight. Have you amassed a loyal local following?
Xavier Baker: Yes! We are hugely proud to be the first and only Distillery on the Island. We love the thought of making Island history. The local support we have received has been overwhelming; it’s great to hear Islanders referring to Mermaid Gin as our Gin!
Yes, in the same way that Islanders embrace and celebrate their art, music and… Alan Titschmarsh, they seem to cheer for you. And it really is such an Island product, with rock samphire bringing huge seaside vibes. But has Mermaid Gin made it to the mainland yet?
We have been exporting overseas to the North Island! Supplying and working with distributors, wine merchants and direct nationwide.
Are there are bars that have really got behind you and helped spread the word?
All along the south coast and some bars in London have really got behind us. Running in house bartender competitions such as the Urban Guild Group in Bournemouth has helped. The Anchor Inn in Cowes have been great ambassadors for us with a Mermaid Gin bar in the garden and generally Mermaiding the whole pub up.
When HMS Victory Gin came out, it showed great invention. How did it come about? And how did you manage to convince the Royal Navy to give you a chunk of boat?
A few months after launching Mermaid Gin, I wanted to bring out a Navy Strength. So I sat there on Boxing Day 2015 after a few Gimlets and had a bit of a brainwave. We have Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, one the most famous Navy bases, right opposite us. It’s home to the Royal Navy’s most illustrious battleship, the HMS Victory. Looking at their website, it showed they were open to partnerships. So I sent a semi-tipsy email suggesting a possible partnership to create a Navy Strength Gin, and to bring back to life some of the Naval heritage of the spirit over the years. The gunpowder story, Navy legislation that all ships were to carry gin for the officers, Gimlets, Pink Gin, etc. On the 6th January I received a reply from Giles Gould, the licensing director for the National Museum of the Royal Navy, agreeing it sounds like a good idea. “Let’s meet,” he said. The rest is history.
You’ve moved house. Can you tell us a little about the new distillery?
We started at Rosemary Vineyard and in October 2017 we flew the nest to a derelict pub, the Wishing Well, which we swiftly renamed the Mermaid Inn. It took a while to convert the building to a workable site. During this time we geared ourselves up for SALSA accreditation to ensure best practice, quality control and traceability. The Stills are visible from the bar, but the bottling and distribution all happens downstairs, where our whisky barrels are also maturing.
What else can visitors expect when they walk through the door?
The Mermaid Inn showcases our spirits with a cocktail menu, along with local ales and coffee. The Stills are on show, with free tastings and talks. There’s also a shop too if you wish to purchase. If anyone is on the Island please do pop in, say hello and make yourself at home.
You’ve got a 100 litre and 300 litre still on the go, but what’s this we hear about a slightly more gargantuan beasty in the works?
How did that little secret escape to London village? We have a 1000ltr Still on the Island about to be commissioned that has been partly designed by us. It was very necessary to increase our Gin production and keep up with demand. It will also allow us to distil larger volumes of Whisky. We can’t wait! That still will also be visible from the bar.
Where do you think the industry is heading? And where do you see the Isle of Wight Distillery playing in all of that?
A lot has happened in the last few years, things are moving fast. I think this pace of growth for the Gin sector will carry on for a couple more years before it plateau’s off.
The good thing with all the competition and demand is that it keeps us all pushing for new ideas, recipe creation and innovation.
And have you been tempted by the innovation? Any flavoured variants in the works? We’re living in the age of weird Gin, after all…
We have been tinkering with a Strawberry Gin, using local misshaped strawberries. It tastes divine and goes well as a summer cup or as a fruity G&T with strawberry, mint and lime. We’ve got a few more ideas for 2019! Watch this space…
Talking of maturing and ageing, what are the big goals for 2019?
Ok, so 2019 is going to be a big year for us! We’re working with a lot of trade partners and we’re really going to make a splash!
As you at Gin Foundry know, we have been working behind the scene for the past 18 months to create a brand new, bespoke bottle and branding. It really shows that we are serious and committed to our Mermaid Gin. The botanical mix is staying exactly the same, so no changes to the gin.
It’s a bit of a game changer to say the least – it looks absolutely stunning. What do you hope to achieve with it?
We are so excited to launch this new bottle. It will give it a real standout, wow factor. Hopefully when you walk into a bar you will find us straight away. Do keep an eye out on our website and social media for updates of where we are and updates.
That it certainly does. Good luck with seeding out in the market and we’ll be watching the huge reception it will receive – such a beautiful, contemporary and bold design, it’s going to be a smash hit!
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