London Cocktail Week: Brand-building lessons from Craft Distillers

Ever wonder how a new drinks product gets off the ground? It’s not easy! A panel of distillers shared their experiences and advice at the Craft Distilling Expo, an event held in conjunction with London Cocktail Week. The panel, entitled Destination Distilling and Making your Spirit a Local Sensation, focused on brand building and marketing strategies. Led by renowned spirits writer David T. Smith, the panel included Christian Jensen of Bermondsey Distillery (Jensen's Gin - London), Tom Warner from Warner-Edwards (Harrington), Tom Hills and Alex Walcott from the East London Liquor Company, and Ben Capdevielle from Captive Spirits based in Washington State, USA. 

Apart from producing a top-quality product, the most crucial aspect of the success of their business depends on getting the word out about their products. Online channels have been a boon for smaller distillers because they help them reach a wider audience much quicker. Shipping direct to consumer from the distillery is also a profitable practice that the panel suggested their colleagues adopt. Sales can be made through the distillers’ websites or through third party store fronts and tasting clubs.  

Distillery tours provide excellent opportunities with enthusiastic customers. are one means of doing

A visit to a distillery is always a pleasant experience - especially thanks to the ritual tasting - and a great way for distillers to meet new customers. At the same time, it can be a drag on daily operations as the small staff must take time out of their production schedule. The panels distillers take different approaches to distillery tours. 

Warner Edwards welcomes visitors to their distillery in Harrington on appointment and at no charge. They’ll even pick you up at the train station and bring you out to the distillery. Jensen’s, situated in a particularly busy area for drinks tours on Beer Mile in Bermondsey, home to seven breweries, welcomes tour groups on request but also welcomes guests on Saturdays with enticing items such as hot drinks in the winter. 

The East London Liquor Company charges £35 for tours which include a tasting flight of 8 to 10 different gins. When the distillery opened, it knocked on the doors of its neighbors to and invited them in for a drink to create goodwill in the community and ease any concerns they may have about the opening of a distillery in their area. 

Warner Edwards conducted a similar campaign in what it called its Sloe Swap. The distillery invited people in the area to contribute their sloes for a sloe gin Warner Edwards was making. In exchange, the people received gin. 

Ben Capdevielle shows off Captive Spirits' Big Gin, winner of a Gold Outstanding award at the IWSC 2014

Ben Capdevielle shows off Captive Spirits' Big Gin, winner of a Gold Outstanding award at the IWSC 2014

This type of campaign attracts the local press, which has regularly covered Warner Edwards. Journalists love to hear about events and new product launches lines so Ben from Captive Spirits contacts them regularly with story ideas. Another strategy that Captive Spirits uses is sending samples to bloggers and spirits writers to encourage them to write articles about the drinks.

Distilleries also invite professional bartenders to their establishments so that the drinks mixers can experiment with their products and create new drinks for their customers which can result in sales to bars that may not have picked up the spirit otherwise. 

If you’re looking to launch your own gin or whisky brand, don’t hesitate to knock on the doors of those that have done so before you. When they’re not crafting their products, they’ll share their experiences with you, over a glass of their gin of course.

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