Liam Manton, co-founder, Didsbury Gin:
Manchester is a passionate, creative, fascinating place. When we started Didsbury Gin it was all about capturing those things and, well, distilling them.
We were making gin at the same time as working full-time jobs. But even though that sounds amateur, we knew what we had created was real quality. When both of us were made redundant in quick succession, Didsbury Gin turned from a side-hustle into a full-time venture.
If someone had told me a few years ago that we’d be running a successful gin brand, appearing on Dragon’s Den, stocked in retailers as diverse as Wetherspoons, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, I’d have asked them how much they’d had to drink. But here we are – from making our first bottles in Mark’s living room to seeing them lining the shelves of national supermarkets.
People often ask me about the key to our success. The best advice I can give is actually quite simple – make a great quality product that appeals to a wide-range of people. Consumer tastes in the UK are changing. People no longer just order the same thing without a thought – increasingly, they go into pubs, bars, supermarkets and restaurants looking for inspiration. They care about provenance, creativity, experiences, how the bottle and the drink looks, whether it matches their mood and the occasion. Pubs don’t just stock a single gin anymore – they have different brands, flavours, strengths. We’ve just worked with Simon Wood, the Masterchef winner, to create a Tutti-Frutti gin for Aldi. That would have been unthinkable a few years ago – not just for us as a smaller company, but for the public to embrace it.
Spirits are one of the UK’s most valuable and important exports and that’s the next big step for us. It’s not just the money it makes for the fantastic companies we have here but also the reputation – across the world, UK spirits are a by-word for quality.
Of course, success for a small business like ours is down to a mixture of hard-work, great ideas, skill, meeting the right people and a little bit of luck. But we don’t exist in a vacuum. In the UK, we have one of the highest rates of spirit duty in the world. But the bit that really doesn’t make sense is that we don’t know from one year to the next what will happen – will it stay the same, will it go up? How can small business ever hope to make plans? How can we increase production, hire more staff, expand our premises when we don’t know what tax we will be paying in 12 months’ time?
UK spirits has changed so much – there are so many new distillers across the country making great products. In order to give these small businesses the best possible chance to flourish, grow and invest, Government should work with spirits producers large and small to fix the duty system. Together, we can create something that is both fair and stable, benefiting consumers, businesses, and public finances and inspiring more people to turn their passion into a product.