The spirit of Bristol gin stays strong

From craft gin to hand sanitiser: local distillers step up to help the frontline

First of the batch is Psychopomp

We caught up with Danny Walker, director and co-founder of Bristol based micro-distillery Psychopomp to ask how the Covid 19 crisis changed his world.

You may have heard some of this story before…but back in early March, sick of stockpiling and price hikes, the Psychopomp team decided to make hand sanitiser using (expensive) duty paid alcohol and a WHO approved recipe. Despite costing a substantial amount to make, they gave it to the public for free or for a donation as, in Danny’s words, “it didn’t sit right to charge”. In less than a fortnight they’d made over £2.5K for Bristol Children’s Hospital.

The result?

Thanks to all the positive press, the online business spiked and the brand experienced a rush of good will. But the biggest demand came from people desperate for hand sanitiser — and not just individuals. Danny was contacted by three Police forces, including Avon and Somerset, the fire brigade and, perhaps most distressingly the Avon Ambulance Service. It was overwhelming.

By this time lockdown was in full swing and offering sanitiser to the public wasn’t an option. Instead the team turned their attention to mass production. Working with a “very proactive” HMRC, lawyers and a network of distilleries they managed to get a licence to create sanitiser without paying duty. This brought costs down dramatically and allowed them to scale up and concentrate on providing sanitiser to the frontline – they now supply paramedics, firefighters, police officers, care homes, homeless shelters and more.

I made 150 litres of hand sanitiser this morning — it’s all gone

Danny Walker, Pscychopomp

So, what’s happened to the actual business?

Danny decided to close Psychopomp’s popular bar early on, because it “felt like the socially responsible thing to do”. But the biggest impact came when their largest customers — mostly independent, local, restaurants and bars — disappeared overnight. Psychopomp makes bespoke gins for some of Bristol’s best loved eateries, including Bravas, the Ox and Honest Burger. And, of course no one knows if/when they’ll be able to start trading again.

The glimmer of a positive is that people are still enjoying craft spirits at home. And, although acknowledging that some businesses will be hit far harder, Danny feels the government response has been “exemplary, the furlough scheme has been incredible and the speed Bristol City Council issued the small business grant was amazing”. These measures will allow the company to pay their bills and fully support their three employees.

Danny believes positive action will get us through #stayingin. So, for now Psychopomp is more of a hand sanitiser producer than a spirit maker, although you can still buy their range online including small batches of ‘stay in gin’ he’s making “for fun”.

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6 O’clock Gin share a similar tale

Michael Kain, MD of family firm 6 O’clock Gin explains why, despite being a bigger, more established brand with international reach, the Covid 19 crisis has given him some “very dark moments”.

6 O’clock gin’s story began on Michael’s parents’ Devon farm over 30 years ago with their successful sideline in fruit liqueurs. It’s still very much still an independent family business — his parents Penny and Edward were working at least a day a week prior to lockdown. “When we moved to Bristol in 2007, it was just me and dad, now there are 22 of us.”

Michael believes that people think they are bigger, and therefore safer, than they really are — but as with Psychopomp, the lack of restaurant and bar trade is a massive blow. They’ve have had to furlough nine of their employees — the option was given, as part of a collaborative process that prioritised home schooling parents. “The staff are so supportive. It’s lovely.”

What’s changed since Coronavirus?

“It turned the business upside down in a matter of weeks. We’re still working in the distillery, but two metres apart. People have taken on new roles.” And one of those new roles is making and distributing hand sanitiser. It was inspired by a call from a care home in Devon.

I realised we had a moral obligation to do our bit to help — and we didn’t want to exploit the situation either

Michael Kain, 6 O’clock Gin

Currently they make around 500-600 litres a week – some they sell to the public online, which also donates a bottle to the NHS, but most is supplied to local surgeries and care homes in large refillable containers. With demand outstripping supply and global shortages of ingredients, Michael adds “It’s very hard to manage. We prioritise the Bristol area and people join the queue. Our capacity for new customers is zero.” It’s labour intensive, but he believes, “what comes around goes around, people help us and we want to help them.”

What does the future hold?

Michael’s a fan of the furlough scheme, but says the government’s loans are ‘a waste of time’, and that 6 O’clock Gin is slightly too big to benefit from some of the help on offer, like council tax relief. But, although income has dropped significantly, the online business has really taken off and “thanks to the support of our staff, customers and the community this is not the disaster it could have been. I now think we’ll be fine.”

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And finally, a taste of Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

The most micro of our distillers, Katie Ellis runs Shipshape and Bristol Fashion from her garage in Long Ashton. Using her beautiful copper alembic still she creates about 140 bottles of gin flavoured with local ingredients, “around the school run”.

Since setting up in 2018, Katie has supplied some of the finest restaurants, bars and deli’s in Bristol and North Somerset, including the Clifton Lido, the Ethicurian and Adelina Yard.

Her business has grown through Instagram, “which has been amazing” and meetings. “The Bristol food scene is very supportive, very lovely. It can get a bit lonely working from home, so it was lush to go out and meet people and do gin tastings,” she says — something we can all relate to right now! And although there have been opportunities to expand, being a small supplier to local independents is what she enjoys most.

I was devastated when I heard bars and restaurants had to close, especially for those who’d poured their souls into new ventures. My heart goes out to all my friends in hospitality

Katie Ellis, Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

But then along came Coronavirus…

It’s badly affected her business too. She says she’s fortunate in that she has no employees and few overheads, “but I did think I would have to find a new job when it all went silent. Sales are down, but they’ve picked up a bit.”

A helping hand sanitiser

A desire to help her “humbling” friends and family in the NHS, combined with the same curiosity and love of science that attracted her to gin distilling has led her to create a hand sanitiser. She distributes the 50ml ‘miniature’ bottles for free to community volunteers, care homes, key workers and charities, including One25 — and has given away around 300 so far. “Making sure it’s spot on is a pressure. But the process has quickly become part of my ‘new normal’”.

Follow on Instagram: @ginshipshapebristolfashion

Buy from: @birdinhandlongashton @lovely.drinks @corks_of_bristol_cotham @grape_n_grind @goodsixty @cliftoncellars @box_local and more.