Business Leader recently spoke to 6 O’clock Gin’s founders, Michael and Felicity Kain about the changes within the industry and what the future holds for their company. This brother and sister team are among the original pioneers of the craft gin boom and their family-run distillery is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Can you give us an overview of the company?
We are 6 O’clock gin, a family-owned craft gin brand based in Bristol. 6 O’clock Gin is a range of strikingly smooth artisan gins, handcrafted in small batches, using traditional skills and only the best natural ingredients. Our name was inspired by our long-held family tradition of indulging in a G&T at 6 o’clock; a custom still enjoyed at the distillery and shared by gin-lovers all over the world!
Our range includes our signature London Dry in an eye-catching Bristol Blue bottle, Damson Gin and Sloe Gin made with hand-picked British Damsons and hedgerow Sloes, Brunel Gin which is an export strength London Dry and finally Jekka’s Gin which celebrates the spirit of the garden. We’ve also recently launched a special edition Mango, Ginger and Lime Gin called Romy’s Edition and extended our range of RTD G&Ts.
Can you tell me about the company’s origins with your parents?
Our brand’s journey began in the late 1980s, when our parents Edward and Penny Kain looked to diversify their 21-acre Devon fruit farm. Putting their surplus fruit to good use, starting with raspberry and blackcurrant, they started making, bottling and selling delicious liqueurs before setting up a distilling company, Bramley & Gage.
You then took over the business – can you tell me about that process and your plans for the company?
In 2007, myself and my sister Felicity took over the distillery and moved the business to Bristol. By this point, the range had increased to 13 flavours, including a herb liqueur that inspired our vermouth sold today. 6 O’clock gin was born shortly after in 2010.
In terms of our plans, we think it’s important to move away from gimmick flavour combinations and a return to the fundamentals of craft distilling done well and to a high standard. We are seeing an influx of novel releases at the moment; however we are finding that people are trading up on their spirit of choice, opting to drink less overall but choosing a more premium experience.
How would you describe the growth of the company since then? How did you achieve this?
In the early days our turnover was less than £100k a year – now we’re almost a 100 times that now.
Export accounts for about 30% of the business. Our own retail is still strong and if tours were a trade customer they’d be our fourth biggest. Normally we expect 8000 visitors a year to the distillery.
We picked up on the RTD trend sweeping across the UK and have just extended our range, adding to our bartender quality London Dry Gin and Tonic (7.0% ABV) and a Light and Low (<0.5% ABV) version, which launched in January 2020. This month (July) we released two new flavours; Exotic Orange and Damson & Ginger, as well as a Light alternative to our classic London Dry gin and tonic.
The ready to drink cans are crafted with the same dedication, care and patience as the brand’s gin range, distilled in small batches, using traditional skills and the best natural ingredients to create a bartender-quality drink in the convenience of a can. Perfect for enjoying at summer picnics, barbeques or indeed ‘Wherever The Spirit Takes You’ – the new flavours will make these the quintessential tipples to enjoy in the sun.
We’ve also been working on more exciting collaborations, including our most recent with British/Indian chef Romy Gill, where alongside Romy we created a delicious new product, Romy’s Edition (Mango, Ginger and Lime 40% ABV).
How would you describe the growth of the gin industry in recent years and what do you put this down to?
Export has to figure in the plans for UK gin producers, the local market is saturated and many of the successful artisans are running significant losses propped up by crowdfunded optimism.
Craft is here to stay though, it has brought innovation and dynamism to a British classic. Average gin consumption is higher per capita than it has been for a long time and that will not reverse.
How do you separate yourself in a crowded industry?
Innovate in any way you can, from product and route to market to the way you communicate with customers. Stick to your core values and have pride in what you do.
How have you had to adapt to the impact of COVID-19 and what are your future plans?
The popularity of direct-to-consumer sales through the internet has supported us during a challenging year. COVID-19 shut down half our customer base overnight. The challenge we faced was how to continue operating safely without putting employees at risk and how to gain new customers with the country locked up at home. We had to adapt our distribution strategy to meet the demand as the market shifted to online sales channels.
Early this year we also started making and distributing hand sanitiser. It was inspired by a call from a care home in Devon that was being exploited by another distillery! This is another example of adapting our products to reflect the needs of the community and customer feedback. We also accelerated NPD for post covid consumption such as RTDs. Plus the team here have embraced all the challenges; video conferencing etc is now the norm.