The story of Graveney gin and Victoria
I knew I always wanted to be my own boss. I came up with loads of business ideas, all being things that I made with my hands or something physical. Passion was always at the center of those ideas and when I went out as a young person throughout my drinking life, gin was at the core. It makes me sound like a functional alcoholic.
Looking behind the bars and pubs in London I started to notice a growth in options – Sipsmith and Portobello Road were new and exciting to me. I started looking into them and researching all about who they were and so on. It came into play more as I was doing a small Graphic Design course and the branding of Sipsmith really interested me. It was young and different.
As a treat to myself, I booked two slots to attend the Portobello Road Ginstitue which I knew would be the best way for me to spend my birthday – drinking and making gin. Coming out of that session (slightly worse for wear), I turned to my now-husband and said this would be my dream job – making gin or being in the gin world. His response was to tell me to contact people and they might show me how to do it as I didn’t have the slightest clue and thought I would never learn as it would be too complicated. But the man was right and when I started contacting me and reaching out (which is not like me at all) they were incredibly friendly and welcoming. Once I learned the basics, it was up to me to play around with ideas
The ideas came from lining up my favourite gins at times and seeing what went in them. Things like Orange and Pink Grapefruit are my favourites and normally a household item, Juniper is the star of the show so I knew it had to be heavy in this. Angelica root and Orris Root were things I knew were the golden four but have never heard of them before and felt very strange ordering those / finding places to buy them. Coriander is the final four but I really don’t like the stuff so I couldn’t put it in my gin and sing its praises. I don’t have a poker face for that. Very first world but I love the world of nutrition so I was eating goji berries and baobab for breakfast and decided to create a pure distillate of them and just loved the flavour. Baobab reminds me of my childhood growing up in Malawi so it means an awful lot to have that in the gin.
Over a few months of playing around, I had two recipes and thoughts it would be fun to involve my little Tooting following on Twitter. Tooting also believed that I was a gin distillery or a distillery that was being built in Tooting instead of some lady in a kitchen making homemade gin – legally. I placed the gins into small glass pots and took them around landmarks of Tooting to do close up shots. The ones that answered correctly would then be placed in a daily draw to win a sample. All I asked for in return was to let me know what they thought of their sample. The current recipe was voted for by those people who won.
During this time, Tootopia got in contact with me to see if I would have a stall at their festival and I then nervously presented a blank bottle of gin (no label or design/ branding) and they asked if I could have everything ready for then. I bravely said yes and worked with some students in New York to design the label – no experience or idea what was needed on the bottle. I bought a £15 gazebo and my brother who has years of experience in the hospitality industry said he would help on the day. I then every evening and weekend making bottles of gin I had in my head I would make 200 bottles because that would be a good amount of have for the rest of my life … I never thought I would sell that amount. I could only produce 5 bottles at a time because f the size of my still and started to pile them up in the spare room and hallway. When the day came, I labeled 20 bottles, set up my stall and was a bag of nerves. I honestly thought that I would sell maybe 5 bottles of gin as a few friends were going to visit me to offer support and they would have to buy a bottle purely down to pity. The doors opened on the event and I was rushed off my feet by friendly local faces saying that they were so excited to buy the gin and have been following my journey. I was rushed off my feet and didn’t stop for hours. Thank goodness for my brother and husband who helped serve samples and run back home, label more bottles and backpack them back to the venue. I sold the most bottles of gin I have ever done in one day. This day will always be my high because it took me by total surprise. After that, I was contacted by people wanting to buy the gin and I would then hand-deliver bottles of gin before and after work and then on weekends. I was a modern take on the milkman/lady I suppose. When Christmas came, I was sitting in sunny Cape Town with family (again didn’t realise people would order or want to buy my gin for Christmas Presents) I thought of the idea of maybe doing this full time. It seemed like good timing as I was going through a change at work but I never considered myself as risky and this felt like a massive jump. My husband helped me put all my expenses on a Nandos napkin and that was my goal each month. I just needed to find a small place to make the gin and Tooting Market came up. I wanted to keep it local as it was the local gin. I had a few days to take the unit and resign from my job. Everything till this point had been self-funded. I used my savings to fund the build of the tasting room and set up but needed help to raise money for the 30L copper still (from my 5L). I was overwhelmed that the target was reached and gave me the confidence I needed. The doors opened in March of 2016 and I have been doing it single-handed since then – except when I became a mum and had a lovely lady who became me for a few months while I got used to being a mummy to Arthur. I am still doing everything from the making, labeling, and delivery of the gin and have moved the operation from Tooting to Merton Abbey Mills. One day I would love to bring it back to Tooting, but finding the right space and size is pretty difficult.
The first year was a very steep learning curve as it’s an industry I know nothing about. I never had any experience in bar work but hiring a team who were all learning the work with me was wonderful and they are my biggest advocates. I spend year one behind the bar and had quite a lot of focus on this part to the business and then the second year growing the gin side and then growing that baby…. With another one on the way. Not busy at all.
Everything is hand done, labeling, the invoices, the delivery, and attending shows. It’s all me.
Now back to work and focusing on two new recipes which are yummy – Figges Marsh and Grove Fever Gin.