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Those who gin together win together

shortcross david and fiona
ShortCross Gin
Written by Gin Foundry

Amongst the 40 or so ginsmiths making their way down to Junipalooza this June are a handful of teams who have more than just juniper in common.

We’ve spoken to the coupled-up creators to find out the highs and lows of working, living and ginning together and we’ve also asked them to share with us any advice they have for those planning on taking their wedded bliss that one step further. Be warned, some of their answers are quite soppy…

Hope on Hopkins: Lucy Beard and Leigh Lisk

When ex-lawyers Lucy and Leigh returned home to South Africa following a vast stint in London, they did so with gin in mind. As soon as they found their Hopkins Street site, they took to building their distillery from scratch. The result is a set of two South African inspired gins and one Mediterranean gin, the latter of which is made from a very smooth, very rich grape base. We’re big fans!

Any funny stories?

Lucy: When our equipment first arrived and we finally got it set up, we were so excited that we decided to do a mash (we make our spirit from a malted barley base which will mill, cook or “mash” and ferment on site before going on to distil it) on a Sunday. We live and work on-site, so we thought it made perfect sense to do our first mash on a day we wouldn’t be interrupted.  We loaded the mash tun with a mix of wheat, barley and water and brought up to temperature (about 65 degrees) and then turned on the agitator and the motor stopped working.  We weren’t sure why and realised that the motor had blown.  Leigh wasn’t phased and so thought we could take the motor from the agitator on our still (which we actually don’t use) and replace it: it weighs 250kg so it was a huge effort for the two of us to transfer it to the mash tun. We managed, turned it on and that motor promptly blew as well.

So we called in our electrician, who was happy to come in on a Sunday, to have a look.  He and Leigh removed the motor, rewired the original and wanted to replace it, when they dropped the “key” that holds the motor in place into the tank, so straight into the barley/wheat mix.  After a while of Leigh trying to fish the tiny key out with a sieve on the end of a pole, I decided there was no way that would work and changed into my bikini and jumped into the tank and fished it out. That certainly made our electrician’s day: no more moaning about doing Sunday call-outs! What I didn’t mention is that it was mid winter and we were living on-site with no hot water … so I had to go and take a cold shower to wash off the wheat and barley mash!

What advantage do you think being married lends to the business? Also, for that matter, are their any disadvantages about working as a couple?

Lucy: We are a team like no other: it really helps that we trust each other immensely and both know that we’re both as committed and invested as each other in the business. We gave up corporate jobs and our UK friends (we had been working as lawyers in London for the past 14 years, before deciding to come home and start distilling) to take the plunge and it certainly helped that we were in it together, rather than just one of us giving up something to pursue a dream.

We now do really live and breathe it (we live on-site at the distillery) and it’s wonderful that we are equally passionate about it: it certainly wouldn’t be the same if it was just one of us involved. The disadvantages are that you can get overly critical of each other… and it was pretty stressful in the early stages seeing as we had both given up corporate salaries and it took longer than planned to get the business off the ground, so cash started to run out.

What advice would you give to other partners thinking of starting a business together?

Lucy: When we first started out we both wanted to do everything and literally started off both dealing with all aspects of everything. We soon realised that that was a ridiculous approach and was wasting time. We realised that the best thing to do - and this is certainly our advice to anyone starting a business as a couple together - was frankly to assess our strengths and weaknesses and ensure that we each did what we were better at. It might result in one half of the couple getting all the glory and much of the limelight while the other is doing most of the hard work, but it’s certainly the best way to operate.

It means that you need to have a long hard look at yourselves and assess who in reality is better at various aspects: not always a great task to undertake, but it will certainly make your business all the better for it and ultimately, it will make your relationship stronger.

Rock Rose: Martin and Claire Murray

This husband and wife team established Dunnet Bay Distillers in 2014 to great applause, selling 12,000 bottles of Rock Rose gin in their first year. The gin is a beautiful tribute to its Scottish home, making inventive (and effective) use of local botanicals including Rhodiola rosea and sea buckthorn.

Any funny stories?

Martin: Quite often people that meet us at the show ask us what the owners are like to work for. Obviously we say great! I guess we look younger than we feel!

Do you think being married gives an edge to your business, and are there any pitfalls to watch out for?

Claire: It’s an interesting question to answer, we always wanted to go into business together and to create a good work/life balance. I think being married certainly helps us achieve that as we work to suit ourselves. Being in business as a married couple works as we both understand the business and we work together when it is really busy knowing that we can then take a bit of time off when it is quieter. We really enjoy it as we know that we are both working towards a secure future for our family, we’re doing it together and hopefully creating a legacy for our three children.

It works well as it is easy to be honest and frank with one another, and we are both quite understanding about each other’s capabilities. We have our set areas and roles but these do cross over too. Martin is the distiller and recipe creator and I am the chief taster!

All in all, I think for us being married and in business together works for us - there is a natural boss and Martin obeys quite well…

What advice would you give to other couples thinking of starting a business together in the drinks industry?

Martin: Make sure you agree times where you can switch off from the business and be a couple. We stick to this, and it works for us.

Shortcross Gin:  David and Fiona Boyd Armstrong

Fiona and David Boyd Armstrong founded the Rademon Estate Distillery in County Down in 2012. The gin forges regional botanicals with traditional ingredients to create an undeniably elegant, utterly enjoyable gin.

Any funny stories?

David: Truthfully there are just too many to tell, if the walls of the distillery could talk they could probably write a book or two by now!

What’s the biggest thing you think being married lends to your business?

David: For Fiona and I it’s all about the advantages! Its great to be able to support each other by doing something we both love. The ability to bounce ideas of each other to keep pushing ourselves are just some off the things we love about running the distillery together.

What advice would you give to other couples thinking of starting a business together?

David: I think you both have to being doing it for the right reasons. You need to be passionate about it and recognise you will be spending a lot of time together, knowing when to give each other space is important.

Couples who distill together