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It’s not every day a Chartered Quantity Surveyor throws in the towel to try his hand at making gin, but it was certainly worth the risk. Fast forward 6 years, and it was certainly worth the risk. But when Rupert ditched the job, sold his car and spent his days hunched over a teeny copper pot still in his kitchen, he could have been mistaken for a mad man. Thank goodness it all came good. It’s been a very silly, but wonderful, journey.
Here’s a bird’s eye view of the best bits…
At first, I tried a biology degree, only to realise halfway through that I wasn’t destined for great things in science.
I knuckled down and, once graduated, worked on a building site for a year mixing up cement and lugging bricks around. Inspired to get off the tools, I went back to university to do a Masters in construction – the first step towards becoming a Chartered Surveyor. I figured that would be a great career I could get my teeth into.I joined the industry in 2007 – just as the world’s recession set in and building sites across the country rolled to a stop. Great timing! I found myself desk bound…
Seven years into quantity surveying and having passed my RICS chartership qualification, I felt the sobering reality that I fundamentally wasn’t happy. After a heart-to-heart with Emily (my then girlfriend, now wife – whoop!) I revealed:
“I will be bitterly disappointed if I die or retire doing what I currently do for a living.”
Slightly dramatic, but true nonetheless. I realised that life is just too short to settle for being unhappy in your work.So we made a commitment together for me to hunt out a business idea I could get passionate about.
In one of these moments of clarity I wrote a note to myself saying ‘get it back’. Get back the excitement and optimism about the future that I had felt as a teenager. Rekindle my passion and pursue it!
After many good, bad and ugly business ideas (which were all quickly put to bed by Emily), I landed on something that I just couldn’t get out of my head.
It’s an incredibly powerful motivator to take the leap to do something when you are utterly convinced that if you didn’t do it, someone else would.
So I sent the text…
In response to my text, Emily replied with the words ‘Acorn conker’. Completely dumfounded at the time, I later learnt she was in the middle of writing a to-do list for her classroom of 5-year-olds when she accidentally sent it back in reply.
Conker Spirit was born!
Completely ignorant on the subject but motivated by blind optimism, I bought a small but magnificent 1-litre alembic pot still and got to work…
It was time to make a start and get tinkering.‘It all sounds very simple. It’s not. I’ll give it a go though.’’
Suffice to say my kitchen became a laboratory and, for the first time in a long time, I felt the heady pangs of excitement. I was in my element, and I’m pleased to say that five years’ on and I’m still that kid in the sweet shop.
The moment of truth… I hand in my notice to my gob-smacked bosses.
Was I really going to reject the security of a salary and a carved-out career path all because the job didn’t set my world on fire? Turning my back on something. I had spent seven years and thousands of pounds pursuing? What would people think? What if I failed?
I find myself unemployed.
I had no bottles, labels or even a brand.
Getting hold of a pot still is one thing, plumbing it in is another; it was time to rope in my exceptionally ‘handy’ dad.
When you’re developing a recipe, the trick is knowing when to stop.
The Conker brand comes to life
The Conker brand starts to emerge with our first post on social media.‘Developing your brand is like a long pregnancy where you entrust someone else to design your child – a long, painful and nerve-wracking experience! Here she is – we are very proud.
We’ve got bottle.
So, as you can imagine, our bottle design was pretty important. After endless hunting for something new and unique, we finally found our bottle – a handsome devil, don’t you think?
Such a satisfying sight – our labels roll off the press at Labelwell, our local printers.
We take a punt and sign a three-year lease on the perfect spot for the distillery – a little corner of Southbourne that Conker could call home.
Before we could start selling our delicious Dorset Dry Gin we had to have our distillery signed off by HMRC.
The pot still had pride of place, but I still needed space for a desk.
A whole year has passed from the day I stepped away from my day job as a Chartered Surveyor.
Back in early 2015, everything was very ‘handrolic’. Rather than splashing out on a fancy labeller, I whittled up this bottle cradle that allowed me to keep the labels on the straight and narrow. Slow, but precise!
Our first ever event
‘Fish & Ships’ in Portland.
Our first of many Conker Gin Masterclasses with Lloyd Brown at the Venner Bar, Bridport.
Our first hire!
We sign every…single…bottle. Not regretting that decision at all.
2 Star Great Taste Award.
For our second product to follow the Dorset Dry, we didn’t want to simply follow the crowed.
We set to work creating the UK’s first Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur. Unlike other coffee liqueurs on the market, it wouldn’t use any flavourings, thickeners or preservatives: just four simple ingredients, including ridiculously tasty fresh coffee.
Gorse picking in full force - just one of the Dorset-inspired botanicals of the Dorset Dry.
We are handsome, it’s official.
This photo says it all.
We launch our unfathomably delicious Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur – the first of its kind in the UK and a celebration of Grade 1, natural processed coffee.
We collect some fancy silverware at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
That’s our kind of language.
We are back gorse flower foraging for another year’s distillation of the Dorset Dry – rain or shine.
Demand grows and we continue to scale-up production of our Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur.
Mojito Gin? Yep!
Our fancy-pants custom bottles arrive!
Normally shipped in from overseas, we found a farmer closer to home.
Our Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur wins 3 Stars at the 2018 Great Taste Awards!
Mr & Mrs Conker tie the knot!
We go bespoke amber glass for our Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur.
Our bottles get themselves some brand new threads.
After a year of work, we launch our RNLI Navy Strength Gin, distilled in Dorset in honour of the endeavour and spirit of the RNLI.
We introduce our Port Barrel Gin 2018 Limited Edition run of just 800 bottles!
Never has there been an easier time to build a career doing what you love. Don't let what has been be your guide to what will be. The most daunting of journeys begin with single step, and a year from now you'll wish you started today.
Founder and Head Distiller, Rupert Holloway, is available to talk about his experience of throwing in the towel to launch Dorset’s first gin distillery.
Rupert has spent the last five years doing what many of us fear to do –jacking in the day job to try our hand at something new. For Rupert, that was leaving his successful yet dissatisfying, career as a Quantity Surveyor to make gin. Sounds a bit mad, doesn’t it?
But having ridden the start-up rollercoaster and come out the other side dishevelled but more than satisfied, his mad decision thankfully came good.
Now with four successful products under his belt and no sign of slowing down, Rupert has bucket loads of advice, anecdotes and guidance for those with itchy feet, making him an inspiring speaker for events and conferences.
Changing your mindset, relearning creativity and finding that lightbulb
The leap of faith – leaving the day job to follow your dream
Getting started – on a shoestring budget, but with bucket loads of determination
Creating a brand–from – product design to tone of voice and personality
Developing a team – the transition from a one-man-band to a team you can trust
Gin – the ins and outs of Conker’s maiden product, the Dorset Dry
To book Rupert as a speaker,
please contact us.