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About Conker Gin

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…

January 2013

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!

I got to work researching about creativity, innovation and business – absorbing every famous entrepreneur’s ‘how I did it’ memoirs.  I read somewhere that the best ideas take advantage of both gaps in the market and emerging markets. I knew the recipe; I just needed the idea.

November 2013

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.

We would launch Dorset’s first gin distillery, distilling locally foraged botanicals and bottling by hand – we would be the real deal, all based here in Southbourne.

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!

January 2014

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.

I started at the beginning, working to perfect a classic, London Dry gin recipe. After all, I didn’t want to reinvent the gin wheel with some left-field flavoured alternative. The Dorset Dry would be a classic, juniper-led G&T tipple.
I collected Dorset-foraged botanicals to see what flavours they produced once distilled with wheat spirit, then combined these with the London Dry element of the recipe. Three Dorset-inspired flora made the grade: elderberries, marsh samphire and gorse flowers.  The Dorset Dry was taking shape…

March 2014

The moment of truth… I hand in my notice to my gob-smacked bosses.

Despite being completely convinced about the concept of Dorset’s first gin distillery, taking that leap to hand my notice in on my career was near impossible.  I would repeatedly come home from work to the question from Emily, “have you told them yet?!’’  ‘No…’ I would sheepishly reply.

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?

April 2014

I find myself unemployed.

It was time to tell the world what I was up to (or at least, my immediate friends on Facebook).
I wanted to share our journey from the very beginning. Before we had a brand, our bottles or even a finished gin recipe. Our first 30-litre alembic pot still arrives, generously bought by my lovely mum. This would go on to work very hard indeed.

May 2014

I had no bottles, labels or even a brand.

But the gin was taking shape and already people were trying to get their hands on some. In fact, it would be a whole year before it would hit the wine shops of Dorset.

June 2014

Getting hold of a pot still is one thing, plumbing it in is another; it was time to rope in my exceptionally ‘handy’ dad.

We set to work building the production still that would roll off our first bottles of the Dorset Dry for commercial sale.
The plan was to build a ‘Distilling Station’, which I could then install in a commercial premises… if we could only find one.
Starting Conker Spirit was very much shoe string stuff.  No retirement fund or Dragons’ Den to rely on. So the car got sold and we had £6,000 for Conker to play with.

July 2014

When you’re developing a recipe, the trick is knowing when to stop.

The potential for tweaking is infinite. However, something about Recipe 38 struck a chord with me. It ticked all the right boxes: classic, juniper-led, dry but with a layer of herbaceous freshness from the Dorset-inspired trio of elderberries, marsh samphire and handpicked gorse flowers.  

 

You can count on your closest friends to deal you some home truths. Luckily everyone fell for Recipe 38 from the outset.

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.

August 2014

We’ve got bottle.

From day one of Conker I wanted to take a ‘design-led’ approach to everything we did.  It had to be spot on. If you didn’t want to take it home and cuddle up next to it on the sofa, then it wasn’t pretty enough.

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?

Right, now to turn my attention to labels…

October 2014

Such a satisfying sight – our labels roll off the press at Labelwell, our local printers.

November 2014

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.

January 2015

Before we could start selling our delicious Dorset Dry Gin we had to have our distillery signed off by HMRC.

They needed to see a functioning distillery, evidence of interest in our products and all the paperwork and formalities of a proper business. Basically, proof that we were for real.
So, the old man got another phone call – his plumbing skills were being called upon once again.

January 2015

The pot still had pride of place, but I still needed space for a desk.

So I built a tree house in the corner of the distillery.  It was a long, cold few months on my own; clearly madness was starting to set in…

April 2015

A whole year has passed from the day I stepped away from my day job as a Chartered Surveyor.

The HMRC gave us their tick of approval and we could start distilling our Dorset Dry gin!Our first batch was 60 bottles.

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 taste of your appetite for the Dorset Dry, and the first of many, many events we attend throughout the year.

May 2015

It may just be a box to you, but it’s our Dorset Dry’s ticket to ride, and one of the first signs of actually looking the part.

June 2015

Our first of many Conker Gin Masterclasses with Lloyd Brown at the Venner Bar, Bridport.

The place was packed, and the support from family, friends and Bridport gin-lovers was truly heartening. It turns out people like it when you hand out free cocktails. We’ve worked with Lloyd on a number of events since, and he still impresses us with his ludicrously tasty concoctions. 

July 2015

Baby Beau

Our first child, Beau, joins the team. More of a hindrance than a help, but very cute nonetheless.

August 2015

Our first hire!

Fred, my best buddy from my school days joins the team.  Leaving behind a career in clinical science, (Dr) Fred now heads up all our operations. Botanicals, empty bottles and labels come in, award-winning spirits go out!

October 2015

We sign every…single…bottle. Not regretting that decision at all.

Thankfully, I now have my right-hand-man, Fred, to help me sign off our delicious tipples.

November 2015

2 Star Great Taste Award.

Only 200 of the 10,000 products entered in 2015 managed to scoop a 2 Star Great Taste Award.

December 2015

Bonkers!

Conker is one of the top three best-selling products on Master of Malt this Christmas.

March 2016

For our second product to follow the Dorset Dry, we didn’t want to simply follow the crowed.

If it’s not innovative, new and exciting, we are not really that interested.

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.

Through cold brewing the coffee, we discovered an incredibly gentle brewing method that allows the rich, fruity notes of the bean to emerge without any of the bitterness that comes from hot temperatures.

April 2016

Gorse picking in full force - just one of the Dorset-inspired botanicals of the Dorset Dry.

We pick our gorse in the spring when the bushes are heavy with flowers and the wonderful aroma of coconut lingers along Bournemouth’s clifftop. To make the most of the season’s crop, we pick enough gorse to last a year, drying and vacuum-packing the flowers to lock-in their flavour and aroma.

August 2016

We are handsome, it’s official.

International Wine & Spirit Competition Trophy for Gin Packaging of the Year 2016.

November 2016

We double up to two 30-litre alembic pot stills, allowing us to ramp up production to about 100 bottles in one distillation run.  Even with this jump in output, these stills need to run five days a week to keep the Dorset Dry flowing.

December 2016

This photo says it all.

A unique blend of exhaustion and being in complete heaven; Olive Jay Holloway joins the world just as we have an enormous Christmas at the distillery.  Busy, beautiful times!

March 2017

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.

Now available in bars up and down the country, and with many awards under its belt, this kid has done us proud, and more than stands up to the success of our maiden product, the Dorset Dry.

June 2017

We double our capacity again with two new 60-litre alembic pot stills, taking our daily distillation output to over 200 bottles. All bottled, labelled and hand-signed as we did back at our launch in April 2015.

August 2017

We collect some fancy silverware at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

January 2018

That’s our kind of language.

Off we fly to southern Ethiopia to meet the heroes that grow the incredible coffees we use for our Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur. Grown in the shade of native forests in near-wild conditions, coffee is produced in a system of productive agroforestry, where the land is used to produce crops, honey and timber whilst at the same time being a haven of biodiversity.
The meticulous passion for what these guys do is mind-blowing. They have chosen the most labour-intensive way of cultivating their coffee beans, because of the superior flavour profile it produces. This is a true example of quality over quantity. That’s our kind of language.

March 2018

We are back gorse flower foraging for another year’s distillation of the Dorset Dry – rain or shine.

April 2018

Demand grows and we continue to scale-up production of our Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur.

June 2018

Mojito Gin? Yep!

We were tasked by That Boutique-y Gin Company to embody the mighty Mojito in a gin. So we took lashings of lime and oodles of mint and distilled it with a molasses spirit, honouring its rum credentials. The result is probably one of the tastiest G&Ts this side of the Caribbean.

July 2018

Our fancy-pants custom bottles arrive!

The look on my face is genuine – I’m a sucker for a pretty bottle. Embossed with Conker Spirit, this is more like the old bottles I used to dig up when the tide went out, and that makes me a very happy chappy.

August 2018

Normally shipped in from overseas, we found a farmer closer to home.

We smugly announce that the coriander seed used in the distillation of our Dorset Dry gin is now grown in the fields of Sussex!Coriander seed is a usual suspect in classic gins and brings a savoury lemon citrus and soft spice to the Dorset Dry.

August 2018

Our Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur wins 3 Stars at the 2018 Great Taste Awards!

The highest accolade in the world’s largest and most trusted food and drink awards. Just 3% of the 12,634 entries achieved 3 Stars – reserved only for the most extraordinarily tasty foods, they don’t hand these out lightly!

September 2018

Mr & Mrs Conker tie the knot!

September 2018

We go bespoke amber glass for our Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur.

A bottle befitting of our award-winning liquid.

October 2018

Our bottles get themselves some brand new threads.

Beautiful bottle boxes for all!

November 2018

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.

For every 70cl bottle you enjoy, £5 will be paid in support of the RNLI and their selfless lifesavers.
A symphony of fresh pine and sweet-spiced fruits of orange and elderberry, lengthening beautifully to hold a presence in the glass. A bold and purposeful gin, worthy of its cause.

December 2018

We introduce our Port Barrel Gin 2018 Limited Edition run of just 800 bottles!

In our pursuit of new and exciting spirits, we’ve brought together two of our favourite tipples to create a seriously tasty gin less ordinary.We’ve distilled our Dorset Dry gin to 43% abv and rested it in used port barrels from Portugal, perfectly combining dry piney juniper and herbaceous brightness with notes of vanilla oak, warm spice and sweet red fruits.

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.

Rupert Holloway

RUPERT’S TALKS

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.

Topics include:

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.

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