Claire chats to Graham Suttle from Felons Gin to find out the story of their gin and the rogues who make it.
Tell us the story behind Felons Gin, from the moment the idea came to you until now?
Felons began as an idea over a decade ago. It was a result of the realisation that the drinks industry, whilst fast-paced, innovative and passionate about new trends and tastes, always came back to one thing – simplicity. As a company, (we have) has always led from the front, and our offering has always reflected our passion for our customers and the Scottish industry.
Myself and James Kemp, who had started as a bartender with Kained and worked his way up to be our Marketing and Brand Manager, took up the challenge of creating a gin. We both knew the market very well and both had good experience behind the bar, so it was exciting. We set about listening to our customers, looking at the constant growth and innovation in the market and began dissecting what we felt we wanted to create.
Our guiding principle was our company’s un inching commitment to getting the basics right. Coupled with the single biggest word that kept coming back to us through this whole process – simplicity.
So, we set about researching classic gins and realised that whilst simple was looking to the past, the present needed to be considered in defining modern day simplicity. For us and for many drinkers today it is the art of delivering a lightness of palate and crispness of the finish. Whilst classics often rely on juniper to deliver the prominent avour, we felt people associated gin with an ice cold clean crisp drink and citrus was featuring more and more in the serve of the gin – in the glass, round the glass, round the stem, in the drinks, in the air – it all said that the key to simplicity of modern-day gin expectations is citrus.
We wanted something that ticked boxes for lots of different people, a liquid that was as good naked in a frozen coupette as it was in a lavish cocktail.
The focus came down to not alcohol but tonic. The idea was to create a versatile gin whose various elements matched most tonics.
Hundreds of bar people later, we had nailed our liquid. Then customers were brought into trial the liquid and con rm that we had something special. For ,us the trick was to maintain the classic gin profile, without adding angels’ tears, Martian moon rock or stirring it with a mythical unicorn horn. So, we front loaded our botanicals to ensure we got freshness from the citrus and then introduced some not so commonly used botanicals, namely lemon verbena and angelica seed. We wanted a big mouthfeel, smooth finish, long warmth and super clean citrus refreshment. The result was astounding and continues to astound us with every tasting we do.
How did Rogue, your venue in St. Andrews, come about?
We had been speaking to Greene King about a unit they had in St. Andrews and we threw our hat in the ring to make that the base for the distillery. We created a joint venture by forming a brand-new company that brought the best of the two worlds together to make the project a reality. That’s when things really kick-started. Now we had our liquid, we had a distillery and we had the ability to make it happen – we just needed to make it a reality.
We brought in a great consultant called Jack Mayo, who had worked with some impressive gins and distilleries before, to help us replicate the original liquid and he worked his magic by balancing the recipe to be scaled up and set us up for full production.
However as usual, with things going so well, we got cocky and thought it was all easy… then someone drops the bombshell by asking ‘did you order your still last year?’ That’s when the realisation hits you that the backlog for stills is insane, especially when it comes to Scotland.
So, after numerous panicked meetings, we got a glimmer of hope. Our first still came about by total accident when we spoke with a gentleman called Marko at a wine expo who was a master craftsman from Slovenia, who made lots of winemaking kit for the wineries of Bordeaux and the Loire. He had never made stills before but was especially keen to work with us to allow him to create his rst still for us, and to this day, the plaque on the side of our (still to be named) still reads 0001. His rst ever. A proud moment all-round.
So, James and I nail the liquid, Jack has us ready for production, Marko has our still built, and we sign on the dotted line for a space to put the distillery in. Something was missing, something important; someone forgot about a distiller… you know, the guy who makes all this a reality. Again, lady luck shone on us and one of our old colleagues Fraser Barrett happened to walk into The Finnieston bar one day. A few coffees later, he was hooked on the project. He tried the gin and said: ‘I can make that better.’ We didn’t know whether to punch him or hug him.
He played around with the liquid and accentuated the keynotes for us, with little tweaks here and there. It became smoother, more luxurious on the mouth. The aromas intensified too, and it delivered more on the nose. We had a bright, fresh, citrus gin of exceptional quality and awesome drinkability. We hired him straight away.
At this point we were pretty much ready to go. We had only the brand itself to agree on. We knew the venue in St Andrews was going to be called Rogue, as a nod to Fife’s historical illicit distilleries. We felt the gin’s name should be tied in with the Rogue venue. We wanted to give a little cheeky nod to the various colourful characters who were involved in the creation of the gin but also to the area’s old moonshiners from days gone by.
Our final hurdle was the packaging, and after months of engagement with an agency, we were left demoralised and without a cohesive design or even identity for the liquid. No bottle, no label, no logo. The pressure was on big time.
Then, one day my phone rang, and it was a mate, Stu Bale, in London, who was hooking up with Kained on another project. He was mid conversation when I interrupted him and poured my heart out about how badly we had been let down and did he know anyone who could help. I’ll save you the details but four phone calls and seven days later, I had a bottle, a logo and a whole design package pulled together and on my desk. Chris Collicott of Mandalena design studios absolutely nailed the design brief I gave. The packaging is beautiful and represents the quality of the liquid and is a nod to the top-quality people who have been involved in stages during the creation of the brand.
Felons was born.
Felons is in its infancy and has already gathered some impressive supporters. Our main ambition just now is to grow our awareness and shout to the world, to have people fall in love with Felons Gin and to look to the future as an opportunity to continue our innovation and a passion through our spirits development. Our venue in St Andrews now operates tours and gin tasting sessions alongside meet the maker dinners, which have been immensely popular. Our belief in the liquid has been constantly affirmed, so when I visit bars or restaurants with it, I simply say ‘no words needed – please simply try it.
What is in the future for you guys?
Our distiller Fraser has been busy working on evolution of the gin by scaling up production to meet demand, and he even had some time to release a limited run of 100 bottles of an orange citrus led botanical spirit. Everything is on the table for us just now, so watch this space.
We hope everyone at Flavoury loves the gin, we know we do. Our signature serve is, as you would expect, very simple. It’s designed for everyone to make easily and without hassle. Healthy measure of Felons, tonic of your choice, lots of ice and a wheel or two of fresh lemon. Sláinte!