Now there are enough famous faces that have turned their skills to winemaking to run a major event just with their wines. There are also some household names that have made a nice tidy sum from the world of spirits too. Here’s the latest. Adam Woodyatt. Better known to the public as Ian Beale, one of the original cast members in BBC’s long running soap opera, Eastenders. Here he explains to Alistair Morrell how he decided to go into the drinks industry and the ultra competitive world of gin.
What do the famous do when they want to do something different? Make gin. At least that is what Adam Woodyatt and his wife, Beverley, have done with their own brand, Neat Gin.
When and how did you get the idea for Neat gin?
The idea came about on my birthday in 2017. I mentioned it to my wife because all my other hair brain schemes importing Lamborghinis, beany baby etc seemed to come to nothing or she said don’t be ridiculous. Beverley and I love gin (not too much you understand) and wondered if we could make our own. With gin there is a market and using my profile, she agreed with me. It took me completely by surprise.
We went to a birthday party and a friend said speak to my mate Paul he has got a distillery. So I spoke with Paul (actually his brother Graham has more to do with it) and he said that they could help us out. We couldn’t have done it without their help.
To be honest I didn’t have a clue where to start. I’ve never made or been involved in the drinks industry before. I researched gin and found an old 15 century recipe. The stars seemed to be aligning, so we just went for it.
What sort of gin is it?
It is the oldest known Jenever recipe from 1495. We wanted to make a traditional gin something more than just alcohol and juniper. We’ve got nothing against the flavoured stuff, it was rhubarb gin that first got me started liking gin in the first place. I wanted a solid base spirit – nothing faddy – something that we can make sustainable.
One of the big companies a few years ago found this recipe and they made a version of it. They put together true and refined versions with the help of some of the leading lights in the industry. They made 100 bottles of it and sold it at auction, but never followed it up. So when I came across it during my research I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t use that, at least to start.
There are no quantities with the recipe just a handful of this, barrow of that, sackful of the other – 11 ingredients not counting alcohol.
I still have one inch left of my original version. A museum sample you might say! It was drinkable, but not balanced. Some of the botanicals were too strong and not everything was coming across in the taste. So I spent the next four months balancing it out and ended up taking out four of the original botanicals and adding an alternative.
How did you know it was marketable?
That came through extensive testing. First with friends and then in the market, where I could get an objective take on it. What was great was that people started picking up the different ingredients – clove, cinnamon, pepper, etc. They weren’t picking up the actual ingredient, but a combination of two or more.
As we went along, I realised that this was working. People were enjoying it and the different elements were making their presence felt, but in a balanced way. A mate up in Liverpool has 180 gins behind his bar. So I gave him a sample with no label and asked him to serve it to regular customers. I knew that I could get feedback – honest feedback – from him. It was brilliant – the various elements showed but not too much – we had a winner.
I then sent a sample down to Anthony Peart, head of bar development at Hand and Flowers. He picked up things that I didn’t realise were in there. It is far more complex than it first appears.
So when we realised the liquid was right, the feedback was great, we just had to go for it.
How has distribution been?
We have managed to build up quite a diverse list of outlets and distribution from entertainment, bars, fine dining to music clubs. Outlets including the Wycombe Swan, Friendly Bar, Hippodrome and Tom Kerridge.
The Friendly Society – my favourite bar in London – uses Neat as a good London Dry Gin and a brilliant base for cocktails. He makes one that includes hibiscus cordial and egg white. Whereas at the Hand and Flowers it is used in its Vesper Martini.
It is so versatile. In the summer it makes a perfect English garden fizz cocktail – dangerous to drink with a little sun on your back and a few mates.
Most places have taken it because I know the owners or people that work there, like Jenever and Tom Kerridge, and places that eat and drink at or theatre owners that I know.
Does it help being an actor?
Whilst the ‘celebrity’ does open doors, the gin has got to stand up for itself. The likes of Tom Kerridge or Daniel Clifford, even though they are chefs, they don’t put crap on their menus.
We are a sort of house gin. It’s similar to a house wine in a quality restaurant. They serve it is as their signature. So it’s not the cheapest, but their best value and best selected. If we are the house gin in places then it means that they trust it, because we are definitely not the cheapest.
We don’t have massive marketing budgets. Neat is just a family business. I am out doing deliveries. We do everything. Label the bottles, do the recipe, despatch it, deliver it, turn up and help the customer sell it. Me and my wife do most of it. My two nephews look after the legal stuff.
Let’s discuss the branding. How did you arrive at the name Neat?
I did a lot of research on the bottle. What we noticed was that tall bottles often got put to the back of the bar and the presentation was lost. Chase has just switched from having the beautiful long bottles to having short stumpy bottles, and I am not sure whether that is strategic or not. So we looked for something shorter and stumpier so that it was more likely to be in the front of bar display.
Bev came up with name. After having several goes and being knocked back because of registration or domain name availability, we were driving back after an event and she said “Neat”. I thought she meant neat as in alcohol – drink neat. But she didn’t. She meant neat, as in when we were kids and ‘neat’ meant great, cool. So it ticks both boxes. The word and the logo. Keep it simple. The design is unfussy, clean and tidy – it’s neat.
Can you drink it neat?
It is ridiculously versatile, so you can have it as a sipping gin, or a couple of chunks of cucumber, a classic gin and tonic, or a unique cocktail.
What’s in it for the bartender? Why list Neat versus all the alternatives?
This is where the difficulty is – getting people to try it. Once people have tried it and see how versatile it is, then they use it. They realise it is small batch gin and although they have cheaper options that cost them significantly less, they only want to make their cocktails with certain gins. It is just getting people to know about it. Considering we only launched in November 2017, we’ve done pretty well on the distribution front.
Do you have any plans for range extensions or new product launches?
I have some got some ideas for other gins with completely different branding, but not down the flavoured route. I am also thinking about a rum. But, first, I want to make Neat really work.
Which markets are you concentrating on?
Just in the UK. There are not enough hours in the day to look elsewhere. This has been a whole new world to me learning something new. I have never run a business before and never had so much paperwork in my life! That said I have been talking with someone in Japan. So perhaps that might work.
Will Brexit affect you?
No, I don’t think it is going to affect us at all and I don’t expect it to. It may affect glass imports and some ingredients, but in the end necessity will drive what we need to do. If I can’t get cinnamon in from Spain, then we will get it from somewhere else.
What other plans do you have for Neat in 2019?
We want to do many more events this year. We only did four last year. So we have 10 events at Marco Pierre White restaurants, where Neat is listed. Four events and gin masterclasses and meet and greets at bars in Bristol, Birmingham, Bath and Cardiff. Then there are Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Parks. They are a blast.
We are also trialling food and gin pairings. Salmon for example – cured salmon with gin is excellent. We think that duck with citrus, as there is quite a hit of citrus in the gin which might go as well.
Neat also makes a wicked Espresso Martini as it brings a fresh minty quality. And the chefs are using it in coffee desserts. It’s always good to listen to them as they have such palates.