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Interviews

Building a distillery during the pandemic

07/10/2021

Jordan Morris, owner of Abingdon Distillery talks about how he successfully built Abingdon Distillery during the pandemic, and what’s next for his craft gins

Even though alcohol consumption rose during the pandemic, there aren’t a lot of people out there who can say they built an entire distillery during such unprecedented times. However, Jordan Morris, who has been working in London’s hospitality industry for over a decade, is not one of them.

Founder and Owner of Oxfordshire’s Abingdon Distillery, Jordan Morris started Abingdon Distillery during the pandemic, with a passion for the trade like no other. “ I’ve always been into my spirits and wine, and I’ve done countless distillery and winery tours around the world over the years on holiday. When the pandemic hit, it gave me the push I needed to start something new. Cue Abingdon Distillery,” says Jordan.

In the span of two years, Abingdon distillery is home to six craft gins and is already grabbing awards for its top-quality spirits. From hosting events and tastings to working successfully with distributors, Jordan Morris shares with us the essence of building a brand during the pandemic.

According to you, what makes a great spirit?

Time and effort are big players in getting a spirit right, plus using the right quality ingredients. I’m not a fan of artificial flavours and colours or sweeteners. We don’t use these at our distillery. We want to bring truly hand-crafted spirits to the market that people can enjoy. We are honest about what they are made from.

Abingdon Gins

What would be your typical day at work?

It's the classic distilling or bottling & labeling usually. It's that simple ;) And loads of emails as well!

How often are you firing up the stills and how long does a batch take?

On average, about once a week. But in the summer season, with our festivals and outdoor tasting events sometimes three times a week.

Each batch gives us about 70 bottles. We macerate our botanicals for 24hrs beforehand, and then we run our 40L copper alembic still on medium heat for about 8/9 hours. It's a little bit slower than the usual distilling run but we think this allows maximum flavour extraction from the botanicals.

What excites you the most about your brand?

Our Cask Series range of barrel-aged gins. These products fascinate me. I started just over a year ago with mini 1 litre casks with different washes, and we have released 3 barrel-aged gins this year. Each one is made using our London Dry gin as the base. The difference in the gins that come out of each barrel is amazing. The flavour profiles are something you can’t get from just distilling alone in a still or infusing with fruit. Sampling the gins as they age in the barrel over the year is so much fun.

Jordon Morris, Owner at Abingdon Distillery

What spirits do you consider your flagship spirits and why?

Our London Dry is our flagship gin. Not only was it our first to make, but it's the base gin that forms our cask-aged gin range. It is very juniper-forward, so it stands up well after time in the barrel.

Are you working on something new right now?

Yes, we are always playing around every few weeks when we have a bit of spare time. We have a new barrel-aged gin that will be coming out in 2022 as well as a fruit-based gin.

As a brand, what are some of the things you do to make sure your distributor has everything they need?

Good stock levels and monthly updates on new products, changes to existing lines, and tastings to understand the portfolio.

Where can we find your products?

Currently, our spirits are found in shops around Oxfordshire & we are stocked in most of Abingdon's bars & pubs. Master of Malt also stocks our entire range.

How do you work with restaurants, bars, and retailers to increase sales?

Our portfolio of gins is quite diverse & not all of our gins will fit in at every site. We make sure we understand the clientele of each venue we work with, what they usually order, age range, etc. Then we can make sure we put forward spirits that will sell rather than gather dust on the shelf.

What do you expect from restaurants and bars when it comes to increasing sales?

Making sure the staff knows the brand, have tasted the spirits and can put forward some great serves and pairings.

Does social media play a huge part in your brand's marketing? How do you use social media to its most?

I think in this day & age you must have social media to be successful. It’s hard enough for a new start-up distillery to get out there. You need all the tools you can get your hands on. It’s a very powerful thing to have and it works well for us. We do seasonal promo campaigns and also events to advertise to the local community when we are out and about.

What advice would you give to fellow distillers looking to get their spirits into bars?

You need something different and unique, first off. The gin market is quite saturated, and you aren't just competing against fellow craft brands, it’s also the big distilleries that can undercut your trade price by a lot. So you have to have a product that is great in quality and taste to back up your price point.

What are some of the spirits you have on your personal shelf?

I’m a big whisky and rum fan, so I’ve got a decent collection I’ve built up over the years of limited-edition releases. My newest addition is the Lagavulin 11yr Offerman Edition, which is finished in Guinness casks. That’s for a special occasion.

Can you share some cocktail recipes with your favorite spirits from the brand?

Our pink negroni uses our Port barrel-aged Gin and is a great summery twist with red fruit notes.

30ml Abingdon Port Gin
30ml Bianco Vermouth
10ml Campari. 

Build it up in a glass and garnish it with pink grapefruit.

We also have a play on the Bermuda yacht club classic with our newly launched Madeira barrel-aged gin

40ml Abingdon Madeira Gin
10ml Sweet Vermouth 
10ml Apricot Liqueur
Dash of orange bitters. 

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe, garnish with a lemon twist.

Tell us a little bit about how you connect directly with your customers.

We have our online shop on our new website that went live a couple of weeks ago. But the real interaction with our customers happens at our festivals and tasting events. This gives us the chance to really engage and showcase our portfolio. It’s also a good opportunity to gather feedback for our new products or offer tastings of spirits that are unreleased and still in development.

What are some drinks trends you see in the near future?

Barrel-aged gins are on the rise, which suits us well as we started our cask-aged range of gins almost 12 months ago now. Rum is gathering momentum, especially in the spiced category.

Lastly, what are you drinking right now?

At the moment I have Raasay's new single malt which is very good, and I’ve just bought another bottle of Discarded Banana Rum for my rum-fashioneds.