This month we caught up with Felix Elliott-Berry, Co-founder and one of the (four!) siblings of Sibling Distillery. If you’ve been reading our Badass Liquor Boss Series so far, you’ll know that we’re on a mission to find you the most Badass of Bosses and their spirits. We’re chatting to gin and rum distillers around the country to bring you stories of the love, life and grind that goes into each bottle.
Hey FELIX! Thanks so much for chatting to us! First up, what did you do before creating your GINS?
The day after I left school I was offered a job working in a design agency as an intern (basically tea boy). I was 18 and had only my A-levels to fall back on, but the boss of the company I worked for took a bit of a shine to me and I ended up working there for pretty much four years, doing a huge range of jobs. Whilst my friends were off at uni, I was grafting to progress within the agency, I learnt some valuable lessons and more importantly had some great influences and made lifelong friends. My youngest sister came straight from school into Sibling and our middle sister was working in a coffee shop full time when we launched so we didn’t necessarily have the traditional route into running a distillery! However, we had grown up with our parents running a microbrewery, and since age 12 I have spent my weekends helping my dad in the brewery, initially just cleaning the barrels for pocket money as a kid, all the way through to now being his go-to consultant!
What made you decide to create your GIN and what’s the inspiration behind it?
My siblings and I had always chatted about running a business together, and whilst we enjoyed helping out with our parents brewery, having spent our teenage years doing this we were a bit bored of it!
However, the drinks industry is our passion, so just because it wasn’t going to be real ale, didn’t mean we couldn’t use our creativity somewhere else.
Gin is the most creative and experimental of the spirits in my opinion, which made it perfect for us because we could make a gin that was genuinely different, that people would buy for the flavour and quality, not because of some clever marketing (our marketing budget was precisely £0.00).
We also knew that with our brewing background, we could bring something completely different by making our gin completely from scratch. What this means is we create an amazing base spirit on which to gently infuse our botanicals instead of just buying in a mass produced neutral spirit and soaking our botanicals in it.
Tell us about your distillery – location, any names for your stills etc. and can you tell us about the distillation process and/or botanicals used?
We are now on our third (and hopefully final) distillery building, which was converted in 2019 from a hay barn on a farm just on the edge of Cheltenham.
Our distillery setup is quite unique for a few reasons:
Firstly, we don’t use a Pot Still – all of our flavours are infused whilst the alcohol is in its purest form, as a vapour. This allows us to constantly refresh the botanicals (we put a new set in every 18 litres to keep the fruits and botanicals fresh) to keep our flavour clean and bright.
Our finishing still is a glass and stainless steel Carter Head still; standing at around 400L it creates us a batch size of between 400-500 70cl bottles.
We have two more columns powered by a 2,500L boiler which is where we start to distil our base spirit from our cane sugar ferment. The ferment is made of around 400kg of cane sugar, mixed into 1,600L of hot water with a canoe paddle!
This ferments for around a week before the distillation process begins. From start to finish our process takes around 5 weeks – but it has to take this long as there really is no substitute for time!
What have been the biggest challenges/achievements, or your favourite story so far?
I’ll keep this answer short! The biggest challenge is without doubt the increase in competition over the years since we founded. Unlike when we started, now every town has its own gin brand, some of them good, some of them not, but either way we have to work harder and harder to retain our market share, especially outside of our locality.
Our biggest achievement is that we have managed that for 8 years now! We have year-on-year improved our business and our products, and have forged really strong relationships with customers across the country. We have come through this onslaught of new brands entering the market without changing our ethos of start to finish production and without compromising any of our ethics whilst – and had fun doing it!
There are too many stories from this time (working 6 days a week year round means it could be a full book!) but in our early days our team was so young (all 22 and under) that we were banned from being in our own promotional material by the ASA – this meant we had to get a bit creative with our website etc!
How would you describe your GINs in 3 words?
Unconventional, Delicious, Honest
What’s your favourite way to drink your GINs?
I’m a massive fan of cocktails (we are, in fact, opening a cocktail bar later this year in Gloucester Docks) but I think that our gins have so much flavour that I prefer to just drink them as a G&T.
What GIN would you always have on your shelf (other than your own of course!) / any favourites at the moment?
I have to admit that because we have 7 (and 8 at Christmas time) gin expressions, I very rarely buy other brands. But, if I spot Tanqueray Rangpur edition in a bar I will sometimes have a G&T with that as I really like the fresh citrusy flavour of it.
I’m extremely fussy when it comes to gin and can be quite critical, so my fiancé stops me from buying bottles of gin when we visit our wine merchant as I just end up analysing them – which isn’t great company!
We were inspired by the tale of the Badass Liquor Boss Gertrude “Cleo” Lythgoe. Her story is one filled with excitement, intrigue and a tough as nails approach. So with that in mind, we’re asking all our guest bloggers – what do you think makes you a Badass Liquor Boss?!
I’d say as a team/family we have resisted every offer of outside investment over the years so that we can stay true to our principles of quality over profit.
We have stuck together and followed our own instincts when it comes to the future of the business, taking a long term view which will hopefully mean we are here long after the ‘gin boom’ is over!
What’s next / any exciting plans?
So we have literally just released a really exciting product (our French 75 Dry Gin), so that is going to keep us busy over the summer!
We are also opening our first bar business which is in equal parts exciting and terrifying. It is called Our House and will be focussing on cocktails, wine, champagne and craft beer with retro riviera vibes.
We have just appointed our first bar manager, who is a 23 year old with all of the enthusiasm that we had when we started Sibling, but with a little more of the know how! We are really looking forward to building this team and business over the coming years, and hopefully it will be a very complimentary one to our two other businesses, Sibling Distillery and Battledown Brewing Co!
Other than that, we have some really exciting collaborations coming up with some new and existing customers which we really enjoy doing. We are revamping our website to bring a more personal touch (now that we are old enough to!) and to make the customer experience of buying through us so much smoother and we are expanding our event offering at the distillery now that the pandemic is allowing us, so keep your eye out for supper clubs and music nights here too in addition to our regular tours!