Bullards Distillery chooses Ryebeck for future success!
Russell Evans, MD of Bullards Distillery, has always had ambitious plans for his business. With a marketing and advertising background in the drinks industry, he also understands the importance of the Bullards brand to Norwich’s history.
Building on Bullards’ history
Bullards, whose trademark is ‘The Spirit of Norwich™’, has been a familiar name in the city since 1837. This was the year that they started brewing beer at the Anchor Brewery and supplying beers, wines and spirits across the region. With the UK gin boom in full swing, Russell believed the brand name could once again encompass spirits. So, a new distillery, embedded in local history and the first in Norwich for 150 years, was born.
Success followed shortly afterwards, as Russell explains. “We launched the brand in 2015, making gin in a still in the back of a pub, The 10 Bells, in Norwich. In 2017, our London Dry won Best London Dry Gin in the World Drinks Awards. It was a pivotal moment.”
This success led to new products, giving them a range of unique gins with a clear USP over competitors. “Any product we do has to earn its keep and be distinct“, explains Russell. “So, the London Dry is the first to use tonka beans, while the Strawberry & Black Pepper is a combination that nobody else was making. The Old Tom uses Norfolk honey and mango for sweetness to add a point of difference too.”
Then, in 2019, they launched a special edition of 2019 bottles to celebrate Norwich City’s promotion to the Premier League, selling 1600 within four days. They are also soon to release a Coastal Gin, using products foraged from the Norfolk coast.
Unique gin bottle design
The bespoke bottles are based on the old Bullards Brewing Chimney in Norwich and original Bullards beer bottles. The well-known ‘Tipsy Anchor’ logo is similarly based on the old Anchor Brewery, another nod to the historic ties the company has to its home town.
With a small, but expanding, range of unique high-quality gins, the company needed a larger still to keep up with production and to satisfy growing demand. Therefore, they contacted Ryebeck in 2017 and so began the next phase of their development.
For Russell, Ryebeck was the clear choice as supplier and installer of the new still, following a strong recommendation from nearby distillery St Giles. Read here for the full story of how Ryebeck helped St Giles source a new still.
Originally, Russell had planned to continue distilling at The 10 Bells, but he soon realised that they needed new premises. As a result, the business has moved to the historic Crystal House in the centre of Norwich, a building dating back to 1862, inspired by Crystal Palace in London. Rybeck installed a new, handmade 400L Kothe K900N still there in October 2019 and Bullards has been making its gin on it ever since.
Ryebeck’s help and professionalism
Russell is full of praise for the professional attitude of Ryebeck in helping Bullards transition through this period. “Tim [Tim Prime, MD] and his team were great. They helped us adapt to our new place. We liked them and they were really helpful. Tim took us to see places where Ryebeck had already installed stills. They also took us out to Germany to meet the people who were going to make our still, so we felt comfortable with the process.”
“We just felt that they looked after us and wanted to develop a relationship rather than just sell us stills. Obviously, they do want to sell you something, but they do it in a nice, gentle way. You don’t feel as if you’re being forced into something. They take you by the hand and gently walk you through the process. You feel as if you’re being educated rather than being sold to. They’ve been a pleasure to work with and Tim even helped us find a finance company.”
An impressive-looking spirit still
Russell has no regrets with his purchase. “We’re really happy. It’s a great bit of kit and a thing of beauty. It looks amazing, sat in the window of Crystal House in Norwich. People are constantly stopping and peering through the window just to admire it. They come in to say how fantastic it looks.”
A destination venue
Crystal House not only houses the still, but is poised to become a tourist attraction in its own right with a bar/café, shops and other options.
“We’ve just received planning permission to turn the site into a visitor destination centre“, comments Russell. “Not only will we be making our gin there, but we’ll also be doing tours and tastings and hosting ‘make your own gin’ sessions. In addition, we’ll have a space for people to rent for events like weddings, parties, corporate/product launches etc. So it’ll become a tourist attraction in Norwich, rather than just a production unit.” Moreover, the city’s Registry Office is located there, so newly-weds also have the opportunity to use the venue space of the distillery.
Russell is keen to continue building relationships with other Norwich institutions, including local sports clubs. Currently, they are official gin partner of Norwich City Football Club and have also just partnered with Norwich Castle Museum. “The museum has an amazing Bullards archive in storage, which they’re going to let us display in Crystal House“, notes Russell.
Impact of Coronavirus
With pubs and retail stockists closed during lockdown, Bullards turned their distillery over into making sanitiser. They produced 11,000 litres for front-line NHS staff and are soon to launch a consumer sanitiser product in an attractive glass bottle of 50cl, available via their website.
They also developed ‘letterbox-friendly eco-refill pouches for contact-free home deliveries’, which they launched via TV and social media advertising campaigns. “We have this concept of ‘a bottle for life’“, explains Russell. “What we say is ‘Buy a bottle. Don’t throw it away.’ You get a refill pouch sent to you at home that you pour into your bottle and you send the pouch back to us for recycling.”
This initiative has been very popular and is not just for home consumers. Indeed, before lockdown, Bullards had started supplying pouches for pubs too, so they plan to continue this.
Bullards’ future plans
Russell has various plans for his business. The current redevelopment of Crystal House may also include a bartender training academy at a future stage. With the Bullards family in Norfolk acquiring a small stake in the business last year, they now have the “ultimate brand ambassadors“, as Russell describes. Additionally, he is grooming his son to eventually take over, so the future of the business looks fully anchored within Norwich’s history.
More products are due to come out later in the year, including Bullards-branded merchandising and gift packs for Xmas plus gin party packs. Also, they are soon to launch a budget house-pour gin for pubs and city centre bars keen to use a cheaper, but still good quality gin in cocktails.
Continuing the Ryebeck relationship
New spirits, as well as a navy strength gin are on the horizon and Ryebeck remains fully within Russell’s thoughts. I’m looking at another project at the moment and Tim’s my go-to contact for our next one. He goes beyond just selling the product. He’s become a friend, someone who takes an interest in our business and helps us out.”
If you’re interested in purchasing new or used distillery equipment or need some advice, do give Ryebeck a call. You can reach the team on +44 (0) 800 689 3216 or contact them via their online form.
Author: Robin Goldsmith of The Write Taste.