Chris Wilkie

Jan 22, 2021


4 min read

Manchester Gin – Lockdown Story

Manchester Gin – Lockdown Story

Submitted by Fiona @ Manchester Gin & Three Little Words

At The Spirit of Manchester Distillery, our business has three core elements – gin production, distillery experiences, and a cocktail bar. Obviously, all three areas have been hit hard by 2020. The cocktail bar, Three Little Words, and our distillery experiences have been closed for the best part of a year, resulting not just in lost revenue but in refunds and cancellations – and of course the disappointment we and our customers have faced! The gin side of things has been able to continue but has taken a huge hit. Our sales are usually around 75% to the on-trade, which of course completely dropped off. We’ve focused on retail and online orders direct to customers to see us through and well as launching virtual “At Home” events and experiences.

The Virtual Tastings, without a doubt have stolen the show over lockdown. We had hundreds, if not thousands, of guests booked in for guided tastings, distillery tours, and gin making experiences, all of which we had to cancel. It was gutting for us and the customers too – we received so many messages of support but also loads of requests for tasting notes and perfect serve information. We decided to host a live “virtual” tasting from Seb and Jen’s dining room, where they started the distillery in 2016. The first one sold out quickly and we had a couple of hundred people watching. The second sold out even quicker, even though we made more available – we decided to go all out for the third one in May and thought we’d try to break the world record for the Biggest Gin Tasting. It was so much fun, we brought together thousands of people to drink “together” even though we couldn’t actually all drink together. We also used it to raise money for Big Change MCR who provide support to homeless people – people with nowhere to go when we were all told to Stay Home.

This has since led to a new product – people purchase the virtual tasting set and then tune in to watch the recorded session with Seb and Jen. We’ve also developed a scaleable corporate product in it, helping to bring people back together through virtual work events. Over Christmas, we hosted over 100 virtual Christmas parties from a completely new revenue stream. Usually, the bar would’ve been crammed for the whole of December with Christmas parties and festive get togethers, instead it was empty – except for a few of us working from there from time to time. We managed to recreate this in a 2020 kinda way, albeit virtually. It helped keep us going through Christmas but also helped to send out product around the world to gin lovers from Manchester internationally.

Hopefully we’ll all be able to get back together in the same building! We’ve just launched our Valentine’s product which is another at-home experience and have seen great demand for it, so we’re continuing to adapt and try to bring exciting drinking experiences to people at home.
We’re also focusing on how, when we can reopen, we can do so safely and in line with guidance, but in a way that puts emphasis on atmosphere – the one thing you just can’t replicate at home. Our bar team are developing some incredible cocktails, which I’ve been lucky enough to try – and believe me, it’s so much better than anything you can make at home! Maybe it’s in the hospitality of it, maybe it’s in the surprise that comes from an unexpected ingredient, or the passion you hear in someone’s voice as they describe the drink they’ve just lovingly prepared for you… But we want to make sure we retain that in the midst of social distancing.

Lockdown has been hugely challenging but it has definitely shown us our resilience. Not once have we sat still. At every opportunity, we’ve adapted, released new products, developed exciting campaigns to engage and reach new customers and while it’s been absolutely sh*t, there have been some good times and some exciting ones.

It’s made me incredibly proud to work within the hospitality and drink industry.

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