Black Shuck Distillery | www.blackshuckltd.co.uk
Norfolk-based distiller Black Shuck reflects on a busy lockdown year and hints at an exciting new product later this year
It’s been quite a year for us all, with many of those in hospitality finding it especially tough. But Patrick and Sarah Saunders of Fakenham-based Black Shuck Distillery have had a jam-packed year, reacting to changing market conditions, offering new products, embracing the virtual world and, thankfully, still creating new and exciting spirits!
The company, established in 2011, has a solid foundation and a loyal customer base but the couple did face, like many, an uncertain future when many of their traditional outlets like shops, pubs, and hotels dramatically closed.
Sarah explains: ‘We were lucky to realise very early on that alcohol-based hand sanitiser was really needed and we were part of a small group of distillers who got the law changed to allow micro distilleries to use their ethanol to make it.
‘By early March we were producing it for key workers, the NHS, and care homes. At this time there was a national shortage and we were the only people supplying Norfolk County Council.’
Patrick continues: ‘We also worked with the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind, first donating hand sanitiser, and then Robo pets, to give their members a little comfort in very unsettling times.
‘By August we had made more than 28,000 bottles, a quarter of which were donated to charities and care homes.’
Sarah says: ‘It did keep us busy, gave us a structure to the day, which helped, and stopped us really worrying about what was going on.’
The couple, who are helped by their team members including Jordan, their daughters Leanne and Nicola, and son, Will, continued to produce their award-winning spirits and actually launched four new products in lockdown – a pink grapefruit gin and a selection of three rums, all of which have been very well received. ‘I’d wanted to do a pink grapefruit gin for some time; it is so refreshing when served with a Fever Tree Aromatic tonic, and – well!’ says Sarah.
To mark the end of an extraordinary year, the team released a Special Reserve 2020 gin last November. The 250 bottles were quickly snapped up and the feedback on the one-off recipe was brilliant, says Sarah. ‘So the team plans to do something similar this year, with another totally unique recipe.’
They have also continued to produce bespoke own label gins for local businesses, including No Twenty9 in Burnham Market, Wells Crab House and the Norfolk Mead Hotel at Coltishall, and are continually working on new products, at least one of which will launch later this year.
Tantilisingly, all Sarah will say is that it is not a gin! So it is a case of watching this space.
Online sales took on increasing importance for the firm, and they also started to offer hampers and gift sets, first-aid bundles of joy for gin lovers. Sarah says: ‘We pack up gins, rums, liqueurs with treats like Kettle Chips and popcorn. I made some Top Trump game cards and people can include a note – the bundles were really popular. We found that people liked to buy one for themselves and one for a friend or family member, and open them together.’
Plans are now afoot for a Mothering Sunday hamper as all mums love gin, and Sarah reports that they sent out more than 1000 gift sets and hampers at Christmas.
The couple also holds monthly virtual tasting sessions which are well received. Those taking part receive a gin goodie package through the post which they are asked not to open until the Zoom sessions starts. Sarah says: ‘People like to dress up and there is quite a party atmosphere as we talk people through several of our gins. They have to pre book and I think we will always carry on with them as they do work well.’ No driving home, for example!
But the couple are really looking forward to lockdown easing; to getting out and about, meeting customers, old and new, and enjoying that vital face-to-face feedback.
‘We will restart our distillery tours, which are very Covid secure as people must pre book and we only operate one tour at a time, and we are keeping an ear out to hear if there are any food festivals taking place. But it is a case of wait and see,’ says Patrick.
What is in the Black Shuck stable?
There are 15 spirits, including liqueurs, available. The Sloe Gin, one of their first products, is a firm Feast favourite. Stockists include Jarrold in Norwich, Bakers and Larners in Holt and selected farm shops, delis and wine shops.