Two years ago we wrote an in-depth piece opening up on what it is like to be an independent bottler, although I prefer the term 'indie bottlers', feels more authentic; doing things differently, operating at a really small scale but with ambition and sometimes rough around the edges to get the job done.
We covered everything from how we designed our labels, setting ABVs, choosing bottles and when to actually bottle, choosing casks and winning our first awards.
That feels like a lifetime ago and the business has changed so much in the last two years that we felt it was high time we wrote an update as a punctuation point in what has been a thoroughly bonkers two years since we penned the last feature on us and what we do.
At the time of writing it has been 696 days since the last feature was published and in that time…
- We have released 24 limited edition releases, with three more about to be bottled (in the previous two years we released five in total)
- Won 25 awards (at time of writing) including Double Gold at the World Spirits Awards (highest award a whisky can get!!!) and numerous IWSC, ISC and London Spirits Comp silver medals as well as a total of eight Gold Stars at the Great Taste Awards
- Hosted around 600 virtual whisky and gin tastings (wow!!)
- Created numerous bespoke bottlings for private and corporate customers
AND THROUGH ALL OF THIS COVID HIT
Well, who saw that coming? Something to distract us from chat about Brexit and other nonsensical stuff has popped into our lives and taken over absolutely every aspect of society, both personal and business, with devastating consequences.
I won’t go into the detail about the virus and what’s happened around the world as we have all probably – rightly or wrongly – spent too many hours watching Sky News going into the detail, but the truth is that this is going to touch and change every single person’s life in the world in some way which is truly mind blowing to understand and to even contemplate, let alone think about with regards to our own personal response to it and the implications on the GreatDrams business, which is far reaching.
The hospitality sector (that’s bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants amongst other things) took an absolute kicking, with people not able to go out and people not wanting to go out and be around other people for fear of catching the virus, venues and staff really suffered.
A lot of places closed down permanently, which was very sad for the industry and those who used to frequent them, but for the staff it created a massive loss of income, loss of tips and loss of something to get themselves up for in the morning – the mental health toll could be as devastating as the financial toll. The Independent forecast that aside from the tragedy of the continually rising death toll, albeit much slower now most of us have had our two vaccines, the long term implications for populations are the shear volumes of people going bankrupt due to a lack of work and being able to work and pay their bills and hit their financial obligations, leading to increased suicides and other mental health issues.
And for us, a super-small independent whisky bottler, the COVID-19 virus has really changed the whole outlook of our business.
We went in to 2020 with clear plans for growth and the building blocks to build the business in a sustainable fashion all in place but saw all whisky tastings that were booked with us cancelled, our export business ceased to operate with everything – rightly – on hold for ages and then landscapes changed and priorities changed around the world, much reduced footfall at the few events we have been able to have our products at due to weather and now the virus, all the bigger events through the summer which were to be the backbone of our volume sales were cancelled, very expensive deposits for said events were lost, all business travel and most meetings were cancelled, new business was all put on hold but we were fortunate that we were first to market with virtual whisky tastings and remodelled our entire business really swiftly to shift to online sales to make up for the loss of revenue opportunities offline which we do well at.
Thanks to the newly created virtual tasting side of our business, we somehow managed to double turnover in 2020, though that has rebalanced to expected levels this fiscal.
2021 USHERS IN A NEW HOPE
We somehow managed to evolved into a tastings and bottling company vs. just being a bottling company before, and with it the need for new product lines, production schedules, tasting packages, events management and customer service – really have no idea how we managed it, though do know that neither of us have ever worked harder than we did in 2020 – 2021.
With the Christmas season upon us, most days Greg was hosting up to FIVE virtual tastings back to back each day, it was truly unbelievable… and no, he did not drink on all of them (not many at all in reality).
Things started to calm down a bit more from March 2021, as the UK started to open up and from there we were able to do more of our massive events and our weekly makers markets too which really helped to reconnect with our awesome customers we had missed so much during all the lockdowns.
Then in September Greg caught Covid at the football so we had to miss what would have been our biggest sales weekend of the year as he was isolating with a tonne of Lego, and order preparation in his office for several days.
Our business has changed forever though; we are still indie bottlers, that won’t change any time soon, but in the last twelve months we have sold more bottles of award-winning whisky than we ever have done in the past, we have been aggressively buying casks – quadrupling our stock holding in just six months and we have no intention of stopping the virtual tastings – they are both fun and rewarding.
Going into Christmas 2021 we have several releases including what is now an annual Christmas Series release (introduced as a special edition permanently after a hell of a lot of pestering from you, our readers and customers).
Who the hell knows what 2022 will bring but as long as the events are still on and you are as awesome as you always have been and are in your support for what we are doing then hopefully things will look even rosier and our dreams of export and a global presence will eventually become a reality after so much investment in that side of things that was ultimately lost due to the world closing and contacts moving on or no longer responding in their respective markets.
We will all get there, and maybe when I give in and do another ones of these in another two years it will be a totally different story… or maybe it will be the same, just better? Who knows…