Table of Contents
- How did this all start?
- How did you turn your favourite drink into a business?
- So you just made gin at home?
- So – why gin?
- When did you realise it was taking off?
- What’s been the lowest points?
- Oh yes – Covid – did you have to furlough staff?
- How has Covid changed things. Are we all just at home drinking far too much?
- Mistakes, you’ve made a few?
- Finally – what’s your hangover cure?
- How to get your Metro newspaper fix
Kathy founded Brighton Gin after getting started with home brewing (Picture: Liz Finlayson/Vervate/Metro.co.uk)
Kathy Caton, 47, founded Brighton Gin in 2013 after two years of home brewing in search of the perfect recipe.
Brighton Gin is now a successful company, selling their ethical, sustainably made spirits in countries around the world.
But it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Kathy’s had her fair share of setbacks, including fires, lost friendships and even furloughing her own mum.
How did this all start?
I’ve always loved gin, even during the uncool days, when you’d order it in the early 90’s as a student and everyone would laugh and say ‘That’s a nan’s drink!’
Back in those days, they’d only ever serve Gordon’s gin, or maybe Beefeater if you were lucky. Other drinks punish me in unusual and terrible ways – red wine gives me terrible headaches as I get older. But gin keeps letting me get away with it.
How did you turn your favourite drink into a business?
After one particularly late night drinking gin and dancing around the table, I got up the next morning and went on a run.
I was thinking ‘Any other drink and I wouldn’t have got off the sofa, but gin lets me get away with it,’ and then I thought, ‘Brighton is the place where people get away with it,’ and it was a total lightbulb moment – by the time I arrived home, I knew I wanted to make a spirit called Brighton Gin.
I thought ‘How hard can it be?’ but never ask that question – because it turned out to be very hard.
I was working by day at Radio Four as a schedule manager, commuting to London from Brighton and spending my time on slow trains to read and research as much as I could on making gin and the history of gin.
I did both jobs full time for six months, snatching sleep in between, and I look back now and think ‘How did I not die of exhaustion?’ but I could see the gin scene was definitely growing and developing.
She’s always loved gin (Picture: Liz Finlayson/Vervate)
So you just made gin at home?
When I was at school, I had tried to make booze by fermenting orange juice – and gave myself a gut issue. Now, I could picture what I wanted the bottle to look like and I knew how I wanted my gin to taste.
I bought a Portuguese copper still off Ebay for £150, watched videos on YouTuibe, read loads of books and began by running water through the kit to see how it behaved.
The first ever gin I made was undrinkable. It smells pine-like, but I put so much flavour and spice in it, it tasted like loo cleaner. I still have a bottle. When I sorted the flavour out, the gin came out cloudy. It took two years to get the recipe right.
So – why gin?
It has the lowest calorie count in any alcoholic drink as long as you have gin with no flavour, as these can contain sugar. It’s not age specific.
Now, there’s 4,500 gin brands on the market, we have gin festivals, and the entire scene is being led by small craft distillers.
On our website, we sell to lads of 18 and 19, up to a regular customer who is a lady in her 100s.
When did you realise it was taking off?
I started in February 2010, and it took two years to research, practice and perfect the recipe, also to complete the necessary things like get the licenses and sort out the design.
Our first bottle went on the shelves in December 2013, and I cringe when I look back at how we did it. The week before Christmas, we went to local shops and asked them to stock our gin, and the first batch which I thought would last for months basically sold out before Christmas.
That was my moment of thinking ‘This business really could be a goer.’ Since then, there have been so many really moving moments.
The first time I heard someone order our gin by name, seeing our bottles on the shelves of Waitrose for the first time, waving our first pallet of gin off to Hong Kong and this week, sending our first consignment to Australia.
Covid has meant we’ve been back on our bikes, delivering gin to local customers and chatting on their doorsteps.
One woman said to me ‘I already have three bottles inside the house, but I wanted to keep your business going.’ It moved me so much I had tears streaming down my face – in front of a total stranger.
What’s been the lowest points?
I worked seven days a week for a very long time and that’s terrible for relationships and friendships, and I’ve seen a few of those go down the swanny through the life of Brighton Gin.
In fact, for my New Year’s resolution on January 1, 2020, I wrote on a post it ‘Don’t work every weekend and spend more time at home.’ It turned out to be a case of ‘Be careful what you wish for,’ as I suddenly found myself at home for the rest of the year.
Oh yes – Covid – did you have to furlough staff?
Yes, the hardest thing was sending my own Mum Jude home. She’s 77, and our production manager, but although she wanted to keep on working she had to self isolate.
Now she’s back at work, lifting crates of gin. There’s nothing like the attention to detail and work ethic of someone of that generation.
Having said that, poor mum moved to Brighton to retire by the sea and was grafted in to hand make labels and lids and shift crates.
Kathy started out brewing her own gin at home (Picture: Brighton Gin)
How has Covid changed things. Are we all just at home drinking far too much?
I think what people are drinking has gone up a quality grade. What I would have spent on a round or two in the pub, I can now spend on really nice bottles of wine or interesting, quality bottle of artisan spirit.
Lots of people have been experimenting with cocktails. It’s hard to have a division between the work day and evening when you’re at home, but for lots of people, the ceremony of making a Friday afternoon cocktail marks the end of the week and start of the weekend.
So I think people are spending more on their home drinking choice and if they’re buying direct from producers, they’re helping that company survive. Despite the best efforts of Covid we now make 20,000 bottles of gin a year and export to five countries.
But over the last year we have been making not-for-profit hand sanitiser to support the community, and for every one sold through the website, two more are donated to front line workers, first responders and delivery drivers.
We donated the sanitiser to the Brighton and Hope Samaritans to enable them to re-open, which we’re proud about.
Mistakes, you’ve made a few?
With Brighton Gin I have fallen out of the mistake tree hitting every branch on the way down – sadly there are so many to choose from – but perhaps the most memorable was in the early days of making gin, when I nearly burnt my own flat down.
I lived in an 80’s block with low ceilings, and my mate Ian and I were so busy concentrating on distilling – and so thrilled we could actually smell gin, that we didn’t monitor the heat.
Suddenly everything ended up in flames. We took the still onto the fire escape and tried to pat the flames out with oven gloves, and then they caught alight too.
After this, a friend bought me a fire blanket which I still keep in my kitchen.
Finally – what’s your hangover cure?
If you drink enough of anything you’ll feel pretty shit, but stick to the same drink and if possible to distilled clear spirits – so gin or vodka (gin’s more fun!)
There used to be a bar in Brighton which served a hangover cure breakfast – a pot of black coffee and packet of cigarettes! But take a bracing walk and gulp down three pints of water and plenty of fresh air. You’ll be fine…
Find out more at brightongin.com.
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