Smith & Weston is a new craft drinks company created by Kerrie and Howard, a husband and wife team who decided to pursue their passion whilst juggling their full-time jobs. Based on the stunning Dorset coast, the couple are meticulous in their craft, spending the time to identify, pick, forage and source the very best and the ripest seasonal fruits found in their local countryside as well as experimenting with flavour combinations and steeping, macerating, filtering and bottling every creation by hand themselves.
YouK sat down with Kerrie to discuss how Smith & Weston was conceived, the work that goes into production and how small producers like her were managing to keep growing their business despite the disruption of COVID-19.
What was the inspiration behind creating your own gin liqueurs brand?
Smith & Weston was born out of a love for the outdoors and an appetite for really good local produce. We love spending time walking and finding interesting hedgerow gems to use.
How did you originally get into making spirits and liqueurs?
We bought a rumtopf pot one Christmas and filled it for our friend. Rumtopf, which literally means rum pot, is an Austrian, German dessert of mixed fruit and alcohol traditionally eaten around Christmas. It was a real hit. Both Howard and I really like gin, so we thought we’d experiment with flavouring gin in a similar way. We started making gin liqueurs for our ourselves which quickly then spread to friends and family. We started in really small batches of about 5litres using mason jars. We played around with a range of different flavours, some great but some not so, but you quickly learn from your mistakes. It soon took over our kitchen and turned into something a lot bigger than we expected, so that’s when we looked at getting a workshop to see if we could begin to do it commercially.
How did you decide which flavours you wanted to produce?
Initially we made a Pomegranate, Lemon and Rosemary, it was beautiful but unfortunately other than the rosemary none of the ingredients were local. We live in such a beautiful part of country we really wanted to use produce that was found growing in Dorset and the New Forest.
What is the one flavour that you think everyone should try and why?
That’s a tough one! The thing we’ve learned is that everyone has their own taste and very differing pallets. If you were looking for a good allrounder we’d say Raspberry. Our drinks are so versatile you can drink them with anything, as a G&T, in with your favourite fizz like a Kir Royale, or as part of a cocktail. The raspberry makes a great clover club or a French martini!
How important has keeping production local been to you?
We strive to keep things local; it is really important to us that our flavour combinations are developed using locally sourced produce. We use some great local producers like the Benson brothers at Trehane’s organic Blueberry farm in Stapehill – there is such a great back story to the farm. And also, the fantastic Dan Tanner’s Farm at Sopley in the New Forest; we get a large amount of our fruit from there although we do really love to pick and forage the fruit ourselves where possible. Howard & I (and our dog Sid) have spent many a day roaming our stunning local countryside picking, foraging and sourcing the very best and the ripest fruits that Dorset and the surrounding areas have to offer.
Describe the process you go through when producing your products
All of our gin liqueurs are handcrafted in small batches in 25-litre barrels. We steep and macerate the fruit in mash bags in a London dry gin to create both a full depth of flavour and beautiful rich colour. We then triple filter them to give a real clarity to the spirit. Some recipes take weeks some months. They’re well worth the wait.
Have you had to adapt to the recent changing circumstances? And if so how?
We’re mindful of our carbon footprint and we try to be as sustainable as possible. We use Kraft packaging, paper taster cups at events and use only fresh produce from local suppliers. We encourage our trade customers where possible to recycle and return bottles so that we reuse as much as we can.
We have always had an online shop, but the market is very competitive. This is great for the consumer as there is a lot of great gins out there. We have found that we have had to work hard in developing our online presence and this has helped increase sales around the country. We also offer free delivery to local postcodes and we always try to deliver the next day if possible.
How long did it take to launch your first product?
Probably about a year once we went through obtaining all of our licences and getting our premises set up.
What sort of events have you been attending in order to get your products out there?
We attend a lot of food festivals across the south, we love them, it’s a great way to meet people and get your product out there face to face. You get honest opinions from people when they’re trying them which is such valuable feedback.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in growing your business?
Both Howard and I were working full time, so the challenge has been time more than anything. I am a teacher so I have just gone down to 4 days a week so that I can spend a day on the business, we call it my ‘Gin Day’!
What has been your biggest success so far?
Winning a Great Taste award last year for our Orange Gin Liqueur. Although we can’t pick oranges locally we have a fantastic independent greengrocer just down the road and he does a fantastic freshly squeezed orange juice so he kindly saves us all of his skins from the days production and we then hand peel them, it’s a pretty sustainable model with very little waste. We then give him a bottle in return for the skins. It’s a win win.
Thank you to Kerrie from Smith & Weston for giving us the time to learn about their fantastic brand.