With a history that dates back over the course of two and a half centuries, G&J Distillers formally known as G&J Greenall’s has been a well-respected name within the UK gin market for many years. Having amassed an unrivalled wealth of product knowledge, the company has been able to tap into the tremendous renaissance gin has enjoyed recently, both at home and abroad. It is now looking to maximise its expertise by increasingly moving into other white spirit sectors as its parent company, Quintessential Brands Group, continues to grow in influence.
“In the past 12 month the business has grown in volume by about 30 per cent as we have further cemented our dominant position within the UK retail marketplace,” explains Mark Parton, Managing Director of G&J Distillers. “We’ve seen significant expansion in terms of the drinks we produce, both our own brands and for own label.”
Having been distilling spirits since 1761, G&J Distillers’ distillery in Warrington is one of the oldest gin distilleries in the world and the operation remains the oldest continuous gin distillers still in production today. With only seven Master Distillers since that date, continuity, consistency and expertise in crafting benchmark London Dry Gin has been guaranteed. A history of traditional skills and craftsmanship of distillation at G&J Distillers, combined with modern bottling and logistics facilities, ensures that G&J Distillers continues to maintain its reputation for producing and distributing a wide range of high quality gins and other spirits.
Its history began in 1760 when Thomas Dakin, the founder of the company that became G&J Distillers identified a gap in the market for superior gin. Dakin purchased a property on Bridge Street in the town of Warrington in Cheshire, which became a well-established crossroads for trade and transport, benefitting from its location on the River Mersey and its connections with London.
Dakin began distilling gin in 1761 and the company continued to be successfully managed by the family for a century. During this time the business acquired an excellent reputation, selling premium gin and other wines and spirits, including rum, whisky and port. With the introduction, by Thomas Dakin’s daughter-in-law Margaret, of the revolutionary Coffey method of continuous distillation in 1834, larger quantities of a better quality gin were able to be produced and the still is in use to this day.
The Dakin family became involved in local clubs and societies, where like-minded members met to discuss current affairs and do business. One of these, the Amicable Society, was where the relationship between the Dakin and Greenall families first began in 1788. Ties between them remained strong, with the Dakin’s leasing the distillery to Gilbert and John Greenall in 1860. It was purchased outright by the Greenalls ten years later, when its name was changed to G&J Greenall; a name that has become synonymous with quality gin.
The distillery remained in the hands of the Greenall family from one generation to the next. Gin production stalled with the advent of the First World War, whilst it was halted during the Second World War, beginning again in the 1950s. By 1960, due to an increase in gin’s popularity, the distillery moved to a larger site opposite the Greenall brewery. The following decades witnessed impressive growth in the company, largely due to the launch of Vladivar Vodka in 1971.
In 2005 a fire destroyed the warehouse but fortunately the stills were saved and production continued in a new distillery which was opened in Birchwood, Warrington. As a result of investment, and the commitment of the staff, the distillery was moved to a new site in 2008, where it continued to produce gin, as well as remaining at the forefront of the gin and vodka industry, with a wealth of own-brand and third-party products.
The business changed ownership in August 2011 and is now part of the international drinks group, Quintessential Brands, which was formed by Enzo Visone, ex-CEO of Campari, and former investment banker, Warren Scott.
G&J Distillers’ experience is epitomised by the knowledge of its Master Distiller, Joanne Moore, who has worked within the industry for 20 years and this year celebrates her tenth anniversary of being Master Distiller. Utilising this unique expertise, the company is aiming to continue maximising the seemingly relentless passion for gin that UK consumers have, as Joanne outlines: “Over the last couple of years we’ve had a massive boom, which is great for the industry. Due to this popularity 49 distilleries opened just last year helping generate substantial income for the Treasury in the process. According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, G&J Distillers is responsible for nearly 20 per cent of the total gin produced in the UK and we’re the biggest producers of English gin as we have a 34 per cent market share.
“We produce brands for the Quintessential Brands Group brand portfolio including Greenall’s, Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin, Bloom, Berkeley Square and, most recently, we developed Thomas Dakin gin. There is a huge amount of competition within the gin industry with all these distillers popping up but we still have real experience and heritage. As we are the oldest we’ve got unprecedented knowledge of the category. The other thing that gives us the edge over our competition is scale. We’ve got the capacity and the facilities to produce well-known gin brands but also unlabelled SKUs and we can also do private labelled ranges for customers as well. We’ve got great quality assurance and a superb auditing team that puts our customers’ minds at rest.”
Having become so dominant in the UK gin market, in order to grow the business further the decision was taken to expand into other product areas and G&J Distillers is now looking at dark spirits such dark and light rum, brandy and whiskey.
“We’ve got expansion plans for the next two and three years to increase the number of lines at our production facility and also we’re looking at expanding in terms of the spirit offering that we produce,” adds Mr Parton. “We are so dominant within the UK retail sector in terms of providing white spirits that if you were to walk into any major UK supermarket and looked at their private label it is almost certain we produced it on their behalf.
“Since the formation of Quintessential Brands we’ve developed specialities within the group, so we’ve got a sister company that looks after commercial sales, Essential Drinks, while the Quintessential Brands company develops our branded range. The formation of these two companies have played a key role in our successful expansion of our worldwide sales of the products that we produce both here and at our sister manufacturing companies in Ireland and France.”
As would be expected of a business that has basically seen and done it all, G&J Distillers is well aware of the potential pitfalls that lie ahead. “The challenge is that to further expand the business significantly we’ve got to diversify in terms of our product offer. That’s really the challenge for us moving forward as it’s going to take a major reorganisation of facilities. We absolutely intend to maintain our white spirits dominant position and it’s worth noting that it’s not only the major supermarkets we deal with, we’ve also got the flexibility and resources to help new brands to develop from a few hundred cases a year to many thousands of cases. There are numerous examples of us having done that and we’ve actually produced working partnerships with customers that have helped develop them from next to nothing into a major brand within the white spirits industry.”
Moving forward the aim now is to continue to build the impressive momentum that the company has generated. “Again we’d like to replicate the growth that we’ve seen over the last three years, which is about 30 per cent, and become so established that we have a much wider offering for the major customers. Rather than viewing us merely as a white spirit producer and supplier, we want to be seen as a one stop where we can supply customers with a complete range that spans a variety of spirit offerings.”
“We’ve got a brilliant relationship with the UK retailers, which will help us achieve this objective,” says Mark. “They trust us and they’re very keen to see us develop and expand in terms of our product offering because they know they can rely on us to supply and prepare at a competitive price. We are a highly efficient plant but can also provide the quality and service levels they expect. As you can imagine they’re very demanding customers and operate to high quality levels. As the group grows further we will be continuing to piggyback on the relationships that we have already established so that our sister companies will find their way onto UK retail shelves. We want to expand into other spirit types and the heritage and expertise that we are renowned for within gin means that those skills are easily cross-transferable into other spirit types.”
While it has a history that few drinks companies can match, it is also clear that its experience, its facilities and its infrastructure will ensure that G&J Distillers has an equally enviable future to look forward to.