While the search for sustainability has lead many farmers to consider new and unique enterprises, the development of a gin distillery is a long way from the origins of Tom Warner’s family UK cattle farm.
This year, Warner’s Gin was crowned the largest selling independent gin label in the United Kingdom, with a turn over of $10 million – a nice return on the initial $288,000 Tom and wife Tina original invested in the venture just seven years ago.
Having worked away from his Northampton family farm for some years, Tom returned to manage the business with a desire to do something more than running cattle.
“I always knew I wanted to do something slightly different than just running the farm,” he says. “It was about six months of just thrashing through it, we didn’t wake up and go, ‘I’m going to start a gin distillery’.”
In fact, the idea of making craft gin came as a by-product to their enterprise of growing plants and extracting oils, and the requirement of building a distillery lent itself well to developing their own range of gin.
Today, cattle take up around 95% of the farm’s land with 6 acres dedicated to a cluster of botanical gardens which supply key flavour ingredients to the distillery.
“For our first flavoured gin, my mum soaked fresh elderflower in the gin for two weeks and added a bit of sugar and it was amazing,” said Tom.
“Not only were we harnessing the elderflower fresh from the farm, but we also ended up with this slightly coloured uniquely flavoured liquid and in 2013 no one was doing flavoured gin, and now the market is flooded with flavoured gins.”
Moving with the trend of craft gins and unique flavours, the Warners launched a rhubarb infused pink gin in 2014.
“[It was] the first rhubarb gin in the world and the first gin that is pink by volume.”
“It has inspired the rolling stone of the trend – ours is the original and the best,” said Warner.
“The gin comes off the still at 89 per cent and we cut it to bottle strength with the juice – a third of the bottle is rhubarb. There’s no flavourings, no syrups, it’s rhubarb juice and still-strength gin in a bottle.”
The addition of the gin enterprise has had a significant impact upon the financial sustainability of the farming business, which now employs a staff of more than 40.
“The main reason for diversifying the family farm is that agriculture is a lifestyle,” Warner says. “There are very few very wealthy farmers, they’ve got land assets, but they don’t have cash in the bank. So it’s a real hand-to-mouth sort of industry.
“You spend the whole year growing something and have no idea what you’re going to sell it for. And then weather can come in, look at what’s going on in Australia with the drought, it’s a really, really hard industry to work in.”
Developing the gin business was an opportunity for Tom to become a price setter, rather than a price taker.
“Hopefully by creating something awesome and marketing it well, you create demand, and therefore you’ve got a fixed margin that you can sort of rely on,” he said.
In addition to better financial returns, the development of the botanical gardens has enhanced on-farm sustainability through biodiversity.
“It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship between flavour, distillation and the environment that keeps getting bigger, it’s incredible.”
Sources: Food and Drink Business, Sydney Morning Herald, Warner’s Distillery