- Credit: The Dot Factory
In 2018 the founders of a small south Manchester gin distillery took a proposal to Dragons’ Den. Most dismissed them, two didn’t, and today Didsbury Gin is a force to be reckoned with
Three years on from securing a £75,000 investment from dragon Jenny Campbell, Didsbury Gin has posted a £1.375m profit in its accounts, after a year when it saw the vast majority of its on-trade business simply disappear.
The success comes as no surprise to their dragon investor, who says: 'Didsbury Gin has always been a no-nonsense kind of brand. Just sumptuous, deliciously vibrant gin. This is what caught my eye initially, as well as the strong capabilities of the co-founders, and why I was so keen to invest. The team has shown great tenacity throughout this past year, and together we have built something truly special that cuts through the noise in what is undeniably a highly saturated market.’
It was the positivity and energy of the founders, Liam Manton and Mark Smallwood, that drew Jenny to invest her money, despite the other Dragons arguing that the gin market would be slowing down and that they were too far behind the curve to make it work, now. Oh, how wrong they were.
The idea for Didsbury Gin came from one of those pub conversations so many have, yet so few follow up on, with Liam and Mark debating the flavour profile of their perfect gin.
‘We both have a passion for gin, were drinking gin in Didsbury one night and had this lightbulb moment,’ Liam says. ‘We had an idea of what our perfect gin would taste like, and wrote that down on a napkin - it was more descriptive than scientific, really - and then we set out on our quest to making it. We went out and bought some equipment and worked it all out, really. We then partnered with a couple of other distilleries, met some master distillers who taught us a few things.’
That napkin still exists and was the basis for the first gin, the Didsbury Gin London Dry, a light and citrussy gin that now sits at the heart of their small collection.
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‘We always wanted to push consumers’ taste preferences, not reinvent the wheel, but stretch the boundaries of flavour profiles. Our range of flavoured gins, we always try and infuse two flavours that complement each other – Strawberry and Sicilian Lemon, Blood Orange and Ginger, for example. That’s kind of become our USP, in quite a crowded marketplace, coming up with great flavour combinations that push curious consumers into new places.
‘We do it with real fruit, no synthetics, no additives, no E-numbers, no colourings, no flavourings. A lot of flavoured gins on the market use natural flavourings; we use real fruit.’
Mark and Liam had been approached by the team behind Dragons’ Den some time prior to their appearance, but had declined to take part at first, feeling that they weren’t ready to prove themselves in such a cauldron.
‘We were both working full-time while we established Didsbury Gin,’ Liam says. ‘I worked in the construction industry and Mark in hospitality. We were suddenly both made redundant, and changed our minds.
‘In part it was being able to show what we had achieved while only part-time on the business that clinched the deal. We had been running the business for a year and had established two major national listing, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. We were getting some great press, but the business was still, if not a side-project, it was something we were doing in our spare time. About two days after we both lost our jobs we were approached again by Dragons’ Den, asking if we were sure they couldn’t convince us to come in and we were both “what time, where do you want us?” ready this time.’
Presenting in the Dragons’ Den is all about the numbers and knowing how much to ask for and for what purpose. Being ill-prepared can cause disaster.
‘I’m not going to lie,’ Liam laughs, ‘There wasn’t much planning behind it, we just came up with a number that sounded sensible. We knew our numbers, we knew where we could take the business in a year based on the orders that we had, so we just put a valuation to it; there was no real science behind it. They obviously believed in what they saw and knew we could do what we promised. In terms of how much equity we were prepared to offer, we saw it as better to own a smaller piece of something that has potential to be big than 100% of something that would struggle.
‘We had two offers in the den, Jenny and Tej Lalvani. We went with Jenny, who’s a northern lass, and she’s still actively involved in the business.’
The duo took their original and their Raspberry and Elderflower gin to the Den, and received much praise on the quality of the flavour profiles. In between filming the episode and it airing, the same Raspberry and Elderflower won a listing with JD Wetherspoon, which made it their premium pink gin.
‘Had that listing happened before we went in we would probably have saved ten or 15 per cent on what we gave away,’ Liam chuckles. ‘There are a lot of raspberry gins and pink gins on the market, but why I think they chose ours was because it pushed the consumer into a new space, with the flavour infusions. From there we launched two flavours last year, our Sicilian Lemon and Strawberry, and Blood Orange and Ginger, and there will be a limited-edition range coming out soon.’
One such concoction is the rather fabulous Manchester Tart, first released in just 2000 bottles in 2019. It sold out immediately and the team have brought it back this year and will be donating all the profits to Emerge FairShare Manchester, the charity working to end food poverty by distributing unwanted food across the region.
‘One bottle will fund 20 meals for families in this region,’ Liam says.
What’s next then, for this rapidly growing brand?
‘We created our gins for gin lovers, because we are gin lovers,’ Liam says. ‘If we don’t get excited by them, we don’t make them. We have plans for three new flavours this summer, inspired by English hedgerows. ‘Peach & Rose is the most delicate and light of all the new flavours, a perfect harmony of light rose, Turkish delight flavours and a citrus undertone. The Plum & Rosehip gin is truly special – the plums are both rich and tart, and perfumed notes of violet alongside a gentle citrus flavour make this a very special gin.
‘And what would a hedgerow inspired collection be without a British Bramble? One of the most iconic British flavours, the blend of blackberries and raspberries is underpinned with floral notes for a fresh, floral taste.’
The Plum & Rosehip gin lends itself too beautifully to many a cocktail, but Mark recommends this mix as the perfect serve. Here's how to mix your own...
Dry shake (as in hold back on the ice, for now) 50ml Didsbury Gin Plum & Rosehip, 25ml lemon juice, 15ml simple syrup and 1 egg white. Add ice and shake hard again to chill. Strain into a coupe glass and enjoy.
Just like the Didsbury Gin Raspberry & Elderflower, this cocktail is a classic with a twist
50ml Didsbury Gin Raspberry & Elderflower
30ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
30ml soda water
10ml simple syrup
5 fresh raspberries
In a tall glass, muddle two of the raspberries with simple syrup
Add Didsbury Gin and lemon juice, then stir
Fill with ice and top with club soda
Garnish with more raspberries