Meet the Distiller
Phil Whitwell, Batch Gin
Phil Whitwell combined his raw and simple love of gin with his passion for experimentation and challenge to come up with a recipe for success for Batch Distillery.
After working in IT for over 25 years, he started Batch Brew from the basement of a terraced house in Burnley, Lancashire, eight years ago.
Phil explained: “I have always been a big gin fan, so I was keen to produce a spirit I could enjoy. The challenges of making a profitable business was as much of an appeal as producing the gin itself was.”
From humble beginnings, Batch Distillery has grown rapidly to sit proudly on the shelves of Booths, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, as well as many prestigious bars and restaurants, today.
Phil describes Batch as a “gypsy brewery” during its early days – one without its own facilities. He remembers: “We made three craft ales which did not make much money.”
But once Batch’s first gin, Batch Signature, was ready, the company took on external funding from friends and family in exchange for shares.
With these investments Batch was able to break out of the basement’s confines and keep up with increasing demand. Phil said: “We worked out the space for the basement distillery based on producing about 200 bottles a week. But we didn’t account for having to store 1,000 bottles at a time, plus all the cardboard for the cases.
“The final motivation to move to a warehouse with ground-level access was when our head distiller at the time, Emma Coughlan, had to make up an order for our first export in the street!”
Batch’s big break came from being the first Lancashire gin on the shelves of Booths. From there the business added a purpose-built distillery room, spacious warehouse, office and shop space to its premises.
But rapid expansion is far from the name of the game. Phil describes: “Our intention is not to grow out of the premises we are in but to continue experimenting and creating quality handcrafted spirits, which is tricky to do if you are just focused on expansion.”
Such experimentation has birthed the likes of Gin Rummy – gin briefly aged in barrels used to mature Batch’s PX Sherry Cask Rum – Apple and Honey Gin, Pear and Blackberry Gin and other innovative combinations.
Phil’s nephew and head distiller Ollie runs Batch Innovations, through which Batch Distillery offers limited edition spirits to subscribers. The challenge of releasing a new product each month has been tough but has produced exciting results – including their San Francisco Double Gold winning Batch Industrial Gin.
Phil says: “Each piece of new equipment, including a 160L and recently a 500L still, has required a lot of experimentation to get the best results. We have a great team of passionate staff that work it out, but it always takes time to get going.”
Getting the brand in stores like Selfridges and Harvey Nichols hasn’t been easy, as Phil explains:
“Each deal has been hard-fought as there are a massive number of brands sending products to the buyers each week. We have some incredible products in our range so buyers know they can rely on us to produce spirits to suit everyone’s palate.”
Batch Distillery is now quite literally getting on top of the world, with exports to the US, Canada, China, Italy and Austria, and the UAE, South Africa, Spain and Japan in its sights.
The company’s experimental nature continues as it ventures beyond gin to aquavit and whiskey. Phil explains: “We want to keep people interested in what Batch has to offer.”
Batch Distillery has shown rapid growth of which many distillers can only dream. Phil attributes this to his extensive IT experience: “Running a small business can be greatly improved with software, so that aspect was covered when setting up Batch.”
But even when armed to the teeth with transferable skills, Phil admits there have been constant challenges: “The most exhilarating and frustrating experience so far has been growing the business. With each expansion we have made mistakes and have had to learn quickly from them.”
The brand is set to evolve even more, with quality and innovation at its heart, and is set for a busy and continually challenging future.