Meet the Distiller
Russell Evans, Bullards Spirits
The Spirit of Norwich – reviving a historic brand
Russell Evans is a marketer by profession. It’s no surprise to find he’s bursting with innovative ideas to create a distinctive and lasting gin brand.
Not only has he opened Norwich’s first distillery for over 150 years, he has also revived a brand that is synonymous with the fine city’s history.
Bullards Anchor Brewery opened in 1837 and the Bullard family supplied their beers, wines and spirits to pubs across East Anglia for over 125 years.
After setting up a distillery in The Ten Bells pub, a stone’s throw from the original brewery site, in 2015, Russell revived the brand name for his handcrafted gin.
It helped his subsequent success story that he recruited a young, dynamic distiller to make a great tasting gin, introducing tonka beans from South America among his botanicals.
The proof of the pudding was winning six 2019 Global Gin Guide awards – including world’s best London Dry Gin, as well as Distillery of the Year.
From humble beginnings in the Ten Bells, Russell’s next masterstroke was to open a bigger distillery, The Tipsy Anchor Distillery, in the nearby Grade II listed Crystal House, originally an agricultural machinery showroom inspired by the design of London’s Crystal Palace.
Russell’s drive to integrate his distillery into Norwich’s industrial history also saw him restore links with the Bullard family. John Bullard, who is active in the FinTech world in London, is great, great grandson of brewery founder Richard Bullard and his family are now shareholders in Bullards Spirits.
As a former graduate trainee for Grand Metropolitan, Russell cut his teeth on the Bullards beer brand in the late 1980s after it had become part of that group. There he came across John’s brother, Bill Bullard, who served as Managing Director of Grand Met’s businesses in South America and the Caribbean. Bill has recently retired from Diageo; Russell and John are working with him on plans to launch Bullards Gin across the pond. They are also evaluating opportunities in Asia.
Further embedding the brand’s history, Russell commissioned a long-necked gin bottle design inspired by the Bullards Brewery chimney stack, a well-known Norwich landmark before its demolition in 1982. Bullards’ ‘Tipsy Anchor’ also features in the gin’s logo.
The new distillery, which opened in late 2018, increased production capacity from 500 to 8,000 bottles a week. Bullards’ next step is to create a visitor experience with distillery tours and gin tasting masterclasses.
Development continues with the distillery set to also become a wedding, party and corporate event destination. Bullards has joined forces with Norwich Castle Museum as a sponsor and partner and will be able to provide wedding receptions for many of the 700 couples who get married in the Register Office, based there, every year.
The distillery is also in discussion with the Museum about the loan of a selection of Bullards historical items, to enable them to curate a display for visitors to learn more about the brewery’s role in Norwich history. Russell is also hoping to launch Bullards tours of Norwich in the near future.
As Bullards Gin production increases, the plan is to stick with a limited product range, albeit one which has expanded to include an award-winning Old Tom Gin – great for cocktails – containing Norfolk honey, mango and pink pepper. For those who are not already gin aficionados, Bullards Strawberry & Black Pepper Gin has been designed to seduce their taste buds.
2020 will see the launch of Bullards Coastal Gin, using foraged botanicals inspired by the Norfolk coast and discussions are taking place for Norfolk-born pop artist Colin Self to design the bottle.
The team’s latest innovation aims to reduce their carbon footprint, while allowing customers to keep their beautiful, coloured glass bottles in use. The distillery now dispatches gin refills in 700ml eco-pouches. These can be ordered online, posted through their letterbox and come with an easy-use spout for pouring into the bottle. They can even return the pouch, free-of-charge, to the distillery for recycling.
Russell is convinced that, despite the crowded marketplace, Bullards Gin is here to stay.
“We’ve got the 180 years of history, we’ve got amazing products, a great team and a stunning distillery and we’re striving for innovation. What we’re trying to do is become more than just another gin brand.”