Manchester Gin will be moving into the Grade II listed arches beneath Manchester Central this summer.
From a chance encounter to something spectacular, Manchester Gin has come a long way since its conception. From humble beginnings in their living room, where the original still was just 60 litres, the brand has now gown to include four different gins, stocked in stores nationwide, and is soon to open a city centre distillery – with plans for a bar and restaurant.
Ahead of the opening, we chatted to Seb Heeley, co-founder of Manchester Gin.
The arches are such an iconic part of Manchester – what made you choose this space for the new distillery?
We’ve been looking for the site for about a year and a half now. We scoured the city but there’s a couple of key considerations we had to bear in mind – the main one being the size of our still, which is 4.2m tall and severely limits where you can be. We were originally looking at the Northern Quarter, but we were outbid by an IT company, of all things.
The decision to use the arches actually came as a chance meeting from the Bee In The City event. We were one of the sponsors, and at the launch of the event, my fiancé, Jen, got talking to the chief executive of Manchester Central. He was asking if we did distillery tours, because he has a lot of delegates wanting to do things like that, and Jen explained that we were in the process of trying to find a site, having just been outbid. He suggested we came and took a look down Watson Street, and as soon as we got in there we knew we wanted it.
How do you feel about locating more towards Deansgate when you had originally looked at the Northern Quarter?
I think this new site is going to be amazing. We’ll be taking about six arches in a row, so effectively, we’ll own half the street, which is cool in itself. There’s also talk of a mission to move the tram so you’ll be able to walk down Watson Street. In the next year, hopefully you’ll be able to stop off for a G&T!
And how do you visualise the new site looking?
When you get inside, there’s something called a ‘transverse’ arch, which is basically a fancy architectural term for an arch on an arch – this goes all the way through, so you’ll be able to see all the way down this beautiful Victorian architecture.
It’s funny because before Manchester Gin, my actual background was in property development and this is the first time in about four years where I’ve been able to use the skills I’d spent 12 years of my life doing. I used to work with architects and design houses, doing the fit-outs and all the things that new-builds need… my boss and I had experiences where things had gone wrong in the ground, or we’d spent too much money on the foundations or whatever else – the last thing money ever gets spent on is the things that you see and touch. If you cut this, the final product is invariably never as good as it could have been. So, yeah, I’ve got to stay true to this and not cut anything as we get further down the line.
Manchester Gin has had such humble beginnings, but as the brand grows bigger, how do you plan to stay true to the brand?
Wherever we ended up, we always knew we wanted this building to be the embodiment of what our brand is. We’re a modern, premium gin brand that’s intrinsically linked to Manchester. If you look at the industrial heritage of Manchester, we’d like to think we’re the twenty-first century revitalisation of that industrial revolution.
Effectively, we’re still going to do everything the same, and the gin will always be distilled in the heart of Manchester, as it has been in 2016 when we started out. For the most part, the distilling is always done by Mancunians. We stay true to the tradition of how we made Manchester Gin originally. The new still might be twenty times bigger, but the principle will remain the same.
And how else do you plan to maintain this well-known ethos?
We’ve always said that we wanted to build the brand to outlive us, and that’s the way we run the company. I think I have about two years until I can class myself as technically Mancunian, but my son was born here at St Mary’s so it’ll be nice if the brand is still around when he grows older. I hope the new site will still be right for us in the next 10-15 years – I think we can produce upwards of a million bottles in a year there… which isn’t too shabby.
Myself and Jen will always be the figureheads of the brand, and that will always remain the same. The whole brand is based around us falling in love, and that will never change either. Our staff have fully bought into the brand and the great thing about the new site is that people can come in and interact with us and our stories. I think that’ll be amazing for the brand. Day in and day out, people will be interacting with the brand. I think that will make the story go further.
The beauty of this new site is that you can just literally walk past the new site, you don’t even have to come in, and you’ll see us distilling. I think this will massively root us, and I’m delighted that we’ve taken the hearts of so many, and that we’re able to leave our own little stamp on Manchester. Hopefully we can do it proud with the gin that we produce.
How do you feel about the reception you’ve received from Manchester?
I think, I all honesty, people do love the rags to riches story. What has been most amazing, is that this isn’t a contrived story, and we haven’t found some loose connection. The truth is, we started in the dining room and I’m not ashamed of that. We’ve always been open and we’re in the fortunate position to say that every bottle has been made in Manchester.
We’ve always done everything by heart and I think people buy into that too. We do a lot of things by instinct. If we think something is the right thing to do, we’ll just do it. That’s how we run our lives, and our business, and I think Mancunians really respond to that.
How do you think your Manchester Gin branding sits with this?
I think the branding is something else that we’ve actually had right from day one. The early drafts weren’t originally that amazing – I was out with some of my mates from uni and showing them the drafts and one of the lads, who I didn’t really know, just jumped in and said, “that’s crap…” and said fleetingly said that he could do better. And that was it… the seed had been sown and we started to wonder whether the branding was as good as we originally thought. So we sat down with him and created the branding as we know it today. We even embossed the hexagons through the glass; I do think we present the bottle really well, and again, that has been a big part of the success.
You live and die by the liquid that’s in the bottle, but you don’t get to where we are now without people buying the product more than once, people do have to genuinely love the gin that we produce… but it does all come back to the branding. Obviously, the city’s emblem is a bee, so we’ve used the hexagon (albeit we’ve turned ours upside down to make it slightly more aesthetic). We do have our own interpretation of the bee and we’ve always tried to stay true to who we are and what we do. So the dandelion and burdock in all of our gins has a story behind it, as it was Jen’s favourite drink as a child and it works really well when you distil with it.
Can you tell us anything about your plans for the menu at the new venue?
We want to showcase some of the best spirits in the world. In terms of food, we’re still yet to decide on a head chef – we have an idea of what we want to produce, in terms of small plates that you can enjoy as a snack.
The Manchester Gin Distillery, Bar and Restaurant is set to open its doors this summer. Head to www.manchestergin.co.uk for more information.