We presumed our first spirit, Escubac, would be quite niche, so we designed a production model to suit that. Initially we would travel back and forward to France to distill – we called ourselves ‘gypsy’ or ‘nomadic’ distillers – and this was fine early on with smaller volumes.
However, it soon became clear that drinkers were ready for a botanical spirit beyond gin, and demand for Escubac skyrocketed overnight. We were quickly faced with an impossible decision: do we forge ahead with the current plan or do we build our own distillery to bring production in-house and grow?
Being independent and self-funded, we were able to keep the business malleable, so we chose the latter. It sounds flippant to write it like that given we discussed it relentlessly over several months. And when you kill your darlings, it leaves a scar. But it can also be freeing – we packed up the workshop in Dalston, where we started, bought a shiny new custom still and started building the site in Edinburgh.
A year later, in 2018, with plenty of sweat, blood and spinal fluid to show for it, the new distillery opened. Holding on to some flexibility in those early years, while we waited to see how the brand would take shape, had paid off.
Fast forward to 2020 and we’re at another juncture. The pandemic has taken a massive emotional (and financial) toll on everyone, including us. We’re not cynical enough to say that with great change comes great opportunity, but things are different now, perhaps irreversibly.
As we decompress and wait to discover exactly what the new world order looks like, we’re staying fluid like we did back then. Last month, we installed a semi-automated canning line and launched our new ready-to-drink cans. Early 2021, we'll be rolling out our new low-calorie, no-sugar botanical vodka soda brand, Huilie.
We're also considering a range of affordable premium white label spirits, like vodka, gin and whisky, and at the other end of the spectrum, we’ve amended our licence so we can distill from fruit. Basically, we’ve wedged our options open.
On top of that, we’re exploring how to make our non-profit venue, 54EP, even more collaborative, inclusive and active. After all, we’re going to need community, solidarity and each other to get out of this.
For anyone who’s concerned, Sweetdram will survive. What it will look like is another matter. Right now, it’s as much up to you guys and the gods as it is up to us. Unnerving. Exciting. Unknown.