Sip Bermuda gin at harvest heroes, tastemakers event
Roy Fellowes spent years researching all he could about gin before he felt he was ready to put his own product on the market.
In 2019, he was certain the time was right and launched Bermuda Gin Co; the pandemic shut down everything the following year.
With that experience behind him Mr Fellowes grabbed the chance to take part in the Bermuda Food Harvest Journey at The Loren on Thursday.
The Bermuda Tourism Authority has partnered with the Smith’s parish hotel for the second annual event, which will showcase the island’s “harvest heroes and tastemakers”.
It is a bit of a switch for Mr Fellowes who, until ten years ago, was the head of an insurance company.
“They sold the business and I decided it was a good time for me to go and do something else,” he said. “It's amazing what you can come up with when you have a little bit of time on your hands.”
Thinking about how popular gin had been in Spain when he was on holiday there and that it was also a favoured tipple in the UK got him started on the business.
“There was, it seemed like, a distillery opening every other day in the UK. So I guess it was a combination of things that got me interested. I thought, ‘Bermuda has a terrific rum. I wonder, could we do something with gin?’”
He researched, “talked to an awful lot of people” and visited distilleries to explore the different ways of making it.
“At the end of a couple years of research I said, ‘I think I could do this. Let's see if we can make some gin.’”
It was around that point he discovered the Spirits Act, which prohibits Bermuda residents from distilling spirits or owning a still.
“And then somebody mentioned to me that you can come up with recipes that you then take to a contract distiller and they will make it for you; they'll work with you to refine it and develop it and then when you're ready, they'll make the gin for you.”
Most distillers had a 10,000-bottle minimum. With the size of the Bermuda market in mind, Mr Fellowes figured 1,000 was all he needed.
It took a while before he found a distillery that was willing to produce such a small batch.
“Our first gin we decided would be pink gin just because pink is synonymous with Bermuda – you look around and there’s pink everywhere.
“A lot of the pink gins on the market are very, very sweet. We decided we wanted to go more floral so we played around with things like hibiscus and rose petal; blood orange and things like that and we actually came up with something that we felt was pretty good.”
His tests in various markets here went well.
“They said yeah, we can sell this. But the timing wasn't the best because we were just coming into Covid. We got into a number of venues and they all said it was great. And then of course they all closed down for Covid.”
Mr Fellowes put the time to good use and came up with a new type, White Roof.
“Now that we had the Pink House gin done I wanted a more traditional, classic London dry gin.
“So we did the same thing. With Pink House, hibiscus was really our connection with Bermuda. We thought if we can’t make it here there has to be a strong connection with the ingredients. So with White Roof, one of the chemicals that we used is prickly pear. It's got cinnamon, lemon peel and all the other stuff that goes into gin as well but it's more of a classic London dry.”
White Roof launched in June of 2020.
“So we survived Covid. We’re in most of the bars, restaurants, hotels; we’re in most of the supermarkets. We're doing quite well.
“The feedback from drinkers has been positive; gin drinkers can be quite picky. What we've found is that people that don't drink a lot of gin really like our Pink House gin and those that are gin drinkers love the White Roof. Feedback has been extremely positive.”
The Bermuda Gin Co team will be giving out samples at The Loren on Thursday just as they did when the event was held last year.
“The one exception is we'll be dispensing them out of what's called the ecoTote. The Bermuda Gin Co is the licensed operator for ecoSpirits. Essentially what we're doing is repackaging spirits to eliminate single-use glass bottles.”
He became interested by following the “enormous” carbon footprint of glass bottles.
“Our bottles are made in France. They go from France by truck to the ports in Calais and they get on a ship and go across to the UK and are trucked up to Staffordshire where we get the gin. Then it goes back to London, gets on a ship, goes to the US in New Jersey and then it comes by boat to Bermuda. So it's a journey of 7,400 kilometres and it gets used once and gets thrown out.
“It kind of broke my heart when I saw my bottles in a skip after being used once so it was something that was in my head: there's got to be a better way.”
A contact told him about ecoSpirits, “an innovative closed-loop distribution system that nearly eliminates packaging waste in the premium spirits supply chain”.
“Their mission is to eliminate single-use glass bottles and it really is a game-changer in the spirits business globally. It started in Asia-Pacific in 2018. Then they launched in Europe. They're in most of the European countries; they’re in the UK and this year they've launched in the US.”
By early next year the programme will be in 25 countries. “It really is a collaboration. It involves the spirit brands, it involves the distributors, it involves the venues – the hotels, bars and restaurants – and also consumers.
“They've signed up people like Diageo, Pernod Ricard – two of the biggest spirit brand producers in the world. Here we’ve lined up Gosling’s. We launched it in May with Rosewood at Tucker’s Point, Hamilton Princess, The Loren and St Regis and we've just signed up Cambridge Beaches and The Reefs.
The next step is to offer it to bars, restaurants and other hotels on the island.
“We’ll still bring some bottles from the UK, but most of our gin is coming in 220-litre drums. And then from those drums they go into four-and-a-half litre totes and it's the totes that go back and forth to the venues. They use the totes to refill the bottle so they don’t use it once and throw it out when it's empty, they refill it.”
The number of times the tote is refilled depends on the vendor but it will likely be “three or four or five times,” he added.
“Obviously the more times they use it the more carbon savings or waste reduction.
“Each time the ecoTote goes from the licensed operator to the venue and back again, that's a closed loop. For each time that happens, they plant a tree [in honour of] that carbon offset.”
Bermuda was the first island nation to enrol in the programme. Zanzibar, the Cayman Islands and the Seychelles have since signed up.
“I said, planting trees is great but we’re small islands surrounded by ocean. Is there anything we can do on the ocean side? Some of the fees for the island nations will go towards an ocean waste collection programme. So every time the tote goes in a closed loop they will recover a kilogram of ocean waste.”