tom hutchings silent pool

Tom Hutchings: The Sound of Silent Pool

08 February, 2021

“We actually went out to some shops and started talking to potential customers, and some of the shop owners said ‘we’ve had customers asking for your gin for a couple of months’, and it was a real pinch the arm moment. It was quite surreal to be standing in California, and there’s customers asking for our product before it even arrived. That was really satisfying.”

Hutchings finds it equally satisfying to hear the good people of Surrey speak with pride about their local distillery. “That is very humbling,” he says. Covid-19 has provided a number of challenges for the business, but it has managed to pivot towards ecommerce and keep the momentum going.

“We were dealing with big uncertainties,” says Hutchings. “We didn’t really know how to handle the first lockdown and what it meant for the business, and things were looking pretty bleak at the start, but online picked up. It ended up all hands on deck, distributing online packaging, doing hundreds of boxes a day. The directors were in there making boxes with us.

“It was an interesting year. You just have to adapt fast, keep on top of it and keep adapting. We started making hand sanitiser midway through the first lockdown, which really helped. We’re lucky we’ve got a good team. We operated with quite a small team, so it was a lot of hard work, but we’re fortunate that we have a very solid, dedicated team and we all pulled together.

“We have some really solid local off-licences, wine shops and farm shops that have picked up a lot of the slack in the business, and online has really picked up, and in the back end of the year the supermarkets really picked up.

“The on-trade does have an impact, but we have managed to pick it up in other places. We have very good relationships with the good local bars and up in London. They were some of the best bars in the world and they are closing permanently, and it’s hard to watch. Hopefully the on-trade will bounce back.” 

Silent Pool remains firmly focused on its core gin brand. It recently launched a Rare Citrus variant and it makes small batches of liqueurs, brandy and eau-de-vie for the local market, but the primary focus is on producing consistently excellent gin.

“We have a style that we stick to. We go for complex flavours. I was always taught it’s a bit like making perfume, where you’re layering different flavours, and you’re looking for layers of complexity, and that all have to work together in harmony to create the perfect gin, or gin and tonic.”

When asked what skills a successful distiller needs, Hutchings says: “The palate is important. I was more into beer and it took a bit of time for me to develop my nose and palate. I can now really pick out the notes. It just takes time. Anyone can taste and smell. The skill is associating it with things you have smelled or tasted before. The best way to develop is to be curious. You have to pick stuff up and smell it. If I am out walking or in a market, anything I haven’t smelled or tasted before, it’s always great to taste it and experience that flavour. I love cooking and I think that helps as well.”

Bar owners and retailers may look to scale back their ranges somewhat as we emerge from the pandemic, but Hutchings expects the proliferation of gin brands to continue for a little while longer.

“From what I’ve heard, there’s still a little bit of headroom, and there will still be a couple of years of new products coming out. We have been very careful not to dilute our main brand with any flavoured variants.

“These flavoured gins, you’re struggling to taste the juniper. We see innovation as good for the category, but a lot of these flavoured gins don’t respect the category, and should be labelled as something else. We have tried to keep it as pure as possible, and that’s where we see the market going back to – the standard, distilled gins, without the added flavourings – and we hope the quality of our product shines through.”

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