Mr Hobbs Gin is based on a 150 year old family recipe by the Hobbs family in Henley. In this interview I chat with Suzy & Jonnie Hobbs, the founders, and discover they will be launching a new gin later this year, and how they once sold water by mistake (which was rectified!)
You can read more and purchase their gin at :- Mr Hobbs Gin
Q. Tell us a little about how easy or hard it was to set up your gin brand?
A. Establishing Mr Hobbs Gin under the umbrella of our 150-year-old family owned pleasure boating company, Hobbs of Henley, meant that we had an incredibly important reputation and heritage to uphold. We needed the gin side of the business to work as a stand-alone entity but also to sit alongside and complement one another. Gin and messin’ about on the river though, it’s a match made in heaven!
Q. You must lay claim to having one of the oldest gin ancestries in the England. Tell me the feeling you had when you saw the gin revival and how important that has been for you.
A. Mr Hobbs Gin Co-Founder Jonathan Hobbs is the fifth generation Managing Director of Hobbs of Henley, so we have direct access to the links between the original founder Harry Hobbs and his love for gin. Harry was, albeit illegally, producing and serving his own gin ‘back in the day’ and we found records and newspaper articles pointing to his mischievous ways. This information has always been accessible through the family archives, but it was a certain type of alchemy that occurred when we were looking to broaden the business horizons by launching the drinks side of things whilst also having this wonderful link to the family narrative which tied in so magically. It was a nod to the past but a way to modernise the company and still be relevant with the current trends. The GINnaissance, as it’s fondly referred to, was serendipitous.
Q. You own a fleet of boats for hire in Henley on Thames. Do people buy your gin to take on the boats?
A. Oh yes! A cool gin on a summer’s day, meandering down the Thames, it doesn’t get much better than that. We have a handy ‘pick and mix’ hamper option to add to your boat bookings which features a bevy of local drinks producers, including fizz, tonics, beers and, you guessed it, gin.
Q. You currently have 3 gins on offer. How much experimentation is involved in creating a new flavour profile?
A. Recipe development is perhaps the most crucial element of the process of creating our cherished family tipples. It can take around 6 months to perfect just one offering, from choosing the botanicals, researching their provenance, making sure it’s in keeping with our values, sampling, altering and working with industry experts to make sure it’s not only to our taste but also commercially viable to take to market. It’s a labour of love, and it mustn’t be rushed if you want to achieve the results we strive for in each iteration.
Q. Are you able to make these in smaller batches than your usual 200 bottles?
A. Certainly, we could shorten the run of production and also have the ability to increase the numbers of bottles per batch. However, 200 bottles, for us, is the sweet spot. We need to maintain the flavours and the genetic make-up of the recipe and keeping it artisan is extremely important. A lot of drinks brands would perhaps prefer to mass produce to then keep costs down and so on and so forth, but we pride ourselves on the premium aspect that we can ascertain from doing our production in 200 bottles.
Q. Where do you see the English gin scene in 10 years’ time?
A. Pass me the crystal ball, we’d love to be able to predict, of course! It’s so difficult to say though, have we peaked? We hope not. Industry insights show that gin is still on the up, it recently overtook vodka in spirits choice for the first time in the history of the world and it’s stayed there thus far. More and more brands are cropping up weekly, if not daily. Largely pubs and restaurants are still focussing their attention on gin menus and such though which is a good sign. Gone are the days of a simple Gordons and Schweppes, the gin choices are exponentially bigger than most other spirit offerings and the myriad mixer selection will be catching gin up soon. We think gin will long be the head honcho in town – a big fish in an ever-growing pond if you will.
Q. Your recipe is based on the original in 1870. Was is difficult to find this recipe and how detailed was it?
A. The recipe was, much like most things after 150 years, a little rough around the edges shall we say. Luckily the botanicals used were sourced locally, which was exactly what we wanted to do when recreating it so a lot of that remained. We worked with experts to take what we had and turn it into what we have today, a classic gin with a modern twist.
Q. Have you adapted the recipe at all?
A. Yes, we added a marshmallow hydrolat to the recipe. Marshmallow, again, is sourced locally. When we say Marshmallow, sometimes people’s minds go straight to the gooey, fluffy confectionery from whence its name was derived. However, Marshmallow as a botanical is from the flowering mallow plant which is located along the marshes of the Thames. The locality and the beautiful sweetness it added worked perfectly as that extra special 2017 replication for release.
Q. At Regatta time, are the banks of the Thames filled with people drinking your gin?
A. Regatta is such an exceptional date in our Henley on Thames calendar. Our town is flooded with many wonderful and diverse nationalities, all brought together for a spot of spectating and plenty of local libations. Being Henley’s premier Gin brand, we are blessed to have a varied audience of imbibers throughout the event. Last year The Daily Mail reported on the debauchery and we saw a great picture which featured our branded banner in the background, free PR is always a win!
Q. Why should people buy your gin over another brand?
A. We are so proud of our drinks selection and are humbled every time someone purchases a bottle. Being a small, family owned brand, there are obstacles that other bigger companies probably don’t have to overcome quite so regularly such as everything involved in getting into large retail outlets. But when we were eventually noticed and picked up by the likes of Waitrose that was a huge boost to our confidence. We urge buyers to champion the indies, buy local and appreciate artisan qualities. Ultimately with enough support from our customers we’ve managed to get into a handful of really amazing stores and it’s a dream come true for a drink’s producer like us- so thank you all you lovely past, present & future Mr Hobbs Gin drinkers.
Q. You have been installed as Wardens of the Gin Guild. What does this mean to you and what does it involve?
A. Becoming members of The Gin Guild was a strategic move into the industry. They are prestigious sector leaders who we can look to for inspiration and support in the beverage matrix. We enjoy many networking benefits that are associated with being members and also have to uphold their high standards of production- it’s very important to sit alongside so many individuals we admire and can help lift us for many years to come. As we become more established, we are also keen to give back and help other budding entrepreneurs who could benefit from our experience.
Q. What other drinks do you enjoy in addition to gin?
A. Gin, it said to be said, is a great allrounder when it comes to libations. However, there are those delightful summer evenings where a crisp glass of Rosé Côtes de Provence typically hits the spot, as well as perhaps a rich and smooth rum in the more biting winter season.
Q. Apart from the coronavirus, what challenges do English gin distillers face going forward?
A. The market is saturated now, with the production of gin reaching its highest numbers ever. This means there is a lot of competition out there and it’s trickier to be heard over the noise of newcomers. There is a secret sauce to success though when you have an interesting back story, a well-executed design and a true love for the drink and that’s where we always manage to improvise, adapt and overcome any challenges that we face as gin producers.
Q. What is one of the funniest moments you have had since launch?
A. Well, actually at the launch itself, we had a bit of a corker. We had a few display bottles dotted about the place as decoration but they were actually filled with water rather than gin just so people could get an up-close visual of our label design and what not. As we sold units of actual gin though that evening there was a spot of confusion, long story short: a few people ended up with a bottle of something rather a lot different to gin but we did eventually manage to rectify the situation before it was too late. Disaster averted!
Q. What is the biggest mistake you have made as a gin producer?
A. Trying to do too much. We are a small, close knit team who manage the whole operation and we wear many hats throughout any given day. It means everyone is prepared to get their hands dirty though and has learnt every aspect of the business from invoicing and logistics to the joys of queuing at the post office! We work hard all week and are often then at events all weekend, so we have to be cautious of burn out. It’s also the reason we have done various bits of recruitment and lean on skills and expertise we can outsource from time to time. It’s all about managing capacity and prioritising now and asking for help when we need it.
Q. Please feel free to ask yourself a question!
What is your next move?
A. We are currently on the cusp of launching our latest and greatest gin which is a London Dry. Many months in the making, it was due to launch this Spring. However, we had a slight set back with the coronavirus and have decided to postpone to a more appropriate time which looks to probably be late Summer (fingers crossed) but you can keep up to date with all the details on our various online platforms and we are so excited to let you know when it’s ready to roll out.