An Interview with Founder Ian McCulloch of Silent Pool Distillers

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Meet Ian of Silent Pool Distillers

Surrey born and bred in what feels like a different age. Brought up in Hinchley Wood, attended the local school, Esher College ( had the same physics master as my Dad as it was previously Surbiton Grammar !). Left with A levels and started work at Guy Salmon in Thames Ditton valeting cars and running the forecourt, a dream job whizzing around in fast cars aged 18.

Wanted to join the RAF, got talked out of it and went for a chat with the sales director of LWT who was a mate of my fathers , he offered me a job selling airtime. 27 years later and numerous regime changes, a digital restructure and delivery of the ITV consolidation, I left as Commercial Director responsible for all broadcast income and the responsibility of making sure it all made money. Two daughters, 25 and 21, a son who is 10 and Alison who keeps it all together and also runs our German Shorthaired Pointer puppy in West Horsley where we live.

1. Can you explain to us how the idea for your business came to you and how the whole process kicked off?

I had left ITV and after a few years consulting decided that rather than invest in other peoples businesses and watch from afar I wanted to back myself. I had always been fascinated with businesses where you turn up and see something happening, raw materials in one end and products out the other and also ones where everything took place in one location.

Distilleries were always a fascination, I spend a lot of time walking in Scotland and it amazed me how small the operations are for some very famous names; you could be in a bar in the middle of nowhere , see a bottle of whisky and know it all came from one tiny operation in Scotland. So I wrote a paper about a Surrey based gin which was modern, provenance based, not stuffy, honest, open and delicious. Through contacts met people, formed a team and through some very lucky events we managed to find the location, get our HMRC licences and start making gin in the Autumn of 2014, just before the gin boom hit.

We wanted to use a flavour palette from the Surrey Hills and that’s what we’ve managed to achieve. Silent Pool Gin reflects modern England, a contemporary take on a classic spirit, complex, interesting and above all delicious.

2.What were the biggest challenges you faced when bringing the idea to market?

I was used to dealing with regulators, ours is HMRC, we were lucky to have a very supportive case officer who has been a great help, and she still is. Regulators need to be treated with respect, they’re not your enemy, in fact they can keep people out of your market which can certainly help.

Lot’s of technical stuff, pumps, flow rates, types of steel, steam, etc, etc. the key is not needing to know the answer, but knowing where to find the answer, normally Google. If you can read and understand semi technical stuff and you have a smattering of common sense you can get almost anything done; you just need to know what you don’t know.

Branding was a huge challenge, I knew we needed something good but if I did it the result would look like a 4th Form art class. So I scoured packaging awards websites, found some consistent winners and eventually contracted with Seymour Powell who created  our stunning national ranges and company logo; they are a world leading outfit and it shows in the packaging we have.

3.Where do you think good ideas come from and what inspires you?

Almost anywhere, we look at the competition, we look at other sectors and we talk to our customers. We run (pre-Covid) about 550 external events a year, everything from local Farmers Markets to exclusive events in companies, that enables us to talk to customers face to face but also to give people samples. We sample about 80,000 people a year and nothing beast liquid on lips.

As a team there is always a good innovation flow, nothing ever gets judged initially by financial measures, it’s about us adding value or creating a new innovative flavour, if the answer to that is a yes, we then run the numbers.

4.What are your company’s values and why are these things important to the business?

At its heart this is a creative business and we respect ideas, that’s what keeps the place exciting and interesting for us and also our customers. There are no bars to employments and if someone shows promise we will often promote fast and encourage them to develop to their full potential. 

We respect our staff and our customers and we treat people in the way we’d like to be treated.

5.What is next for your brand?

We have just launched Silent Pool Rare Citrus gin that made with some amazing citrus fruits and flavours, and not just the obvious ones you might recognise. We will be bringing an ultra luxury version of Silent Pool Gin to the market later this year, it’s a category breaker and every part of it is amazing, from the flavours, provenance through to the packaging.

Whisky is on the way as is rum and we’re launching the UK’s first spirit in a cardboard bottle that is 96% recyclable and uses 90% less energy than conventional gins, it’s called Greenman after the spirit of the forest, a natural for us as Surrey, our home, is the most wooded county in England.

6.What one piece of advice would you have for someone just starting out on their business journey or currently going through a setback?

Persevere and keep pushing but don’t be afraid to change course in light of new information; that could be a change in the market, competitors or your circumstances. Don’t forget if you keep doing the same thing you’ll get the same result, so innovate on all levels, take risks, keep yourself differentiated, be inquisitive and enjoy it.

That’s a bit more than one piece of advice, sorry !

7.What resources and tools do you use to remain productive or up-to-date on industry trends etc?

Read the papers, trade mags, blogs, understand what they are telling you directly but also read between the lines. The better you can forecast and react to the future they less time you’ll spend going up blind alleys.

There’s also no substitute for meeting your customers face to face, for us understanding how they consume our products and what it gives them is key.

If you would like to include anything else about your journey, plans for the future or general information you would like us to cover, please include here: 

We’ve managed to create an open, honest and transparent business with creativity at it’s heart. The site is open 7 days a week and if you come to visit us and the shop you’ll see a working distillery not a super polished visitor centre. We say to people nothing leaves here unless it’s in a bottle, we don’t tanker liquid off out of our sight, we make and bottle everything right here. The shop and the website are always worth keeping tabs on for new spirits as are our social feeds, there’s always something new to taste.

We still offer an NHS discount to recognise in a small way what those guys have been through and we still give a hand sanitiser away with every spirit bottle from the shop and online. Our gifting operation is huge, great packaging that really signals how much you appreciate some one and if you’re feeling creative the ability to make your own labels that can be personalised with pictures, designs or words of your choice.

We export to 35 countries and have become the UK’s best selling home produced super premium gin over £35, we did that by having ambition but not loosing site of the fact that we are a business very much anchored in the English countryside in the Surrey Hills AONB.

More info on 

Brand Name: Silent Pool Gin, Silent Pool Distillers Range, Wry Vodka
Website: www.silentpooldistillers.com
Twitter handle: @SilentPoolGin
Facebook handle: Silent Pool Gin
Instagram handle: @silentpoolgin

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