Brockman's Gin Co-Founder Bob Fowkes on Great G&Ts and Why He Made A Gin That doesn't Taste Like Gin
As gin brands go, Brockman's Gin is still relatively new. Launched in the U.K. in 2008, it only just arrived in the U.S. three years ago. But among super-premium gins, it ranks as 6th in the world by sales volume in a category that also includes rivals Hendrick's, The Botanist and Monkey 47. Brockman's is the fourth best-selling super-premium gin in New York as well as the fastest growing brand in its category in Spain.
Brockman's co-founder Bob Fowkes spent most of his first career as a marketing expert, working with spirits brands as well as names like Yoplait, Dannon and Home Depot. In 2006, he and three partners began working on a new kind of gin.
How did this all come about?
Bob Fowkes: We started working on it in 2006. It took us two years to put it together, and we launched right at the back end of 2008. We're still a young brand. We only came to the U.S. in 2014. We built it in Europe first. The U.S. is a quite scary market to take on first.
It took off right away. It's a strange trend, this super premium gin trend. Most trends in spirits start in California and go east. This has pretty much started in Spain, where they are a big per capita consumer of gin.
What defines Brockman's?
It's a very different style of gin. Forget everything you know about gin.
When we started out, we said three things. One: We will only make a luxury product. Two: We wanted to make something that people are quite happy to drink over ice. There's not many gins you do that with. And three: We wanted it to be off the map tastewise.
A lot of people at the time were doing a little tweaks on classic gins. So they might change just one botanical. We changed a lot. We got chefs involved, taste people involved. The distillers kept trying to drag us back to what they've done before. We said no, we have to get this off the map. We really want to challenge the whole argument [about what gin tastes like].
At the top you'll have blueberries and blackberries. It's 40%, or 80 proof as you say. We say, This is so good just try it neat. Not everyone does it.
Blueberries are part of the botanicals?
Yes, blueberries and blackberries, followed by orange peel and lemon peel, which we get from Spain. Coriander, which is bright and tangy. Then below that you get more of the classic juniper in the middle.
The reaction we wanted is, "Wow, is that really gin?"
It seems like every day, there is a new gin launched. Is the gin market too crowded?
It is, and only a few will survive. There's a lot of hobby brands in there. I think there's very few serious brands. A lot of these brands are very similar. By the time you put stuff in them, like tonic, they tend to taste them same. Ours doesn't. It always stands out.
The taste difference helps us stand out from the clutter. That said, if I was launching right now, if I wasn't a big player, I think I'd have a tough job.
Tell me about the name. Is there a Mr. Brockman?
No, there isn't. Most distilleries are built by a stream of water. A stream is also called a brook or a brock. A brockma is somebody who manages that flow of water. That's our inspiration.
Do you have the one expression?
Just the one. People keep asking us if we're going to line extend. We're very happy with what we got. We're in 33 countries around the world roughly. That's enough to manage.
Let's talk about tonics. When did you first note a growing awareness of good tonics?
Have you seen the massive balons that they drink tonics in, in Spain? That was allegedly developed by Ferran Adrià. When you drink it like, it's a completely different drink. Your challenge within that glass is to have a complex gin, and a better tonic. Question your garnish. That's where Fever Tree came in quite strong.
If 2/3 of your gin and tonic is tonic, you better make sure you get a good one. Nobody seems to get that.
What characterizes a good tonic?
Definitely maintaining the effervescence throughout the drink. Always chill your tonic because that retains your effervescence. Fever Tree has finer bubbles, which carry the flavor better. Tonic is quite a simple drink, but I find that a lot of people just get it wrong. It's about balance.
Gun tonics... god knows what they're made of. No one should drink those. If you've tasted that gun tonic, it just tastes of nothing.
How do you like your gin and tonic?
Brockman's in a big balon glass hat opens up all the flavors, packed with ice. A pink grapefruit peel twist.
What do you look for in a tonic?
For me, it's balance. Depth of flavor. Some tonics can be very bitter, almost too far on the quinine. Some edge towards Sprite. For me it's just that balance. I love Fever Tree's Siciliana Lemonade. It goes really well with Brockman's Gin.
The reaction we wanted is, "Wow, is that really gin?" - Brockman's Gin Co-Founder Bob Fowkes
I notice you have a lime twist in your martini. I've never seen that.
I find lime just a little more interesting than lemon. Also grapefruit or orange twists.
How do you like your martinis?
What does that mean?
Just a pass by. A rinse.
So that's just chilled gin straight up, you know that right?
I like my gin. I worked on it for years.
How many martinis do you have a day?
I flip in and out. It is my business. I'm over here, I drink gin & tonics or martinis. While I'm traveling, I may do four or five a day. We built this brand by being really close to the customer, talking to them. So I tend to be out and about. Some weeks, I won't touch a drop.
When you're the face of the gin, does that mean that when you're out you to drink all the time?
When it's your own brand? It's tough but it's amazing.
I do trips with our sales guys in New York. If every bar I go to has just designed a new cocktail, what are you dong to do? You gotta say, I have to try that. I think it's rude to leave anything in the cocktail. I have to teach myself not to finish every one.
I've noticed some gin brands exploring new finishes, such as wine casks, which makes the spirit pink. What's your take on these kinds of finishes?
First, innovation in gin is fantastic. Ten years ago, if you had asked people about gin, they would say all gins are the same. Now people are saying, Actually there's more to gin than you think. That's where the gin boom is coming from. It's coming from people saying, 'It's not that piney stuff. It's a bunch of different stuff.' Why is that? It's because gin is essentially a recipe, so you can play around.
People will tell you it's the distillation. I would say, yeah, cool. It's all about the recipe. It's about the botanical mix. I think the finished stuff is interesting. It's taking language from whisky, which is about aging, which gin doesn't do. So I have my doubts about its relevance to the consumer.
Can you age gin?
You can. It will make it smoother. I think it will be interesting. I think as a consumer proposition, it's tough. I struggle with it a little bit. There's so much you can do with recipe anyways, so why bother? Why not bring new gin taste deliveries to different cities? I'm not against it. I see people playing with it, and it's a bit geeky. Is the consumer really going to latch onto that?
So you're never going to do a different expression with a different finish?
If it made it smoother and more interesting, I couldn't reject it. I'd have to try it. I just think that as a concept, the consumer isn't going to get this whole aged thing. It's a hell of a leap, whereas whisky - it comes with that.
Any surprises in the market?
There's a gin boom in Colombia. I think that's just bizarre. They are all tapping into the Spanish thing.
Some markets are not even bothering with cheaper gin. They are going straight to super premiums. Colombia is like that. Italy is like that. Russia. The super premium gins are almost as big as the regular gins in terms of volume.
Our competitors are Grey Goose, Patron and Hendrick's. You're drinking right across the categories.
Now the gin boom, it's happening. Prior to that it was, 'Oh my father drinks that,' or 'Gin is for the golf club,' or 'I might drink it at Christmastime.' Until Hendrick's and the new style of gins became popular. They changed the market. That's when the market goes: There's more to gin than just juniper. That's what happened in Spain in 2009. It happened in the U.K. about three, four years later. It's only a just a recent thing.
I think it will click here in the next two years. If you walk into a bar, it's quite astounding. I see more gins now than I see vodkas.
This interview has been condensed, and edited for clarity.