Gin firm eyes growth after distribution deal

James Nicol, right, co-founder and managing director of Forest Spirits, with his Japan-based uncle CW Nicol.
James Nicol, right, co-founder and managing director of Forest Spirits, with his Japan-based uncle CW Nicol.
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A new player in the burgeoning craft gin market has struck an exclusive UK distribution deal and is considering attempting to raise £250,000 to develop the business.

James Nicol is the Edinburgh-based co-founder and managing director of Forest Spirits, whose Kokoro Gin is made using sansho berries from Japan. A financial consultant by day, he set up the business with his brother-in-law Barry Darnell, who runs a design agency.

The duo launched Kokoro Gin in August last year and a distribution deal has now been agreed with specialist spirits agency Mangrove. It is tasked with marketing Kokoro Gin to the on-trade, off-trade, wholesalers, independents, supermarkets and other retailers.

Nicol and Darnell’s first run of 1,000 bottles sold out within a couple of months and Nicol says the firm is on track to sell 10,000 bottles within a year of striking the Mangrove deal.

He came up with the idea for Kokoro after he tasted sansho berries in the Afan woodland in Japan (when he was visiting his uncle CW Nicol, who bought the forest in the 1980s and has donated it to a specially created trust) and realised their citrus and peppery flavours would work well in a gin,

Nicol admits that he and Darnell are newcomers to the trade but says the product’s provenance will help it stand out in a market that north of the border includes the likes of Pickering’s, Eden Mill and Edinburgh Gin. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association said gin sales broke the £1 billion mark in the on- and off-trade for the first time in the UK last year.

Nicol says the aim now is to drive Kokoro’s growth across the UK, having been pushed out online and to local distributors and wholesalers, with the firm targeting larger bricks-and-mortar retailers such as supermarkets.

He and Darnell have self-funded the business so far, are able to boost production “if volumes keep increasing the way they’re going” and can manage runs of about 5,000 bottles. However, larger volumes of 20,000, for example, involve “quite a big chunk of capital that we’ve got to find – so we’re at that point where we’ve taken it as far as we reasonably can do ourselves”.

They are considering trying to raise up to £250,000 to boost domestic and global growth, with a presence already established in Belgium, the Netherlands, the Middle East and Asia. As for expanding its range, Nicol says that with the forest home to many other edible plants: “I think there’s possibly quite a bit we could do”.