Independent Spirit of Bath

Independent Spirit of Bath started in 2013 when Chris Scullion and Christian Morrish met and decided the city was missing a dedicated spirits venue. Sonya Hook talks to Chris Scullion:

What inspired you to open the store?

I had opened a couple of retail venues before so I had some experience in this area, but basically Christian and I felt bartenders didn’t have anywhere to buy the things they were used to. The bars in Bath at that time were mostly for tourists and students and we felt there was

a gap for something a bit more sophisticated in a retail format.

What is the competition like?

We got in quite early on so we have managed to build up a reputation for the products we have, but since we opened there have been a number of premium bars and drinks shops appearing, including Dark Horse, which is considered to be one of

the best bars in the UK. Basically Bath itself has developed a good reputation now for quality drinks, and it’s great that we were part of that early on.

The market changed just after we opened the store – craft drinks started to appear and the bar scene then started exploding.

I think we have been quite clever. We knew we needed a synergy with the on-trade to drive sales and to build links with the community.

We make sure we are in the loop with things that are in the bars as they have the same customers. People want to buy the things they try in the bars to have in their home environment, so we make sure we stock these products.

Supermarkets are our biggest competitors but they don’t stock these niche craft products, and if they do then it won’t be as quickly as we stock them.

If we stock a niche gin and it goes into a supermarket then we have to delist it because we won’t be able to compete with their prices.

But we keep rotating things such as gin. Bath is unique in that people aren’t particularly loyal to one product and they like to try something different each time.

What products do you sell?

We started with a good range of spirits and we were here a good few years before the explosion in gin hit Bath, which put us in a good position when that started.

Now rum has taken off in Bath and there are two dedicated rum bars in the city. We really felt we had hit on to something as we already had a good range.

We offer a lot of tasters, including vodka, gin, rum and craft beer. I’d say gin and whisky are the most popular.

We also started out with some traditional beers and some Belgian ones and we found we had people travelling from Bristol for beer, to the point where we increased the range and we now have about 400 in total.

How do you keep customers coming back?

We do a range of masterclasses, which appeal to tourists, hen parties and locals. We have a solid base of gin and whisky events and we can do “uber tastings” at around £40 a person, the kind of money-can’t-buy events, which is where we see more opportunities – offering tastings of those drinks to people who want to taste but can’t always afford to buy a full bottle.

We recommend pairings and we have done things with food matching, including working with a vegan and vegetarian cooking school.

We do about one event a week and that is either pre-booked or private or sometimes an external event.

What sells well?

Gin is always popular and rum is starting to really bite at the heels of gin.

More people are drinking sour beers and experimenting with these, and I really am starting to see a lot more women opting for sour beers.

And cider drinkers seem to have an interest in sour beers too. Belgian sour beer is usually the first step for non-beer drinkers to get into these but now there are quite a few UK- based breweries doing lambic-style and people who like more acidic wine will give it a try too.

We do give out a lot of samples and it really helps drive sales. But the beer scene is really interesting and a lot of these brewers are taking influences from chefs.

What are your plans for the future?

We have a lot of visitors here who don’t live in the UK and Brexit does make me a bit worried. But we are small so we can adapt.

The next step for us will be some sort of brand extension I think, but not a carbon copy of this store.

There is a lot of potential for certain categories within drinks to do more in Bath, and this is something we are looking at. There is a way that can interact with guests by crossing over into both the on and off-trades.

We are also looking at which areas we want to expand in the store, so, for example, no and low-alcohol drinks is an area we would like to do more with.

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