Rose Mason investigates how the owner of Nottingham's brand new Dropworks distillery plans to navigate the alcohol industry
Drink less, drink better. This is the intention of Nottinghamshire’s new rum distillery, Dropworks, based on the Welbeck estate in Worksop. But is it possible to control how people drink, when you’ve handed the responsibility over to them in the form of a high percentage spirit?
I met with Lewis, owner and founder of this exciting new venture, to discuss the landscape of alcohol in the UK, and how he handles owning an alcohol business within that.
With rum specifically, Lewis shares his frustrations with some of the very large, well known ‘rum’ companies, breaking the rules in order to market themselves as rum. “Those aren't rums, because the legal definition of rum is that you can't flavour it, and you can only have a maximum amount of sugar of 20g per litre. Those, they are nearly liquors, they have all these fake flavourings added to them. We're trying to spread this message of, if you make high quality spirit in the first place, you don't need to flavour it.
“We are going to be the single best value rum on the marketplace. That's the aim. We're large, so we can afford to cut our price to make it affordable for people”.
Lewis emphasised value, relating to this ethos of drinking less. His vision is that with interesting and unique flavours, and a high quality spirit, comes the opportunity for drinkers to appreciate the rum they are drinking. He tells me that Dropworks doesn’t exist to get more people drinking, but to provide a better alternative.
My whole message to any bar is to create moments for people. Connect with your guests, host them well - it’s the ethos of love your neighbour.
Lewis plans to bring together ideas of good hosting from his time in bartending, with a sense of ownership over the product by inviting bars to come to the distillery to blend and create their own single release ‘drop’. “Hence, it’s a cooperative field, if people learn more about the production process, and learn what it is, you learn a bit more respect for it”. By giving bars the chance to personalise their own rum, the passion behind the unique product could reach and add value to the experience of drinkers.
He wants to work with local artists to create a brand that is colourful, vibrant and playful, manifesting a collaborative approach and pumping money back into the UK and the arts scene.
With researched solutions such as heat exchanges and insulated pipework, Lewis also sets out to do things as sustainably as he can. “Think of the CO2 involved in transporting glass, sending it all the way to the Caribbean, to fill up, then sending it all back” he says. Instead, drink local; “we have our molasses shipped over, but then we can then do all the production here”.
Ideas like these make up Lewis’s intention to do things differently. However, Dropworks exists inherently within the alcohol industry, which is riddled with problems
“If you really start thinking about how many drinks you've had in your life, and yet how many moments you remember, it's a terrible ratio. Alcohol is dangerous, it can be abused and my industry encourages it. If you own a brand, you’re incentivised to get people drinking more of your product.”
We discuss the bigger corporate brands, and their attitude towards this landscape: prioritising profit, at the detriment of people and public health.
“If you become addicted, you're going to come and buy more - they [Big Alcohol] don't care about the individual, they want you addicted, it's terrible. There's so much wrong with that, but I've been living in that world for a long time now.
“Since 2012 when I set up my drinks consultancy, I've been preaching a message of drink less, drink better. My whole message to any bar is to create moments for people. Connect with your guests, host them well - it’s the ethos of love your neighbour. It's the same with the distillery. Alcohol itself is dangerous, and we have to take it very seriously. But it's a vehicle in order to be able to show love to society.”
Yet Dropworks too survives based on a demand for booze, and is even capitalising on new markets. According to the Campari report, younger people are drinking rum, premium rums have grown by a third in a year, and “rum has now overtaken whiskey for the first time ever in the UK in terms of sales”. Dropworks is growing rapidly, because people are asking for it.
With a background in owning bars, I ask how Lewis plans to deal with the delegation of drinking habits to the more distant consumer.
“It's an ongoing thing and unless it's on the forefront of your mind every day, you realise you're not doing it well enough. I'm trying to lead by example, but you can't do everything in a business that's growing at this scale.”
The draw towards drinking as a method to let off steam isn’t going to change overnight. Problem drinking is often a symptom of larger, systemic issues within society, including stressful working hours, loneliness and isolation, and the cost of living crisis. If suddenly alcohol ceased to exist, those problems would still be there and the need to cope would manifest in other ways. Without better options available, people continue to drink from companies that put profit over their own needs and health. As the largest rum distillery in Europe, Dropworks is set to be a big company, one that may have the leverage to affect change, influencing the industry from the inside.
I'm not naïve enough to think that we're going to change the world overnight, but we're hoping to spearhead a movement… Otherwise the corporate people who are doing it badly would take over and own the market.
“There’s a lot of people drinking in the world, and they're drinking a load of rubbish. They are being encouraged to drink bad and drink more. Notwithstanding alcohol being a dangerous thing, we've got to get right in there, and try and answer it from the inside out.” Lewis says, if people are going to drink, “it should be better for the environment, better quality liquid, and better value for money”.
“I'm not naive enough to think that we're going to change the world overnight, but we're hoping to spearhead a movement… Otherwise the corporate people who are doing it badly would take over and own the market.”
Dropworks, the new distillery that’s all about quality, collaboration and value. Fundamentally founded off a demand for alcohol, within an industry that causes hurt and harm. It’s a moral maze that Lewis and his team must continually navigate. Yet with Dropworks size, comes the potential to influence the industry and make things better. Lewis is certainly aware of the environment he’s working in, but having only launched this summer, it remains to be seen how he and his team will handle this responsibility, and whether an alcohol company can truly achieve intentions for consumers to not just drink better, but to also drink less.
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