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Tarquin Leadbetter

Founder of Southwestern Distilleries


What is your background?

I’ve always been enthusiastic about food and drink. I studied cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu and cooked in France before graduating from Bristol University with a degree in Economics and Politics in 2009. I started making gin a couple of years later!

At the end of a two-week stint of work experience at a big investment bank during a university summer I knew the corporate world wasn’t for me! I was keen to do something creative and be my own boss from that point on.

What was the inspiration behind your company?

My grandfather was a brewer and so the idea of starting up a distillery just felt right. My initial inspiration came from reading about the craft distilling whisky boom in the US during the late noughties. Nobody really knew it was possible to make spirits on a micro scale, which seemed incredible to me!

The idea was to move back to the West Country, live by the sea, make a few bottles of gin in the morning and go surfing in the afternoon.

Tell us about Tarquin's Gin

We’re a craft distillery inspired by our beautiful surroundings on the wild coast of north Cornwall. We focus on distilling, marketing and distributing the best spirits in the world.

I taught myself to distill gin on a tiny copper still on my cooker at home. Several hundred batches later I scaled up to a 500 sq/ft old cow shed outside Padstow and sold the first batch of 300 bottles of Tarquin’s Gin from the boot of my car in July 2013, at the age of 25.

We won Best Gin in the world at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and pretty much doubled in size every year for the subsequent five years. We were the UK’s 29th fastest growing company in the Sunday Times Fasttrack 100 in 2019.

Today we employ around 40 people, and I’m proud to say we’ve grown entirely from retained earnings, having started out on a shoestring budget eight years ago, with no outside investment. Something that is perhaps quite unusual these days.

Recent challenges

Pre COVID over 50% of our business was to bars and restaurants. So, the closure of the hospitality industry had a big impact overnight. It made sense to re-focus the business to e-commerce during lockdown, which we did very quicky! But at the same time support our Tarquin’s community.

We distributed free hand sanitiser to almost 3000 retailers in the south west, and a portion to the local NHS, Devon and Cornwall Police and local food banks. We also extended credit terms to 60 days for our smallest customers and scrapped minimum order quantities, to help our hardest-hit customers bounce back from COVID.

Uncertainty makes doing business very difficult! Moreover, we’re a business very much geared up for growth so it can be pretty severe if things slow down. Adapting quickly has been a challenge, both operationally and emotionally, but we have a fantastic team willing to go above and beyond.

On the whole I would say everyone has coped very well! In a nutshell, we have diversified our customer and channel mix to include more direct retail, increasing higher margin cash sales. Simple but effective.

We distributed free hand sanitiser to almost 3000 retailers in the south west, and a portion to the local NHS, Devon and Cornwall Police and local food banks. We also extended credit terms to 60 days for our smallest customers and scrapped minimum order quantities, to help our hardest-hit customers bounce back from COVID.

Tarquin Leadbetter Founder of Southwestern Distilleries

The road ahead

We’re an independent founder-owned company and probably have a much longer planning time horizon than many of our counterparts. We’re eternal optimists and despite COVID are still posting double-digit growth in 2020. Nothing shorting of remarkable!

The biggest challenge we face is higher alcohol taxes!

My ambition is for the business to become the greatest craft distillery in the UK.

If you require further information about anything covered in this briefing, please contact Tom Bruce, or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP

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