United Kingdom

'I launched an award-winning coffee gin from my kitchen... in the middle of a pandemic'

The British gin market is a crowded one. Our love of the vodka-based spirit means that, on top of the many long-established brands, there are now reams of new entrants offering weird and wonderful flavours, as well as gin clubs and subscription models.

But this stiff competition was not enough to deter Laura Bridge, who gave up her project management role at a large property investment company to launch Lava Spirits Co., an artisan gin brand, during the first national lockdown.

The risk paid off, as her Coffee Orange Gin won the Gold Award for the Best Flavoured Gin in the 2021 World Gin Awards.

Laura Bridge launched her coffee gin business, Lava Spirits Co., during the pandemic just after the March lockdown

Laura says she was initially hesitant to launch her business in the middle of a pandemic. 

'I was ready to launch in the spring and then suddenly lockdown happened in March,' she says. 'I did think about shelving the launch as everything was so unpredictable.

'But then when I won an award, after I had sent some product off to the international wine and spirits competition in July, that really prompted me. I was all ready to go and I thought, "If I don't launch now, when will I?

'We didn't know how long it would last so it was a bit 'now or never,' and I wanted to ride on the high of winning the award. It would've been silly not to.'

Coffee origins

Laura gained inspiration for her coffee-based gins after living in Italy. 

It was there that she discovered her favourite desserts and her love of smooth Italian espressos, which she would drink in hidden side-street cafes. 

She says she still regularly dreams about them when she walks her dog in the small village in Essex where she currently lives.

Laura initially started creating fruit-infused gins at her kitchen table, but when they were out of season, she decided to go with her original idea of creating an infusion inspired by the Tuscan cafes she used to frequent.

The business is self-funded and has only been trading for a year.  

It's been an expensive twelve months - her overheads mean she has had to spend around £80,000 to get her product off the ground. 

A good chunk of the expense has arisen from marketing and hiring a small unit to create the gin.

A gin-spired idea: Laura Bridge's Coffee Orange Gin won the Gold Award for the Best Flavoured Gin in the 2021 World Gin Awards

Laura explains: 'Some people have the facility to distil and produce from home or their garden shed, but that's not something I was able to do. 

'I rented a small unit so I have that overhead, which can be quite substantial if it's not part of your own premises.'

I was ready to launch in the spring and then suddenly lockdown happened in March. I did think about shelving the launch as everything was so unpredictable 

Laura Bridge, founder, Lava Spirits Co. 

She produces two flavours: a Coffee Gin and the award-winning Coffee Orange Gin, both RRP £45 for 70cl or £25 for 35cl, via Lava Spirits' website and on the Master of Malt website. 

She says she's in discussions with a major retailer to sell her gin products, but doesn't want to divulge the name just yet.

Laura adds: 'The price point is slightly higher than lots of the large brands, as it's a hand-crafted spirit and I can't compete on those kinds of prices. I am trying to choose my retail partners quite selectively.'

'I have a regular house and garden, but if I had a house with a barn or annex where I could make my gin then I could've cut my costs quite drastically.'

She admits there are other ways to cut costs. 'You can go for a cheaper bottle or go down a cheaper packaging route,' she says. 

'But I felt with my brand and gin it needed the bottle that it has. My bottle is a good weight and quality, made by a company in Germany.

Laura Bridge had a fast-paced city job before she gave it all up to start a coffee gin brand, using £80k of her own money to fund the business

'It's not the cheapest bottle in the world, but I think if you cheapen the packaging it would cheapen the brand. I knew I had a quality product and it needed to have that stand-out quality.'

The business currently turns over just under £10,000 a month. Laura admits the figures 'aren't great,' and thanks to lockdown she is set to making a loss in the first year of trading. 

But she's hoping that getting 'back to normal' will ensure a turnaround in her fortunes, too.

She predicts the business will soon regularly turn over around £12,000 a month, which would translate to selling around 300 litres or 450 bottles.

So far she's done most of the distributing and investment herself, but she won't rule out going on Dragons' Den or getting outside investors when the time is right.

'I would consider [Dragons' Den] or taking on an investor like a venture capitalist, but I think before they consider me, I would need to trade for a year in a normal climate and all ensure my figures can stack up, as they're not proven,' Laura says. 

'I don't have the first years' accounts. At the moment if an investor were to come on board, they'd be investing in me and an idea and the beginnings of a brand and I'm not sure what value they would put on that.

'If Deborah Meaden would like to get in contact with me... I know she loves coffee and gin, and she is my favourite Dragon. 

'Or I'd choose Peter Jones because I think he's very good at getting something global.'

Laura Bridge, founder of Lava Spirits Co., predicts the business will soon regularly turn over around £12,000 a month which would mean selling around 300 litres or 450 bottles

From kitchen table to overseas markets

While there is interest from British consumers, Laura is also courting interest from overseas. 

'Once we get back to a new normal where we are out drinking at cocktail bars, I see sales increasing quite substantially. 

'I've had a lot of interest and enquiries from other European countries, so in my second year I am looking to export the product.

She says she's also targeting the Scandinavian market which she feels would be more open to her product thanks to the popular drink Karsk (or Kask), which is a Swedish and Norwegian cocktail containing coffee mixed with moonshine.

I certainly wouldn't have gone into a saturated market with a London Dry. The only way you'll stand out is with a stand-out brand and product. 

Laura Bridge, founder, Lava Spirits Co. 

'As a coffee flavoured alcohol my gin is very attractive to the Scandinavian market, as they are coffee drinkers. 

'They have a regional drink which is a coffee-based alcohol that they are famous for. So, I've had a lot of enquiries from distributors and e-commerce platforms in Scandinavia.'

She encourages anyone else looking to start their own business to take the plunge, if they have a great idea and the finances to go ahead. 

'I don't know if I can call myself a success, but I have managed to bring my product to market even though it's not profitable as yet. 

'No matter who you are, if you are passionate about something and you believe in the product, then I would say 'go for it'.'

She's more hesitant about dishing out advice to those thinking of getting into the ultra-competitive gin market, though. 

'In terms of starting a gin brand I would be a little wary, as it's such a saturated market and I think in that market you need to have something that's a bit different and innovative.

'Rolling out a London Dry Gin, I don't know how successful it can be even it's a small hand-crafted one. 

'I certainly wouldn't have gone into a saturated market with a London Dry. The only way you'll stand out is with a stand-out brand and product. You need to do a lot of market research and focus groups.'

Her ambition, ultimately, is to share the flavours she has created as widely as possible - although the pandemic has put a stop to her global expansion plans for now. 

She relays that she has Instagram followers in Quebec that are keen to try her product, while a mixologist in Brazil has asked how he can get hold of it.

'It's not about creating a multi-national global business and raking in hundreds of thousands of pounds - as nice as it would be. 

'The incentive is to share it with as many people as possible, wherever they are.'

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