Building a brand, bottle by bottle
by Ian McCulloch, Founding Director, Silent Pool Gin

Founding Director Ian McCulloch talks about founding his super-premium gin business, building a brand with a difference, and how they overcame the challenges of 2020.

29th October 2021 Read time: 58 minutes

Silent Pool Distillers create and distribute handcrafted spirits of the highest quality. Their distillery sits 27 miles outside of the centre of London, nestled in and around a stunning area of rolling hills on the Duke of Northumberland’s Albury Estate.

The Founding Director of Silent Pool, Ian McCulloch, joined the What’s Possible Community sessions to give a window into the inner workings of the distillery and detail the journey they’ve been on since their launch in 2015.

Their brand story is a sequence of happy accidents that have positioned them as one of the UK’s most authentic premium gin brands.

The bottle is the story

Storytelling is central to how Silent Pool Distillers communicate the brand’s identity to customers. Luckily, it isn’t tricky; since the actual Silent Pool in Surrey, where the distillery draws its water from, is the focus of an urban myth. Silent Pool embeds the mysticism surrounding the urban myth in their packaging.

“The story of the gin is captured on the bottle,” Ian states.

The copper colour on the bottle reflects the copper steel still they use to make the gin, and the teal is a reference to the appearance of the colour of the water that comes up through a phosphate layer in the actual Silent Pool on the estate.

“If the bottle sits on a shelf, you need to be able to recognise it if it’s the wrong way round. Because of the 360 patterns and the colour, people get what it is. Everything refers back to teal and copper,” he explains.

Ian has injected 30 years of TV marketing experience into the business. His mission is to run a creative distiller that invents exciting products which will delight customers.

And it’s working. Silent Pool has even launched the world’s first spirit in a fully recyclable cardboard bottle.

How to become a distiller

When Ian built the brand, he focused on creating a new British, classy, modern take on a classic gin. Knowing consumers were set in their ways, buying the same old gin they were always going to buy, he knew he needed to engineer some magic. He got to work.

Starting Silent Pool involved meeting the largest gin distiller in the UK at a dinner party. He gave Ian some advice, which culminated in him researching everything to do with gin. Soon after, he had done his reading on water sources in England and was writing up a business plan.

By chance, Ian scored a meeting with the emeritus professor of distilling at Herriot-Watt University and did the distilling 101 course. Ian was ready, along with a small team of experts, to start his drinks brand.

Six years later, Silent Pool is the UK’s best-selling, award-winning, super-premium gin brand. They also export the gin to 40 countries.

Silent Pool’s distillery is anything but silent. Departing from how surgical and silent distilleries have become, Ian instead wanted to give customers a view into the distillery in all its noisy and steamy glory. So, Ian fitted the distillery with windows, so customer tours are engaging and immersive.

Innovation in disruption

In early 2020, Silent Pool had to roll with the punches of the pandemic. They made a few tough decisions, uncertainty reigned, but they remained resolute.

Taking careful but crucial steps, Silent Pool did what was necessary to weather the storm. Using a mix of reactive, selective, and targeted marketing, they worked to delight their customers and to reach them wherever they were.

Silent Pool quickly jumped into action early in the pandemic. To evidence their innovativeness in the face of adversity, they developed branded hand sanitisers that they could hand to consumers. Their creative flair will culminate in the launch of new products soon.

“We make all sorts of different products. We’ve never started an idea with a spreadsheet. We never start with ‘can we make any money from it?’. What we start with is, ‘can we add value to it, can we do it differently, is it interesting, is it fun, does it reflect well on the brand?” Ian explained.