Crafting Success

Craft drinks are experiencing a real boom at the moment. Various alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions are cropping up on the market as consumers seek a more unique drinking experience, often with a local link or sustainable source. Our alumni community are playing a part in this revolution with several going on to set up their own company after they graduated. We recently caught up with four founders to hear about how and why they’ve brewed their success.

We spoke to Holly Harwood (History, 2012) founder of Holly’s Gin, Robin Gerlach (Business and Accountancy, 2008) who set up Elephant Gin, Jesse Wilson (Economics and Finance, 2014) who started Jubel Beers, and Prabhtej Singh Bhatia (Business Economics, 2012) creator of Simba Beer.

Jubel Beers

“At Jubel we’re on a mission to pioneer a new style of craft beer: naturally infused fruit lager. After discovering a dangerously refreshing beer tradition at an après-ski bar in the Alps, I set about recreating the beer when I found nothing like it back home. I sunk my savings into a big brew that flew at a festival and escaped my 9-5 to pioneer this new style of beer.

“There have been so many challenges along the way but the biggest one was that no one knew how to brew the beer style we wanted to create, including us, so that made it very difficult to work out how to brew a beer that had the refreshment of a fruit cider but the sessionability of a crisp lager.

“It took two years and a fair few bad brews along the way but we finally landed on the perfect balance and all three of our beers have been UK Country Winners in the World Beer Awards which is an amazing tip of the hat to our relentless pursuit of the perfect product.

"We also picked up a national listing in 1000+ Sainsbury’s stores as they saw Jubel as a disruptive brand that was trailblazing a new category space which is a huge vote of confidence for our mission coming from the second biggest retailer in the UK. It was such a proud moment walking into a Sainsbury’s store and buying two bottles of Jubel, I’ve still got the receipt tucked away in my wallet.”

Holly's Gin

“Whilst I was studying for my history degree, I knew I wanted to start my own business! I love researching and definitely have always had an entrepreneurial mindset. I was working at Dolly’s Gin Palace in Falmouth and saw the popularity of gin. I wanted to create my own gin but if I am honest, I just didn’t have the experience or confidence. After I graduated, I moved to London and worked for gin festivals, bars and two gin brands. I then got my dream job as ’The Gintern’ for! It was a viral job online and I was picked from 5000 applicants! It enabled me to visit distilleries and write about gin every day. It made me realise that I actually knew a lot more than I gave myself credit for!

"So I started playing around with my recipe in my kitchen in London. It took me two years to create the recipe I was happy with, as well as another year of sourcing materials, designing my bottle and setting up my Crowdfunder.

“I grew up in Cornwall and studying in Falmouth made me realise how much I love my county. This has contributed massively to my gin and branding. It was so important for me to have Holly’s Gin distilled in Cornwall. My history degree really helped with my confidence as I realised that I was good at researching and working independently! I really don’t think I would be able to approach people in the way I do now without my time at the University of Exeter.”

Elephant Gin

“The inspiration originated during the trips my wife Tessa and I took to South Africa and Kenya - and especially the sundowner experience after a day out in the bush. More often than not the drink comes in form of a Gin and Tonic and we adopted this tradition back in London. Tessa became involved with a foundation called Space For Elephants and was immediately drawn in by the people she met, grew passionate about the work they were doing – and since then was determined to find a way to aid elephant conservation.

“People and nature is what inspires me most. Every person you meet in your life has a story to tell and something one can learn from. Having met the people who dedicate their life to conservation is something that made me realise that we have a responsibility for the generations to come.

"Having been able to give over €500,000 to the foundations over the last six years and making a difference to the projects on the ground is difficult to describe in words. It feels right and we are very proud of it.

“We are looking forward to open our own distillery in late summer 2020 with a focus of being able to show our passion and craft in action. It is another beast of a project, but one that we have been dreaming about for a long time - and with very little space at our current production site, we are thrilled for this to take full fruition. We of course welcome Exeter Alumni with a G&T on us!”

Simba Beer

“I graduated in July 2012 and from that June when I finished the teaching on my course I went to look at breweries. I also spent the summer and spring holidays trying to understand the market and tried a lot of beers, figuring what I enjoyed and different gaps that I could work with. I wanted to set up Simba Beer because I loved having something of my own, and knew for certain I didn’t want a job in the ordinary sense, as I wouldn’t stick to it. I knew there was more potential to do what I wanted to do in India and wanted to get the knowledge and bring it back.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Exeter. The Imperial is where I tried my first stout (kick-starting the journey to Simba Beer) and I often went there for all day breakfast/lunch as I stayed in accommodation nearby.

"I also travelled across Exeter trying different beers and also undertook part time work that gave me first-hand experience with customers. Looking back, you connect the dots but it definitely wasn’t planned at the time.

“To anyone wanting to set up their own business, I’d say make the most of all resources and opportunities available. If you’re just coming out of university, don’t think twice and do it now. It’s the time of least risk - do it. It’s also good to work at a company that you think matches up with your ethos/goals if you think this path might be for you as you can get great experience this way. Lastly, I think it’s important to build the right type of company, be a self-driver, work hard and create a caring company where people are tied in on the vision.”