Gin and bear it
Tom Flint meets the two men behind Brighton’s quirky gin business.
For most people who start a business it tends to be something that they have planned and thought about for many years; often pursuing a life long dream or ambition.
Others may have worked their way up through the ranks in a company and decide to strike out on their own.
It is less common that a business is born out of the purchase of a Morris Minor.
This is how partners John Azzopardi and Aaron Burns started their business Gin and Bear It.
I met with the guys at their favourite haunt, The Watchmakers Arms in Hove, and spoke to them about how this purchase was the catalyst for their business.
When John changed jobs, meaning that he no longer had to commute to work, they took the opportunity to purchase a classic car that fit with their vintage style.
After some deliberation they settled on the Morris Minor; a British classic that was both affordable and would be easy to maintain thanks to readily available parts.
A seemingly sensible decision that was undermined by their decision to take to ebay in order to make the purchase.
“We did exactly what you shouldn’t do when buying a car, we bought from ebay,” Aaron tells me.
Luckily for them when the car arrived it was in good structural condition and they set to thinking of ways to make the most of their purchase, but not before giving the car a name.
The car is named after Aubrey Beardsley, a famous illustrator who worked with Oscar Wilde during his career, who was born in Brighton and a resident of the city.
“I wanted to go against female naming conventions for cars and Aubrey is a very peculiarly British name that is associated with Brighton that seemed to fit the car,” Aaron tells me.
“The idea for the bar came when we were discussing ways for the car to pay for itself.
“The initial thought was as a wedding car but we realised that as it is only a two door this may not work,” they tell me.
“John was talking about how Morris Minors have very idiosyncratic parcel shelf and John randomly said one day that it would make a good pull out bar…and that was the birth of Gin and Bear It,” Aaron continues.
Being gin fans they decided this was the route they wanted to go down.
On a visit to The Urchin pub in Hove they spoke with one of the founders of the newly founded Brighton Gin about the idea.
With some encouragement and support from them they realised that it could work and started to run a few ‘at cost’ tries at running the bar.
Aaron explains: “we wanted to make sure that we were offering something that worked. We soon realised that whilst running the bar out of the back of the car was great it doesn’t work in terms of volume.”
With some adjustments to the idea, and realising the car would make an excellent visual backdrop to the bar, they set about expanding the plan.
This involved a few more modifications to Aubrey, the most important being the addition of a roof rack utilising vintage suitcases to store bar optics, and the pop up bar was ready.
Focussing on gin was a good move for the pair as the spirit is experiencing something of a renaissance (or should that be ginaissance) at the moment.
Aaron puts the recent explosion in independent gin production down to London distillers Sipsmiths, one of the first to obtain its independent licence.
Since then many others have followed suit, having the knock on effect of pushing the larger companies into improving their products.
All of this has resulted in a boom time for UK gin production and a huge surge in appreciation of the spirit.
“The great thing is that alongside the gin renaissance there has also been a tonic renaissance that goes with it,” Aaron says.
“You have really great tonic producers who have really great products and a lot of them actually have quinine in them.”
For those of you that are not aware of quinine it is a traditional medication made from tree bark that was used to treat malaria.
It also is said to have anti-inflammatory properties and can act as a muscle relaxant – now your gin and tonic is even good for you.
While they have chosen Brighton Gin as their main tipple, the entrepreneurs are very conscious of delivering what the customer wants and so adapt their bar to any taste or budget.
“We are a bar service so we provide what the customer wants, we are not about telling people how to drink their drinks. You tell us what you want and we will cater to that.” Aaron says.
“A lot of wedding couples want something special and we can create that for them. We’ve been bringing back lots of traditional cocktails including pre 1920s cocktails and prohibition cocktails,” John continues.
In addition to providing a top quality bar service they also have a really great vintage look and style.
This is something that they have always been interested in and it made sense to carry this over into the business.
Aaron explains: “People like things that are British, vintage cars and the classic look fits in with that. It adds to the ambience and the British classic thing that is going on. That’s one of our major selling points.
“We also know that if the product isn’t right and we turned up and gave a bad bar service and bog standard drinks word would soon get round.
“The two things need to combine together, you need a great service and a great product.”
Currently Gin and Bear It! provide a mobile bar service for weddings, events and festivals across Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire as Aubrey does have a limited range.
They can also provide an onsite service with the same vintage look and style if needed.
There are plans to update Aubrey’s engine to increase their range, however they are happy working in this area as this is where they have made their home.
“We have a very Brighton kind of business; it doesn’t work everywhere but it certainly works here,” John explains.
There are plans to host their own events in the future and link up with vintage festivals and pop up events across the area.
They are also looking into hosting gin masterclasses in association with The Watchmakers where people can come along and learn all about gin and even how you can make your own at home.
For now the vintage style and gin enthusiasts are happy providing their customers with a bespoke pop up bar service that focuses on excellent service and effortless style.
The website www.ginandbearit.co.uk contains all the information you need to know about booking the pop up bar or onsite service.
There is also an excellent gin based blog that includes John’s historical gin based cocktails. For more articles by Tom Flint as well as recipes, visit his blog www.foodboozeandreviews.com
Pictures: Sarah Olivier; Velvet Storm Photography
August 8, 2016 Food and Drink