Phil Harding of Boutique Bar Brands and Out of Office
Written by: Sophie Taylor
We met up with Phil Harding of Boutique Bar Brands to chat about marketing, the drinks industry and his office sharing company, Out Of Office over a neat Cachaça or two. BBB were kind enough to be the Drinks Sponsor of our Summer Party (check out what happened here), so we have a lot of boozy love for them…
Is Boutique Bar Brands your brainchild?
“The company came about between Don, my business partner, and myself. It was a collaboration between two ideas. One was to take brands from abroad which weren’t being looked after properly or promoted in the correct away and trying to help grow their business within the UK market. I came from an events background, so my idea was to talk about beer and food matching: better quality beer in different surroundings. So linking those two, that was the kernel of the idea.
Over the last four years since we set up it’s grown from there and as the market’s changed, so have we. We’ve got more and more exciting projects. We’ve moved from looking after foreign brands within the UK market to more domestic brands. Our first big break was with Fullers Brewery who asked us to help launch Frontier lager for them. That was a brilliant experience. We worked with them for a few years on that. Progressing on form that we were asked by Island Records to help them launch a beer into the UK.”
And it’s been nominated for an award!
“Yes, we’re in for a gong at the Beer Marketing Awards. We’ll find out in late September. Fingers crossed! I think we’re in with a good chance. Everywhere we take it we get rave reviews. They approached us last year to develop it from an idea to finding a brewery and helping with branding. Because it’s all very well having an idea, but it’s a different matter knowing how to get it brewed and then into the market. People come to us as the more direct route from having an idea to getting it into wholesalers, supermarkets and export etc.”
So you have a lot of knowledge of the industry as well as the drinks themselves. I like Lee’s new spirits blog, he obviously knows his stuff?
“Yes, so as time has gone on we are adding extra facets. We started out with beer but then more recently I’ve developed the Harry Brompton’s alcoholic ice tea which we’ve taken into the market. Lee came on board last year and he has a strong spirits background so we are now moving in to that side of things which I’m really excited about. I love spirits and it’s an exciting part of the market. They dovetail really well with high quality beers. We’ve already got two great brands on board. We’ve got a Brazilian Cachaça called Avua which is very high quality. It’s single plantation, has an amazing story- distilled by one of the only female distillers in Brazil.”
“Yes, and all the sugar harvested to make it is from a single plantation. They have a river that runs through the middle of it that powers the whole distillery so it’s not polluting the environment in any way and they use wood carved from the plantation to make the barrels that they age it in. It’s a beautiful story. The yeast which starts the fermentation process they use is wild yeast, it’s amazing.”
I need to try this
“Definitely do! It’s a stunning, stunning spirit. We’ve just started on the journey with that brand, we want to really seed it into some top places. Cachaça is not a terribly well known spirit in the UK at the moment. There are something like 4000 producers in Brazil.”
You’d think with the Olympics happening this year in Rio there’d be a spike in interest?
“It’s funny because you see what’s happened with, maybe, Tequila 10 years ago or Mezcal 5 years ago, suddenly there becomes an awareness of a particular spirit or drink and you get this burst through. I think Cachaça could be the next one. It’s an amazing product. When I first tasted it I thought, this is so different from anything else I’d ever tasted in that category. And then I tasted one with a Brazilian wood finish on it and it’s just incredible. So different. Then we’ve got Freya which is the world’s first Birch water spirit made out of birch sap, distilled down. Has a very nice unique flavour.”
I imagine it’s quite fresh?
“Well you can taste it in a bit. It’s quite subtle with notes of very young whisky and a bit of tequila. I really love it. It’s very, very new. The first batch literally just got bottled a few weeks ago. We seem to specialise in quite unusual things. With Harry Brompton’s it was the world’s first premium alcoholic ice tea, then with Island Records it was the world’s first Shazamable can.”
What! What happens?
“You take a photo of the can and it takes you through to their playlists curated by Island Records so it keeps on changing and updating. It’s all about bringing music and drinking back together. The beer has been designed so that the taste should remind you of their back catalogue, which is firmly rooted in so Bob Marley. They wanted a tropical tasting beer which they’ve executed well. They found a home brewer who came up with the recipe but they came to us to scale up from that. It’s very exciting.”
Behind Phil’s head I spy an interesting looking Robinson Crusoe-esque map on the wall
What’s that map with all the numbers?
“This is the beer wall and spirits map. All our drinks are tagged with a number which corresponds to their location on the map. So none in Africa, India, Russia or Australia yet but it does change from week to week.”
I realise we’re pointing and gesturing rather rudely over Don’s head who is catching up on some work on an Out of Office desk space next to us.
So how did you and Don meet each other?
“We’d worked together in the past and always kept in contact after I’d left there and Don had started his own company. Five years ago we first started talking, realising we’d both set up our own businesses. It’s been lots of hard work but exciting. 2016 has been a nice year for us, growing the team with some great people.”
How has Brexit affected your business?
“It flings up challenges and it flings up opportunities. The obvious thing for us, and anyone who deals with imported goods, is that the prices will go up. But we’ve also got export opportunities that in the long term may work out well. I haven’t noted anyone panicking too much, the Euro has gone back to what it was a couple of years ago. We’ll see. There’s not been a huge loss. It’s good in another way as we’ve already had countries contact us from outside the EU as the message that Britain is open to the rest of the world more. There’s no short term planning.”
Bless you. So have you got any tips for people wanting to open their own business?
“You’ve got to research what you’re getting in to. You might convince yourself that your idea is the best idea ever, but you need to make sure there’s a gap in the market. Don and I always knew there were drink brands which weren’t being looked after just because we’d been in the industry a long time. We knew there was a lack of knowledge, training and care around those brands.”
If you’re passionate about your business idea I suppose you’d be tempted to throw everything at it
“Yeah. We set up not having to outlay a huge amount on offices and we didn’t have to actually produce a product which can be costly.
We trade on knowledge and contacts so that’s a lot easier in a way than looking at suddenly getting huge loans. So we’ve been very fortunate to be able to grow a business with not a lot of capital. A lot of hard work, but not a lot of capital.”
Speaking of office rents, this place is available to hire as desk space isn’t it as ?
“Yes, our idea had always been to try and get somewhere that wouldn’t just be a stark office but somewhere to showcase our brands, have meetings where we could pour drinks for people, have tasting events which is a central part of what we do. We were very fortunate to find this space, there was already a bar here. No-one had used it for quite a long time so we saw the potential. After painting it, putting new tables and lighten in etc etc it’s transformed people love it. Most of the people who work with us use it on a daily basis. There are hot desks for people dropping in and out. We do events in the evening like food and drink related things. A couple of nights ago we had a beer and dim sum matching event. Dim sum was freshly made over there and I spoke about beers here.”
We did a tour around local brewery, Beavertown. What’s your view on breweries and beer in North London?
“When I was getting in to the business, there were about six or seven breweries back then. Meantime had just started. Now there are over 100 round London which is crazy, in a good way. I’m more interested in the local aspect of it, people feeling like a part of the brewery that is near to them. If you’re round the corner from Beavertown for example you might feel a loyalty to it. Also Camden Town Brewery have done very well, it’s very clever what they’ve done with their branding. I can only admire them and wish I’d been a part of that. It’s a great success story.
We’re interested in educating people on how to drink better beer, how to find it. That market was very small previously, but is growing now with a new generation of brewers and consumers it’s completely revolutionised the way people drink beer. There’s a lot more females getting into beer drinking, the stigma from the previous generation has fallen away. When you say beer to people these days, people talk about their local breweries and get excited.”
Are you mostly based in London?
“We’ve got accounts that take our brands all over the country. But the North London venues that sell our products include Porky’s BBQ, The Diner Dalston, Voodoo Rays, Bird, Bodeans and Dalston Superstore. But we have no particular geographical importance for what we do and find ourselves constantly travelling around.”
What’s the team like here?
“We all come from different backgrounds which is hugely important and works well. Lee knows a huge chunk of the market we didn’t previously have expertise in, whereas Charlie has a financial background having previously worked for IBS. We all bring different qualities and get along very well.”
Those who drink together..
“Exactly. And we’ve all got a healthy obsession with cricket so try to get up to Lords and see some sort of cricket a few times a year together. Usually on a day like today we’ll have the test match on.”
What’s a good drink to have at the cricket?
“I traditionally have some sort of bitter. Last time I discovered my limit to take in to the ground, so brought in a whole row of different cans from Beavertown and other craft beers. But if the beer’s not too good you can always switch to cider!”
Ah, we get to cider! Now you’re definitely talking my language, Phil. I’ll raise a cold one to that. You can hire out an Out of Office desk space here and sample the Boutique Bar Brands drinks for yourselves while you’re at it.
Photos by Mike Barry
“Only last night I found myself lost / by the station called King's Cross. / Dead and wounded on either side / you know it's only a matter of time.” [Pet Shop Boys - Kings Cross] It’s the night after the play and I’m standing at the bar of ‘The Big Chill House’ on Pentonville Road in Kings Cross. It’s ‘Throwback Thursday’ (#TBT) and happy hour is definitely over.
Ceramics with charisma. Local pottery genius, Laura Bird has of course graced the digital pages of It’s Nice That, sold out in Anthropologie* and taken her seat at many a London ceramics stall since just recently starting her career in ceramics. It’s no surprise she is well loved: her unique and gentle humour exudes from every jar, planter and candlestick holder, adorned with cheeky expressions and impish grins.
Having worked in hospitality with a keen artist’s eye, the Arts Building knew Emma was perfect to take over the space. They were after a morning to night eatery for the neighbourhood, one for local residents and workers alike. Knowing the street’s reputation as a bit of a foodie strip, the menu had to be up to scratch for it’s discerning super-taster of a community. Yes, we’re a hungry bunch in Stroud Green.
At the time of writing this the menu has just been released for Food by Feast’s new supper club. I imagine, however, that by the time you read this every dining space will be swiftly filled. If you aren’t acquainted with the duo yet (tsk), they’re the genius collaboration of Cordon Bleu chef and food writer Olivia Potts and Guardian food writer and cook, Kate Young. Having successfully completed the likes of a Gilmore Girls supper club to rapturous applause and smacking lips recently, the latest menu experience is Twin Peaks inspired and looks equally witty and delectable.
Sound healing in Stoke Newington. This Thursday 18th May, The Mystery School of Sound are running a de-stress gong bath experience in Stoke Newington Ramadan Mosque. Alongside guided meditation, healing process and gong performace, you’ll get a mini intro to healing traditions of the druids and hermetic teaching.
Patron Cave a Manger’s pop up cinema are shacking up at The Rose and Crown in Kentish Town to screen The Artist. Soak up the atmoshpere of the Festival du Cannes with swanky popcorn and elegant cocktails. Get red carpet ready for this special screening of The Artist - the ridiculously popular award winning silent French film that everyone fell in love with.
Unfortunately rising rents are affecting community spaces in Stoke Newington and their availability. St Mary’s Centre currently provides a space for projects including the Foodbank, Hackney Migrants centre and the Night Shelter but they're at risk of losing their space. To help raise funds to redevelop the space and increase awareness, they are organising a weekend food market in Stokey. The pop-up food market is a launch event for their huge fundraising drive to rebuild the community rooms attached to St Mary's Church in Stoke Newington.
Healthy chocolate mousse and sexing up your smoothie with Kate Oates. We have found ourselves a yoga guru in Kate Oates, a healthtastic yogi based in Crouch End. When we met her last year she hinted at a few of her own culinary creations and boy were we intrigued. Asking for an exclusive recipe for you health conscious readers, we received a taste sensation of an idea for chocolate breakfast.
“All My Single Cylinders, All My Single Cylinders”. Two girls, sick to the back teeth of Tindering and Bumbling about the bars of London, decided to create their own speed dating night. Involved in the biker community of East London they have created a special series of nights combining live music, motorbikes and speed dates. Bolt Motorbike Shop of Stoke Newington is their latest venue, providing a more intriguing backdrop for your date night and quashing the usual awkwardness of sparse, brightly lit speed dating scenarios. You can admire the motors, enjoy your free drinks and listen to some live music with some top notch handpicked company.
In case you’ve never had a piirakka, (also known as Karelian pasties, pies or pirogs) they’re a delicious Finnish treat that you need to try immediately. Whether savoury or sweet, they’re basically a light pastie made with rye flour and a pretty unique variety of filling options. Meet Aapo Nieminen, a native Finnish local who grew up with piirakka. After getting tired of asking friends and family to bring him these naughty little pasties whenever they visited he came up with a plan. “They are an important part of everyday finish life. One day I thought why not just make them yourself?”
The lycra is optional. Coffee however, isn't. On Friday 197 cyclists descended on Sardinia to compete in the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia. For those of you that don't have wardrobes filled with lycra you might never of heard of it but Think Tour d'France but in Italy. Still drawing a blank?
Naked Dough have appeared like a pair of beautiful fairy godmothers to lead me to an actual edible cookie dough dance party. Plus they didn’t even tell me what I should wear, they genuinely don’t care. Naked Dough is a new restaurant serving edible cookie dough from tubs, cones and even carry home pots. The ingredients are raw egg free and the flour is heat-treated so you need not worry-like-Edwina-Currie about salmonella and stomach bloat (unless you’re gluten free of course. In which case I’m sorry you’ve stumbled upon this torture page of an article).
Ten years ago MINT Vintage first opened in Covent Garden before moving on to the more creative surrounds of Stoke Newington, pioneering fashion forward vintage. Every piece is hand selected and sourced from all over the world, ensuring every garment is trend driven but timeless and always unique. This May they’ve decided to transform their world in to an “oops we were trying to make corduroy and came up with denim” dreamland*.
Finding myself wandering around Limehouse Basin craving a pint and perhaps even a slice of pizza, I needed to get home to my local Crate Brewery sharpish (they do the freshest craft beers and have award winning pizzas). But how to get there? Stumbling in to Limehouse Station and towards a huge sign saying CLOSED, I consider walking there instead. A short meander riverwards, I reach the canal and begin to notice a group of people donning chunky waistcoats stretching their arms around. I pause for a second, swaying slightly on the spot, watching this mesmerising circle of humans yielding huge double ended spoons.
"Ooh they’re doing a psych night at Moth Club Tina!” "What, again?” It’s a familiar sentence. Fast becoming a buzzword for young musos and Beyond Retro dwellers alike, psych music is no longer just for the suede fringed waistcoat wearing Acid Jazz lovers who curse their parents they weren’t born in 1966. No no. The psych music spectrum has spread it’s bendy wings and shaken off it’s lava lamp skin to embrace a whole host of musical genres. From William Burroughs to Pet Sounds to Thee Oh Sees, the genre’s had a birth, decline and resurgence. Nambucca in Finsbury Park are totally capitalising on this revival with their new monthly night, SIKE! This Thursday 11th May, they’re bringing four different acts who are all covering different elements of the psych scene.
Back in 2014 The Good Egg was hatched, mixing Californian sunshine with Tel Aviv traditions to bring one heck of a menu to Stoke Newington. Food critics, instagrammers and swathes of Stokey baby holders flocked to it’s doors to get stuck in to the Jerusalem breakfast, merguez sausage and indeed eggs washed down with spicy brunch cocktails.