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.

North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview

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.”

North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview, Phil Harding
We’ve got a Brazilian Cachaça with an amazing story- distilled by one of the only female distillers in Brazil.

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.”

North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview, Phil Harding

Oh wow!

“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.”

We’ve got the world’s first spirit made out of birch sap
North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview

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.”

North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview

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.

North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview, Don Parkin

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.” 

Don sneezes

North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview

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.”

Research, research, research. Plan out your first two years very heavily.

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.

North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview

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.”

North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview
When you say beer to people these days, people talk about their local breweries and get excited

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.

North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview, Phil Harding
It’s brilliant to see such enthusiasm for beer and good quality drinks.

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.”

North Four, North London magazine, Boutique Bar Brands, Out of Office, drinks, office space, branding, article, interview, Phil Harding, Don Parkin

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

North Four, North London magazine, green rooms hotel, arts, culture, review, interiors, design, photography, wood green
Eat & Drink Lifestyle

My First Night at Green Rooms Hotel

Staying in a hotel one mile from where you actually live feels strange enough, but doing it on your own is even stranger. These photos are a visual record of me wandering the lonely corridors of a new boutique hotel between the hours of 10-12pm. I would describe the decor as handmade but not cheap, minimal but not clinical. It has the feeling that money has been spent on the things that matter.

Read More...
North Four, North London magazine, cheese, fromage, cheese festival, n1, islington, market, festival, food, gouda, edam, brie, camembert, wheel of cheese
Eat & Drink

You Feta Brie-lieve it: Cheese Festival Comes to North London

The rumours are true: a cheese festival exists and it’s coming to North London. This Sunday. Be there or be … cheese-less I suppose. But you’ve gouda get there early:  If you’re as keen as brie and one of the first fifty fromage fondlers to show, you’re in the running for a free bottle of Black Cow’s pure milk vodka. Traders will be setting up stalls along Islington’s Chapel Market: from the Raclette Brothers and Mac to the Future to La Fromagerie and The Cheese Truck.

Read More...
North Four, North London magazine, dream phone, dream talk, sound art, collaboration, musician, artist, london, phone boxes
Culture Lifestyle

Dream Talk: Sound Art for Your Commute

Dream Talk. It’s like Dream Phone, but not at all. Artist Emma Alonze and musician Andy Becker have joined forces to collaborate on a (possibly prophetic) new sound art project. Londoners are invited to take a moment out of their daily commute, routine or journey and immerse themselves in a narrated collection of dreams. Taking three years worth of forty winks, Alonze has gathered and narrated a chosen few to be set to an ambient soundtrack by Becker.

Read More...
Events

Between the Sheets at the Underbelly Festival

Holy smoke, her nipples are on fire! Somebody pass the woman an extinguisher. Wait, why is she climbing into that giant margarita glass - does she not know it's highly flammable? She's going to need to be doused with a sizable portion of aloe vera gel at this rate, the poor lamb. 

Read More...
North Four, North London magazine, events, to do, 100, keeping it 100, hackney arts
Culture Events List

Top Four "Keeping it 💯" Workshops

If there's anything the new moon today has told us, it's that it's time to be our true selves. That's what my horoscope told me today anyway. But what does that mean exactly? It means that if you want to eat honey loops for lunch, you 100% can. It means if you feel like learning how to make a bouquet instead of working on your tax forms, you 100% can. It also means if you want to learn how the deep throat (singing technique) you don't have to explain yourself. You're keeping it .

Read More...
North Four, North London magazine, eroc, skateboarding, skater dog, french bulldog, frenchie, skateboard, halfpipe, interview, internet sensation, instagram star, tony hawk, fanbase
Lifestyle

Who is Behind Eroc the Skateboarding Dog?

Our exclusive meeting with Eroc: the Beyonce of the skateboarding dog world. Eroc the french bulldog is making waves. With fans like Tony Hawk, BBC Radio and over 30k followers on Instagram (and counting), Eroc has also become something of an online sensation. His viral status comes and goes, randomly popping up on online social media channels every now and again to generate hundreds of thousands of views and clicks via the likes of Buzzfeed, Time Out and rogue iPhone filmers.

Read More...
North Four, North London magazine, protest, opinion piece, lifestyle, trump, women's march, brexit, riots, uprising, human rights, march, rally
Lifestyle

Protest is Dead! Long Live Protest!

We all have our own ways of dealing with life when things get shitty. Having a big cry and getting it all out can be incredibly therapeutic, and even more so when we find ourselves repeating the same line over and over through the tears. “He’s a dick!” or “I’m not a bad person!” These little lines of reinforcement help us push through the crappy feeling. Sometimes we might even revert to a hearty little stamp on the floor / kick of some unsuspecting object. It feels surprisingly satisfying when the rage sets in and we feel helpless.

Read More...
North Four, North London magazine, trio da kali, musicians, live music, gig, stoke newington, the old church, tickets, events
Culture

Contemporary Malian Sounds in Stokey

This Friday sees the release of Malian master musicians, Trio Da Kali’s new album Ladilikan. Fusing rich, expressive vocals with traditional instruments like the balafon and bass ngoni, this is a beautiful mix of ancient Mande culture and contemporary Malian sounds. Luckily for us North Londoners, we have the opportunity to see the trio play live in the rather fitting ethereal surrounds of Stoke Newington Church next month. 

Read More...
North Four, North London magazine, sylvanian familes, store, monsell road, finsbury park, toys, toyshop, collectibles, rare, dolls
Lifestyle

On your Doorstep: Inside Sylvanian World

Walking along Monsell Road in Finsbury Park, we spy the charming exterior of a shop looking like something out of a children’s book circa 1932. Beneath a green and white striped awning, a whimsical new world of mini animals awaits. Once inside we stumble about the store in hushed awe, reaching over a book of minuscule carpet samples/ family of miniature otters to tap a tiny bell.

Read More...
North Four, north London magazine, outdoor cinema, pizza, sodo pizzeria, snug, events, refreshments, foodie, picnic
Events

Kids and Big Kids: Pizza, Curry and Open Air Cinema

Whether you’re looking for something to entertain your kids, your friends’ kids or that particularly large man child in your life, you might just have lucked out. Snug are hosting an open air screening of The Incredibles next Saturday evening. There will be tasty sourdough pizzas from Sodo Pizza (Upper Clapton) and ultimate authentic curries from Rice n Spice, Northwold Road.

Read More...
North Four, North London magazine, vegetarian restaurant, ceremony, veggie, cuisine, risotto, dish
Eat & Drink

Ceremony: A New Take On Veggie Cuisine

Coming soon to a Tufnell Park near you is a whole new vegetable patch of delights / wheat field to run vicariously through. It’s time to get excited for Ceremony: a brand new bar/restaurant serving modern British veggie cuisine. Although the website remains tantalisingly mysterious, you can glean more info from their well stocked insta.

Read More...
Spring Kind, Pit Party, North Four Magazine, Music, North London, London
Culture Eat & Drink Events List

Top 4 Weird Things to do This September

Sound baths, pit parties, fake cheese and nipples, these are a few of our favourite things, said no one ever. Bored of drinking down the pub every evening? Unlikely, but bare with me. Sometimes you just want to let down your hair, shake it off and do something down right odd of an evening... followed by a pint at the pub.

Read More...
North Four, North London magazine, texlationship, online dating, illustration, iphones, texting, tinder, julia potocnik
Lifestyle

Dating North London: IRL vs Textlationship

It’s been a few months since the last instalment of Online vs Offline. I deleted Bumble, Happn and Tinder, flirted with the idea of match.com, went to a friend’s wedding, heard the vicar call my name instead of the Bride’s and reflected briefly on the crushing inevitability of my own spinsterhood before realising everyone was laughing in the pews and I should probably join them.

Read More...
north four magazine, north london, stroud green, cheese
Eat & Drink Events

Stroud Green Market Opens This Sunday!

Gluten-free cake consumers, vegan cheese enthusiasts, craft beer connoisseurs, lovers of pies and drinkers of tea; your time is now. Buy food of a quality & variety you can’t easily find in the shops, from organic meat to vegan cheese, fish caught that morning to pickles which have been fermenting for months, at Stroud Green market.

Read More...
North Four, North London magazine, the finsbury, finsbury park, n4, music venue, gigs, folk
Events

Free Cake and Gin Soaked Folk Pop

Who’s up for free entry, free cake and free folk (except for a jaunty little hat that is passed around for donations)? Get down to The Finsbury this Wednesday eve for a little mid week hootenanny and celebrate some of the best in new live music from the ‘acoustic, singer-songwriter & indie-folk scene’. Host with the most, Zoe Konez (“Ridiculously talented, Konez handles her guitar like she was born with it” - For Folk's Sake) will be deftly introducing each act from gin soaked folk popster herself, Penniless Cove to German indie band, Kalon.

Read More...
Lifestyle

Lamps, Records, Frenchies: The Big London Flea

What if you could mix the joys of your local Sunday car boot and all it’s dog perving potential with your favourite vintage clothes shops and high end antique markets? Within the sparkling depths of Dalson’s former ABC cinema, you’ll find The Big London Flea: London’s largest indoor vintage market.

Read More...