Fiona Mann still makes many of the delicious fruit gin liqueurs we feature at Gin Festival, at home in her kitchen. We had a chat with her all about gin!
Starting with hand-picked fruit and her own kitchen, Fiona has been able to turn her knack for blending exquisite gins with fabulous fruit from a hobby to a business thanks to her own skill and a little help from Gin Festival. We sat down with her to talk about how it all got started and her newest gin creation, Addingham Cranberry and Orange Gin.
How did Addingham Fruit Liqueurs get started?
Well, I was introduced to Sloe Gin by my late father-in-law, Alan. He was born in Edinburgh, hence the tartan on the label as a nod to him. I really liked the taste, especially delicious and warming with a coffee after a meal and not as heavy as port. Very soon, I was making my own but I found picking the berries totally addictive and needed an outlet (I hate leaving fruit just to rot on the hedgerows) so started making it as Christmas presents or gifts if we went to friends for dinner.
I soon realised that you can add any fruit to any spirit and I started experimenting with different flavours. I now make nine different liqueurs using gin, vodka and brandy, as well as Strawberry & Mint Gin and recently Cranberry & Orange Gin, both exclusive to Gin Festival.
With the increasing popularity of gin, I have in turn become increasingly busy to the point where I now supply a number of pubs and farm shops locally, as well as attending local events. I have been able to give up part-time work, which I used to subsidise my business, and now devote all my free time to Addingham Fruit Liqueurs. Having suffered a spinal stroke a few summers ago, I find working from home allows me the flexibility to rest when I need to, work around my limited mobility, and take charge of my workload. I am indebted to my family and friends who have helped me enormously since my illness.
How did you get involved with Gin Festival?
It was a chance phone-call from Jym – I was out and my husband took the call. When I rang back, Jym explained that they were looking at setting up a business doing gin festivals around the country and would I be interested in supplying them. Well, obviously I was very excited by this, not even realising how big the business was going to become. Meanwhile, Jym invited me to supply The Snug, their gin bar in Keighley and my liqueurs were well received.
Gin Festival has had a massive impact on my business, as it has grown hugely since those early days a few years ago. They are by far and away my biggest customer and, yes, I have had people wanting to buy from me because they've seen my gin at a gin festival. I feel very proud to have been supplying Gin Festival right from the start and like to think that I have a very good working relationship with them based on mutual trust and a passion for gin.
What’s been the biggest challenge to the business so far?
Rather disappointingly, I don’t think I’ve had any major disasters. I’ve never dropped a case of gin, or even a single bottle come to think of it. I did once have an old freezer full of sloeberries pack up so had to make up a lot of sloe gin very quickly. I also fell in a huge patch of nettles once picking blackcurrants from a ‘secret’ overgrown patch locally. I literally couldn’t get up…there was no-where to put my hands…I was surrounded by nettles!!
By far and away my biggest challenge though is keeping up with demand and finding time to keep in touch with my regular customers. Looking after repeat customers is just as important as finding new ones. I want them to be happy and I know it helps them to be able to buy just a few bottles at a time to see how they are received or to be able to swap one liqueur for another which may sell better.
And of course, all my customers are important whether they buy just a few bottles or a hundred at a time. You never know where the next order may come from, so I always make sure I look after everyone and treat everyone with the courtesy and respect I'd expect to receive.
What do you have in store for the future?
I’ve made Strawberry & Mint Gin exclusively for Gin Festival for the past couple of years and I think Jym felt it would be good to introduce another flavour also exclusive to Gin Festival, so I’ve created a new Cranberry and Orange Gin. I already make a Vodka version, which is very popular among my customers and friends, particularly in the run-up to Christmas. It’s also something a bit different, and like all my liqueurs, delicious in a glass of Prosecco.
I have been instrumental in setting up Ilkley’s first fine food & local produce market (Real Food Ilkley) which I now attend as a stall-holder every first Sunday of the month. I would like to see this expand. I would also like to attend some more beer festivals; I currently attend Addingham Beer Festival serving sloe gin cocktails for the ladies and those who are not keen on beer.
I’m also part of Totally Locally Addingham and run their Facebook and Twitter accounts. It's a collection of village businesses working together to promote each other and Addingham. We have a Christmas market each year to coincide with the Christmas lights switch-on. It's the best and busiest event that I attend.
Have you been to a Gin Festival?
I’m rather ashamed to admit that I have yet to visit a Gin Festival.
They’re very busy!
I’ll bet! But we do have two young (ish) boys who we seem to spend a lot of time taxiing around to their various activities and family time at the weekend is sacred. James loves his rugby and has just returned from a weekend Wharfedale RUFC Under 14s rugby tour to North Wales with his dad, Andrew. He also loves playing the drums. My younger son loves football and is a member of Ilkley’s Upstagers and was in the choir in the recent fabulous production of Joseph. But to visit a local Gin Festival is definitely on my ‘To Do’ list.
What’s your favourite gin?
I know it’s really annoying when someone lists their own product as their favourite…but if I’m being totally honest I love my own Blackcurrant Gin as I love the sharpness of blackcurrants and I add a hint of cloves which gives it a really wintery / Christmassy flavour. It’s also fab in Prosecco, a bit like cassis!
Working so closely with Gin Festival has also given me a unique opportunity to try one or two other gins which I wouldn’t usually buy. I am rather a traditionalist so I do like gins such as Hendricks, Ish and Robin of Locksley…but there are so many gins to try and so little time Haha!
I would say the Strawberry & Mint Gin has been the most popular. It’s a bit early to say how well the Cranberry & Orange Gin will sell although I have total confidence that visitors to Gin Festival will love it!
We’re committed to working with small businesses like Fiona’s to help promote craft, innovation and just really tasty gin! You can try her new Cranberry and Orange Gin, exclusive to Gin Festival, at our upcoming events or from our online gin shop.
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