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Three Kiwi blokes and their roguish gin

Richard Bourke, Daniel Mclaughlin and Mark Neal have toiled for three years to create the panacea for ‘gin grief’, the affliction suffered by those who don’t enjoy a G&T.

The trio launched in mid February in Auckland after many a meeting sampling different kinds of gin offshore.

“We realised that a lot of people didn’t share the passion that we did for gin. We called this gin grief, and we saw it in people who maybe didn’t understand gin as well as we did, or those who maybe had a bad experience with gin, or maybe didn’t like tonic. So we went out and decided to create our own gin brand, and our own label,” says Neal.

Gin and tonic is often associated with elderly English drinkers, so it seems unlikely that three regular Kiwi blokes would tap into this market.

“I think part of it was about understanding that gin had been relatively conservative, so we wanted to re-introduce people to what a good, or relevant, gin brand would be like,” says Bourke, also a partner at strategy and research company Big Picture.

But modernising the product hasn’t resulted in the trio jettisoning history entirely.

The flavour of every gin is different depending on the proportion of each of the 12 botanicals added to it, so developing something palatable required a significant amount of research.

“Our gin is based on a 300-year-old recipe, but what we’ve done is make the Rogue Society combination, which is our unique combination of the 12 botanicals that we source from around the world,” says Neal. “What we’ve really done is push the lemon and orange peel, so it gives it a real fresh citrus flavour. So whether you’re having a gin and tonic with a wedge of orange, a Negroni with dash of orange or a Martini with an orange twist, the citrus really complements the flavours well,” says Neal.

L-R: Richard Bourke, Daniel Mclaughlin and Mark Neal

This recipe lends its flavour to the cocktail market, and this explains why the trio’s early promotional pitch has been aimed at the country’s trendy bars.

“We developed the product to be versatile with the trade in mind,” says Mclaughlin. “We kept the top bar tenders in mind, so that they could use it in a Martini, Peroni Negroni or gin and tonic. It’s a versatile premium spirit designed with cocktails in mind.”

Thus far, he says the uptake at bars throughout Auckland has been “fantastic”, and he hopes for this to serve as a precursor of what is to come in the rest of the country.

“[The bartenders] appreciate and understand good products, and with Rogue Society we don’t cut corners in terms of where we source our botanicals, the grain spirit or the glacier water we use. From a quality perspective, it’s been a pretty easy sell. And from a brand perspective it also been pretty good, because Rogue Society is all about the infusion of the unconventional. And this makes our brand positioning quite unique.”

The brand’s artisan character also plays an important part. “Kiwis tend to support brands that are part of the community and this has helped the uptake,” says Bourke, who’s worked in business research for over 25 years.

Another important feature of the product lies in the design of the bottle, which also gives a nod to the long heritage of gin distillation.

“The bottle design is based on a 300-year-old Geneva bottle,” says Mclaughlin when describing how they sourced various antique bottles on Trade Me and eBay before settling on a design that they found suitable.

“We wanted something classic,” says Bourke. “We’re not into gimmicky, trendy or novelty products. We’re after an enduring brand that’s going to be around for a very long time.”

Once they had decided on how the bottle should look, they handed a template to independent designer Kent Blazek who brought the unique shape to life.  

“We went through a lot of big product designers but no one could get the shape just right. In contrast, Kent knew exactly what we wanted and he got it spot on,” says Mclaughlin.

While Blazek looked after the shape of the bottle, the branding was conceptualised and executed by OneDesign.

And rather than simply opting for simple branding, the team at OneDesign added a collection of hidden messages in various places on the bottle. Along the screw-on lid a paper label features a short, mischievous quote from one of history’s famous rogues, while the bottom of the bottle also has an additional quote melded into the glass.

While the brand has only existed for a few months, the trio says that they’ve already established a retail partnership with Glengarry. But this didn’t just come about by chance. The trio had to pull out all the stops to convince the Glengarry team to stock this unknown product.   

“We actually made the people at Glengarry a gin and tonic tasting kit and used this to sell the brand to them. The presentation was really quite impressive. We took this old suitcase and they really liked it. After the powers that be signed off on the deal, we dropped off our first batch on the last day of April. That was our first delivery into a store and now we’re located in about 17 stores throughout the New Zealand,” says Mclaughlin.

Over the past two weeks they have toured the South Island, taking their product to bars in Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown.

“It’s about getting behind bars, doing exhibitions and getting people to try the product. That’s become a day-to-day thing for us. It’s really about teaching bar tenders and consumers what makes this product so great,” says Mclaughlin.

“We do about two or three training sessions a week with bar staff to teach them where it’s from, what it’s made of, what botanicals we use, what it goes with and what differentiates it from other gins.”

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