Craig Allison & Rory Smith
Craig Allison & Rory's Wines
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Meet Craig and Rory, your new award-winning gin guys from the fine city of Norwich
It’s not often we get to work with exciting new producers from Norwich, just around the corner from Naked HQ. So when we got an email from a couple of guys called Craig and Rory, who said they’d been making award-winning gins in the fine city since 2019, we thought someone might have been pulling our leg. But after getting to meet them and taste their gins, we realised this was one of those rare instances where it wasn’t just too good, it was also very true.
The two met while working at another popular local distillery and had also worked together at a local Norwich gin bar. In 2019, that gin bar closed, so they decided to strike out on their own by snapping up the site and transforming it into a brand new cocktail bar - called Gyre & Gimble - where they started making their very own gin, distilled on-site, to be served at the bar.
The guys still make all their gins on-site and even though they’ve only been going a few years, they’ve already won big awards from the likes of the IWSC and the World Gin Awards. But they know they can achieve even more. Which is why they were so keen to join up with us. The extra support from Angels and having a local Norwich partnership means less hours on the road for the guys and more time they can focus on making their incredible gins. We’re absolutely chuffed to have them on board too.
Craig Allison & Rory Smith's Story
Craig and Rory's Story
I (Craig) left Essex to do quite a bit of travelling, which I spent years doing. Learnt a lot more about the hospitality trade overseas. Then when I was coming back to the UK, my parents had left Essex and moved up just outside Norfolk. Naturally I needed a roof over my head, so called a favour in with mum. And she said ‘well look, check out Norwich, it’s a cool city’. I had no intentions of settling down here really, my intention was to move back to Australia. But I got a bar job, and that bar job moved me into management, that management moved into the creation of Bullards, and that’s where I met Rory (the distiller) and Dave, the other chap here. We all kind of worked together between those hospitality venues and Bullards. And then Bullards grew, we moved to Crystal House as one big team, and it was a real solid team back then. There was like 12 of us that all stuck together in that growth.
And once upon a time, me, Rory and Dave all worked together in the gin bar that was upstairs. Whilst we were at Bullards that space became available, we weren’t feeling it anymore at Bullards, so we left to kind of set up our own thing. We opened in November 2019, which was a terrible time because covid was just around the corner, but I think businesses… a lot of businesses flourished in the pandemic as long as they were willing to adapt to the change. And that’s what we did. We were able to offer cocktails at home, all of that, we increased our ecommerce capacity, and we did alright, we survived - we came out the other end actually well above water and that was a good place for us. And that’s how we’ve been able to fund a second site in the Royal Arcade, this new still, a growing team, we’ve now got good stronger presence of our brand in London, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, and all that. So although covid was a setback ultimately, I think we did okay.
There was always that feeling of ‘how long can we ride? How long can this keep going on for really?’ I guess everyone was always paddling up stream, in the dark. And then you come out of lockdown and you think the worst of it’s behind you, but then the curfews came in, and we were never running on all cylinders. But we did okay.When we took over the Gin Palace we could have walked in the room, flicked the lights on, and opened as the Gin Palace that weekend if we wanted to. It was a completely different bar though. And I was a little bit late to doing it but we documented it on our Instagram. So the Gin Palace as it was is what we took on, once we took it over and gutted it, Rory and I did most of the renovations really. And it was crazy really.
It took right weeks, maybe closer to ten I think really. (Rory - I came home every night blowing orange grit out of my nose). And we both had really young kids at the time, Rory’s had just been born and mine was about 9 months old. So we were working 15/16 hours a day. We were novices at DIY at best. So we were coming home battered and bruised to a very young family. And both of us at the time also had puppy spaniels! (Rory - I was also moving house, my mum pulled me aside on time and was like ‘are you alright?’ haha).
But we did it all though. And it was a real sense of achievement I think. And in actual fact, looking back at those pictures, the place has evolved significantly really since then. Unintentionally. Just by clocking what works for us, what the customer needs are, and our willingness to re-invest. And it still needs a bit of work in our opinion, it will never be finished.
So yeah, I think so coming through all that was the proudest moment. If we’re referring to a proud moment. Opening the bar. I’m not a hugely anxious person, but I remember being at home on the night we were opening it. And all my friends and family were coming down. And I was anxious, it was really overwhelming. (Rory - Even in the weeks that followed, I couldn’t stay at home. I kept dipping in.)
A customer would walk in, and sit down, and that would be like ‘oh my god, somebody I know’. It was a real proud moment. But yeah, it was tense. I think being not on the ground level, it took us a bit longer to build a bit of a following. To get people through the door and up the stairs. It took us a little bit longer than if we were on the street level. Where people can see what you’re doing. So we had to work a bit harder to build up a bit of a following. And I like to think we’re a bit of a destination for cocktails now. We’re in the process of renovating our second site, down by the Arcade, and we’re like veterans of it now. It hasn’t been anywhere near as stressful.
I think working with a local company like Naked is huge for us. It’s our our biggest deal to date. And the fact that it’s also a business on our doorstep. It’s two local businesses collaborating together to support each other’s brand. It’s not just ours, it’s not just yours, I think it’s a nice collaborative effort. It’s nice to know there is always going to be enough business on our doorstep to keep this business going. I haven’t got to go down to London, I haven’t got to go down to Liverpool or Manchester to look for those big deals. There is more than enough. And especially not being a local lad, there is so much more strength in the independent food and drink scene here, than there is where I’m from.
So yeah, we’re really excited to be on board and have you on board. There’s been a few hurdles recently but it looks like we’ll be absolutely fine. I’m excited to see what it develops into.