There’s no doubt about it—gin is enjoying a massive surge in popularity right now, and with more home grown artisanal gins hitting the market than ever before we're on cloud nine. Five years ago though it was a different story, when brothers-in-law Mark Neal and Daniel McLaughlin sat down and dreamed of making gin cool again.
Scapegrace has been winning awards ever since it first burst onto the scene in 2014, with Scapegrace gold winning best London dry gin in the world at the London International wine and spirits awards in 2018. Recently Scapegrace hit the news after they launched the world’s first naturally black gin and it sold out in a day. All this points to an obsession with gin that’s showing no sign of slowing down.
We caught up with Mark to talk about how they turned their part-time gig into a full-time business.
How did you initially land on the idea of starting your own gin company?
Basically I was in the corporate world working for a larger alcohol company and my brother in law Daniel McLaughlin approached me with the proposition of creating and building a New Zealand gin brand. I was pretty comfortable in what was my previous corporate life, then the idea just kept eating away at me, there was a real opportunity to create something special, in what was a pretty stuffy and traditional category. This forms the back bone and DNA for Scapegrace which by definition translates to rogue, free spirit and libertine. Essentially carving your own path. Outside of the business opportunity, both Daniel and I had a real soft spot for gin. On many occasions the family would have drifted off to bed, and we would be up late sipping negronis scheming how we would take this brand to the world.
What’s the hardest part of getting something like this off the ground while you’re working full time?
Since we launched just over 5 years ago, both myself and Daniel have been full time in the business and we now have a team of 8 ninjas across the key departments. In the pre-launch phase it took 3 years from idea to creation, through to the business validation etc. To be honest it was extremely painful in the pre-launch phase where it would often be one step forward, two steps back throughout the creative process. Shit doesn’t necessarily always go linear, in most cases the opposite, both Daniel and I have bloody high expectations and we wanted to create not only a world class product, but also highly engaging brand. Within the business we give both the product and the brand the same amount of love and attention.
Your brand initially started life as Rogue Society which had to be abandoned. How did you come up with the name Scapegrace?
Basically when we found out an American beer called Rogue had secured an EU trademark a few months prior to us lodging, so we had to come up with another word for Rogue. It was probably one of the most difficult processes to navigate through, with a lot of moving parts. Most evenings for six months we were in the extreme depths of Google, hunting and collecting words. It took us to some real interesting places… Eventually Daniel in the depths one night found the word ‘Scapegrace’, which essentially is the 18th century word for Rogue. When we relaunched as ‘Scapegrace’ we took the opportunity to ensure we communicated the name change as authentically as possible. It is not often you get two chances in life, so since the brand change back in March 2019 the brand has been in dynamic growth and we have built an extremely loyal following domestically and globally where we export to 38 countries. We've never looked back and actually like Scapegrace a lot more than Rogue.
How long had Scapegrace been in operation before you decided it was time to quit your full-time jobs?
Basically once we knew we had a business case we were keen to go out on a limb. We built grunty milestones that we needed to hit, and from the early days, it was as simple as building an aspirational list of bars across the country and knocking them down one by one. Good old fashioned traditional sales. Once I left the corporate world there was still a lot of work to complete on the bottle design, positioning, packaging and brand which we got stuck into. But these were things we knew we would get right and were not so directly linked to personally paying the mortgage or feeding the kids.
Any tips you could give for someone looking to turn their side hustle into a reality?
Don’t cut corners, especially in the pre-launch phase, do your homework build a plan then rip it to pieces. Pick your team wisely, being a startup you need to be nimble by wearing as many hats as possible. The process is never linear so get used to the hustle, get back in that saddle and buckle up.
Anything cool coming up that we should know about?
Truck loads, watch this space!
Image credit: Wono Kim