Jack interviews Peter Eaton, the fine fellow behind the ‘white dog spirit’ Bootlegger, which is probably quite unlike anything you’ve ever drunk before (unless you have particularly unusual tastes in home brewing)…
The recipe and branding for Bootlegger harks back to Prohibition Era USA which (if you remember your history lessons) was a time that, despite the ban on alcohol, getting smashed with your friends as a recreational activity thrived. These were the days that people would gather for secret (yet highly social) drinking in places called ‘Speakeasies’ – i.e places where you could ‘speak easy’. Much money was also to be made in ‘Bootlegging’ – the practice of making and selling your own booze – hence the spirit’s name; Bootlegger…
So, we threw some silly questions at Peter (as we always do) and he gave just as good as he got…
Role: International Business Manager
Could you tell us the story about the founding of Bootlegger, and how you got from start to where you are today? How do you refine and perfect your recipe?
The concept behind Bootlegger was born whilst I was working as a Brand Developer in the niche, top-end bars in London. I literally walked around the whole of the City from bar to bar, ensuring I made a point of asking every bar owner I came across, ‘what new style of drink would you like the see?’ – you wouldn’t believe how many of them replied with either a ‘white-whiskey’ or ‘white-dog spirit’.
I had already developed had a penchant for 1920’s history and the sophisticated fashion that epitomises the era… and so when I got my break with Halewood International and I became their ‘Innovation and Development Manager’ I grasped the opportunity to develop a brand and a liquid that was reminiscent of 1920’s Prohibition America – and so Bootlegger was born.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the spirit business? Is it as fun as it sounds?
I honestly couldn’t work in any other industry. I absolutely love my job and the projects I get to work on and the biggest buzz of all is when you see someone enjoying a brand that you’ve created.
My role enables me to work on the entirety of the brand development process; from initial concept, to design, to liquid development, right through to developing the launch plan. So ‘Yes’ I’m very lucky and the spirit business is as fun as it sounds. Although getting a brand from initial concept to the consumers hand is certainly no easy feat!
Where’d the idea come from originally? the Prohibition era branding is a great concept. Did you have to do much research into the era, or into distilling techniques from the time?
As I mentioned the initial idea and the assurance I needed, came from numerous bar owners that declared that if such a brand existed in the UK market, they would not hesitate to stock it, however, there was one particular, quirky and eccentric individual that I worked with down in London, who helped me to nail down the exact specifications for the product and the detail that would need to be included across all the branding platforms – he shall however remain anonymous – ‘my Bootlegging Brother’.
I did an enormous amount of detailed research in to the 1920’s Prohibition era – I bought history books, looked at old recipes and taste profiles and studied specific individuals of the period in order to ensure that I captured every necessary detail when developing the brand. This was not a chore though… I loved learning even more about my favourite snippet of modern history.
When it came to the distilling techniques of the time, I was fortuitous enough to have an incredible liquid development team behind me, who between them have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to historical methods of distillation. We did of course do our research in to the processes used during the era and looked to take inspiration from a number of different sources.
We’d love to know how it all works. Could you give us an outline of the distilling process from start to finish?
We buy the finest quality grains which are mashed and fermented. This product then undergoes multiple distillations to ensure the smoothness and clarity expected of Bootlegger. The product is then styled giving it the true character of a prohibition spirit.
What exactly is ‘white grain’?
Grain spirits are essentially a form of neutral spirit that is distilled from fermented grain mash – ‘white’ is the significant word however! The majority of grain spirits are stored in oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years and are often then referred to as ‘Whiskeys’, taking their flavour and brown colour from the wood they are in contact with. The word ‘white’ indicates that the liquid is un-aged and most significantly, colourless. In essence all of the flavours that you taste come from the high-quality, raw grain that is distilled – you therefore have to be extremely particular about the grain that is chosen for your product.
It’s recommended that people enjoy it neat, right? Could you share some personal recommendations on other ways to enjoy Bootlegger?
When I was developing the Bootlegger liquid, I wanted to ensure that the product could first and foremost be enjoyed neat and I would certainly say this is my favourite way of drinking it – however my other stipulation was that it must be an extremely versatile liquid that can be utilised in a number of different cocktail recipes. My two favourite cocktail recipes though are ‘The Capone’ and ‘The Spiced Fig Bootlegger Sour’.
‘The Capone’ Recipe:
1½ ounces of Bootlegger
½ ounce Grand Marnier
½ ounce sugar syrup
2 dash of Bitters
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
Splash of Champagne
Place Bootlegger, Grand Marnier, bitters, lemon juice and sugar syrup into cocktail shaker
Vigorously shake the mixture to combine and then strain into a glass
Add the Champagne to float and then garnish the drink with a raspberry
‘The Spiced Fig Bootlegger Sour’ Recipe:
1 egg white
2 spoonfuls of fig jam
25ml lemon juice
Dash of sugar syrup
Shake all ingredients together vigorously to break up the fig jam
Pour into a glass with no ice
Dust with cinnamon and serve
As I understand it, unaged whiskey and spirits can often have a real harshness to them, was that a consideration when coming up with your formula for Bootlegger?
Well I can certainly confirm that most unaged Whiskeys or ‘White Dogs’ are extremely harsh and not exactly enjoyable to sip neat – unfortunately I know this as during the liquid development stage of the project I must have tried everything our world has to offer with regards to unaged whiskeys. Safe to say my taste buds were ruined for a few weeks!
The reason for Bootlegger being so smooth and incredibly palatable is down to the fact we trialed hundreds of different grain combinations and carefully selected the two specific grains that created the smooth taste you experience when sipping the brand. Don’t get me wrong, it still packs a fair punch when sipped neat – but it’s certainly not as harsh as some of the others on the market.
Personally, what are your most favourite and least favourite alcoholic drinks?
I have quite a few favourites depending on the mood I’m in. Crafted ‘hoppy’ beers are an absolute winner. The drink of my family, which I have been brought up to love, is Whiskey and Ginger Ale. My favourite cocktail would have to be a really well made Bloody Mary!
My least favourite drink would probably be an Apple Cider – I won’t tell you what I think it tastes like! Sambuca can go and jump off a bridge too – that ones the big ‘no no’ for me.
And what do you enjoy most and least about what you do working with Bootlegger?
The two things I enjoy most about working with Bootlegger are when I see the brand on the shelf behind a bar and I hear someone asking about it – and the second thing would have to be the style and the clothes I get to wear when working at one of the events we sponsor.
My least favourite would probably have to be the amount I have to drink! I love my sports and when I have to run with a belly full of booze from the night before, it really doesn’t help go any faster!
If you could invent a completely new use for Bootlegger, what would it be? (and it doesn’t have to conform to reality)
I think it would be the fuel for my 1920’s mobster car – give it a real good kick when you put your foot down! Ps ‘don’t drink and drive!
What’s your distillery’s philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
‘Let’s give the consumer something that they’re not expecting’
What was the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome and what did you learn from it?
The biggest challenge I think I’ve had to face is the fact that everyone is different and not everyone thinks that your brand is as good as you think it is! This is just a simple fact of life – I do of course always tell them that they are wrong though!
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise. Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
John Halewood, the late founder of Halewood International and also my uncle, would have to be the person who I’ve been most inspired by in the drinks business. He created Halewood International by making his own Sherry in his garage and incredibly built it up in to the global company that it is today. He is someone I’ve tried to model my working life on, he was extremely creative and was always looking at launching something different and new. I hope he’d be proud of what Bootlegger has done so far and hopefully what it will do in the future.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
I imagine if I hadn’t gone in to the drinks industry I’d most likely be doing something in the world of sports. Perhaps something like Player Management where I could work with someone and see their career develop. I think that would give me the same kind of buzz!
What’s the weirdest cocktail you’ve ever had?
Ha ha ha… well I think it would have to be during a house party when we ran out of drinks mixer. My flatmate managed to find a bag of Satsumas and some Cinnamon powder! So with the Gin we had left we put it all in a blender and ‘The GinSuma’ was born…. Incredibly they were actually very nice!
What does the great British public need to know about Bootlegger and ‘prohibition style’ spirits? What one thing would you tell them, if you had a megaphone and the entire country’s ear?
If you’re after something new, something stylish and something with character then you need to get sippin’ and experimenting with Bootlegger White Grain Spirit.
What advice would you give to aspiring food and drinks entrepreneurs and distillers who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
More than anything just enjoy doing it… and don’t be scared of trying something different and completely off-the-wall as they are often the best ideas and make the best brands.
What next for you and Bootlegger? The future looks bright and shiny…!
Well I’m currently working in South Africa launching new concepts and developing existing brands. I think I’m here for a few years and then I’m likely to be moving to Beijing to replicate the work out there. So lots of travelling and exciting projects to work on. Hopefully some of my ideas will work and you’ll be asking to speak to me again!!!
With regards to Bootlegger, the aim is to now make consumers aware of the brand and educate them on what Bootlegger White Grain Spirit is.
And we always ask two customary ridiculous questions…
If you were forced to hire any character out of Star Wars to come and work at Bootlegger and head up the marketing department, who’d you go for and why?
I’m not a massive Star Wars buff but I would have to say Jabba The Hutt… it looked like he knew how to throw a good party and although he was pretty ugly he had good taste in décor… quite Moroccan in a way!
Same again, but now you get your pick of all the members of the Justice League, and you’re looking for someone to work in quality control…
This one’s easy…. Aquaman! I’d make him swim around in the distillation tanks before we bottled to ensure that the product was tip top before we ship it out.