Name: Viv Muir
Company: NB Gin
Location: East Lothian, UK
In eight quick months, Viv Muir has gone from dabbling with test tubes, botanicals and a pressure cooker in her East Lothian-based kitchen to having household names compliment her booming new business: “We have Tom Kitchin’s recipe book in the kitchen and suddenly his restaurant group is giving us great feedback on our product,” laughs Viv, one half of the husband and wife team that makes up NB Gin, a North Berwick headquartered, handcrafted gin specialist.
But with Viv’s colourful history of taking on and accomplishing big challenges it is no great surprise that NB Gin is an overnight success. After studying law in Dundee and Edinburgh, Viv and husband Steve spent a few years in Australia, taking the opportunity to globetrot before the pitter patter of tiny feet. While Steve took on casual work, Viv was intent on practicing law and braved a role in an all-male firm: “It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done; going to a new country with a different legal system and entering a male dominated workforce in a job notorious for tough working-life. I knew everyone took one look at me and thought ‘she won’t last long.”
A year later she had conquered male domination and headed home to the UK for her next challenge. Combining legal experience with a keen interest in business, Viv worked as a business lawyer with the Scottish Qualifications Authority and took on a similar role at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland (ICAS). A further opportunity beckoned and now she manages all commercial activities at ICAS, including events, marketing and training for a global membership of 20,000.
But a career in the legal field, being the first female to soften an entire male workforce and triumphing in a new career – not to mention fitting in school uniforms and pack lunches for her two children – still left Viv wanting more.
“As much as I love my job, when you work for someone else you never quite have the 100 per cent energy and passion that makes you wake up in the morning and want to work 24 hours a day. That’s what Steve and I wanted.”
Something many couples may shy away from, Viv and Steve, also a lawyer, felt their combined business minds offered a wealth of skills. While enjoying a few G&Ts one evening, oblivious to the recent gin comeback, they realised the beverage was an avenue they wanted to investigate further.
“With having the children we haven’t been out a great deal in the last few years,” laughed Viv. “So, when we created the gin we had no idea of the real resurgence of the gin industry. Suddenly there are gin bars and more brands than ever. People don’t just want a G&T; they want to experience different tastes and favours. I think people are moving away from mainstream brands. They want to understand where what they’re drinking has come from and they like to hear a story.”
The NB Gin story is certainly one worth hearing. After the community getting behind the brand at a soft launch in October 2013, business is booming at an incredible rate – more than 5,000 bottles were sold in the first seven months and almost 100 trade customers are on the books. More than 20 Edinburgh outlets have snapped it up and it is being trialled across the country from Aberdeen to London, in the likes of The Kitchin, House of Bruar, Valvona & Crolla, the Montpeliers group of bars and restaurants, and the food halls of Jenners and House of Fraser.
“We weren’t overly ambitious and wanted to start small. Our mission was simply to create a premium gin lover’s gin and we engaged the best people in the world to help us get there. The market took us completely by surprise and, instead of us wondering how to get it to suppliers in the UK and beyond, they were coming to us. People like the fact our gin is produced locally and we’re personally involved in every single step of production.”
Despite enormous family support, the radical success means the team of two – Steve creating the product and Viv the driving force behind the brand – must develop: “We were initially filling every gin bottle from a glass jug but that’s no longer sustainable. An equipment upgrade was a massive, but essential, investment.”
To get their blend just right, there was no compromise of quality, from building the gin still to engaging a truly expert tasting committee and sourcing the best ingredients in the world: “We have a very specific process. If Steve ran the gin still for just one second more, the product would no longer be NB Gin. There’s a huge diversity out there.”
The word is quickly spreading beyond the British Isles, with an export deal in Germany, listings in high quality Danish stores and an invitation to exhibit at a very high-profile gin festival in Madrid, one of the biggest gin drinking nations, in early summer. This event is attended by all the key players in the Spanish gin industry and it’s huge opportunity for Viv, who will be taking along her expert mixologist, dressed in his kilt, to demonstrate NB Gin’s perfect serves.
But Viv and Steve won’t be swapping the courtroom for the distillery just yet: “We’re both happy with our jobs and that’s not going to change anytime soon. We’ll build NB Gin at the same time. We are trying to increase stockists throughout the UK, but carefully. We don’t want to flood any geographic area and we are passionate about giving our stockists a level of exclusivity.”
Viv attributes the quick success very simply to her passion: “I really believe in the product. Without passion you won’t succeed. It keeps you going through the hurdles. I really feel like there are no boundaries and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”