Braden Saunders, who established the south London distillery in 2016 with wife Katherine, said rising energy costs had “massively impacted business”. On top of the gas and electricity used to power on-site equipment, the team were having to shoulder costs of manufacturers’ upping their own prices to cope.
Saunders had seen an “unheard of” 20% to 30% increase in the costs of goods that he put down to energy prices. The problem was worsened as the producer was selling to venues which were selling to consumers who were looking to ‘penny pinch’ and avoid price rises due to the cost-of-living crisis.
“It’s an opportunity for everyone to have a look at what they’re doing and try and do things more efficiently,” added Saunders. Despite this, the distillery was continuing to absorb costs to build a respectable and recognisable brand, as London’s only full turn-key distillery that makes a base spirit using English wheat.
What’s more, while the independent grain distillery had few casual staff, Saunders said the recruitment crisis was also hurting them indirectly, as it meant operators had less time to spend looking at new products.
“If I go out to talk to a customer about our spirits, the reaction you’ve been getting in the last six to 12 months has been, ‘I’m too busy operating. I don’t have enough staff for Saturday, let alone [time] to talk to you about putting a different vodka on the back bar,” said Saunders.
The cost-of-living crisis also had a knock-on effect for the business. Tightening budgets meant consumers were drinking less, so the distillery was selling less to the hospitality sector.
Saunders also wanted the broader hospitality sector to understand the export sales pressure UK distilleries were under from Brexit.
“We’ve got less sales coming from Europe, so the UK becomes an even more precious market for producers here,” he said, and hoped operators would start buying local alcohol rather than importing from other countries, as the home market had become “critical”.
Despite this, sales were “flying” at the distillery since Easter, which had tripled its vodka production after a “terrible” first quarter. Saunders partly believed this was due to consumers welcoming the distillery’s sustainable method of making vodka, having learnt more about alcohol in lockdown.
What’s more, he also thought customers took to the narrative behind the brand, with each spirit inspired by a different music genre – reflecting the personalities of Braden and Katherine who first met at a Foo Fighters concert in 2006.
“People are more discerning [since Covid],” said Saunders, “they’re seeking out stories.” Authenticity helped distinguish the brand from those with no legitimate backstory, he added.
Saunders said the Doghouse team could not be more excited summer was here. He said: “The bars of London, when it’s in full swing, are pretty hard to match globally, so, we’re seeing great sales through May and we’re seeing them push even harder in June.
“Our goal is to be London’s premier distillery. The future is very, very bright.”