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That's the spirit!

Conker Spirit is the producer of Dorset’s very first home grown dry gin, which has just won a Gold in The Taste of the West Awards programme. We talk to the distillery's founder Rupert Holloway

Rupert Holloway Conker Spirit

Conker Spirit is the brainchild and labour of love of founder Rupert Holloway, who forages in the New Forest and over at Poole Harbour for gorse flowers, Dorset elderberries and marsh samphire that comprise just some of the 10 botanicals that make Conker gin. Each bottle of Conker Spirit’s Dorset Dry gin, produced in small batches of 60, are hand signed straight from the copper stills.

Nestled in the sandy backstreets of Bournemouth, Conker Spirit is authentic to Dorset, not only in terms of some of the botanicals and use of New Forest spring water, but even the fonts are taken from local signage found at train stations and public places. 

Rupert, who up until around a year ago you would have found donning a hard hat and hi-vis jacket, was a chartered surveyor in his previous career. But after realising his career hadn’t evoked a smile out of him for as long as he dared to remember, he decided it was time for a drastic change. At age 28, Rupert went through from being dissatisfied with a well-paid and safe career, to putting it all on the line to make an ambitious idea a reality. He wanted to work for himself and build a business that inspired him. After throwing out some ludicrous business ideas, the gin-soaked light bulb moment finally landed and so the journey to launch Dorset’s first gin distillery began.

“If you think about it, the only thing stopping you from starting something new is fear. We place such an incredible amount of importance on other people’s perception of ourselves that we all too often take the safe road. I did this for years: pouring everything into getting qualified and climbing the career ladder in the way I thought I should.”

Some see the prospect of starting and running your own business an overwhelming mix of terrifying uncertainty and overwhelming pressure to succeed. Rupert went into it with a different outlook; he knew that there would be very little separation between work and life, which he saw as a blessing. Instead of spending the day working for someone else, every single decision he makes is all about the life he’s building for him and his family. As a result, nothing is now meaningless or mundane for Rupert – Conker is now his livelihood and indeed his lifeblood.

When Rupert first thought about launching Dorset’s first gin distillery, he didn’t have any money or any savings. He ploughed on regardless, repeating the mantra, “there’s always money for good ideas”, whether it be loans, grants or having to give up a part of his company to some dragon somewhere. Luckily, where he lacked in money he made up for with opportunity; he had no mortgage and an incredibly supportive girlfriend – “We’ll give it two years’’ they said. Rupert’s eternal optimism and unwavering hard work paid off and in early 2014 Conker had grown to the point where Rupert’s day job was holding it back and he went feet-first into his new business venture. He had people to meet, botanicals to forage, and a gin recipe to perfect.

“Of course we need money to prosper in the modern world, but I’ve learnt the hard way that working for the pay cheque is incredibly unfulfilling. Today I work longer hours and countless weekends, and I have never been poorer… but I’ve also never felt so content.”

The result of Rupert’s obsessive focus on quality and endless tinkering has rewarded him with a successful start-up business as well as an award-winning gin.

Conker Spirit Dorset Dry Gin, RRP £35.95 (70cl) and available to buy at and Fortnum and Mason 

8 August 2016