Niels Blij: the flight of the Flamingo
Words by Niels Blij & Timo Janse
We talk to Niels Blij, the man behind the striking brand Sir Edmond Gin. Along the way we learn his inspiration, his journey and what YOU need if you ever have the desire to launch your own spirits brand.
Name: Niels Blij
Date of birth: June 8th, 1983
Born & Raised: The Netherlands
Living in: Amsterdam
Profession: Owner & Founder Sir Edmond Gin
You created a brand from scratch, what was your “a-hah” moment when you knew what to create?
"I worked for a big global Gin brand before and I always had the feeling everything in the category pretty much all tasted the same. When consumers or bartenders mix gin with tonic and add a garnish, the characteristics of most gins disappear into the background.
I always wanted to create my own brand and it had to be something unique. A flavor that will stand out from the rest and is so refined people will always recognize the taste or smell even while they didn't see the bottle or know what kind of gin the host served them.
I feel that with Sir Edmond Gin they will always have that; "Hey this is Sir Edmond" moment. A gin that offers a new dimension to the gin & tonic and a tool for bartenders to give new dimensions to classic cocktails or enable them to create new classics themselves.
The ball started rolling when I had a vanilla pod in my gin & tonic. I was so surprised by the effect of the vanilla, so I quickly started experimenting with this historic and intense flavor.
Distilling vanilla is a real challenge and that’s besides the fact that after saffron vanilla is the most expensive botanical out there, so the process to develop the liquid took over a year. It was intense to say the least, but the end result is in my opinion even better than envisioned. "
Your brand has quite the distinction, how do you know what you come up with is right and when is it time to leave an idea behind?
"We gathered a lot of feedback from the bartending scene, sommeliers from Michelin star restaurants and the consumer market itself to investigate proof of concept.
We even got feedback from cocktail bars like Door 74, The American Bar at the Savoy and other renowned bars. When we launched the brand, we also took part in several blind tasting competitions like The Spirits Business Awards, where we won their highest award, The Master Medal.
To me a concept is only valid when there is agreement from experts in the market. In my opinion, you must always stay open for criticism. Everyone is always convinced about their own idea, but for me it makes sense that you only launch a product that is supported by the market from the start. When there is no “wow-factor” from key figures in your market, you should go back to the drawing board. "
Are there any activations or ideas that are still on your wish list or things you wanted to do but couldn’t?
"Innovation is key and our first additional SKU's are on their way. At the start of this year, we will launch a Navy Strength and a barrel aged Sir Edmond in spring next year. With the high vanilla notes this works so well as an aged gin, this one you will want to drink neat.
Also on my personal wishlist is creating a Sir Edmond perfume so you can smell like booze all day! Haha! I seriously feel the botanicals in Sir Edmond will work as a perfume and its never been done before by another gin brand or any other spirit."
They say the hardest thing for a creative person is to stop creating: was there any time you wanted to call it quits? To pursue other things? What made you persevere?
"The spirits business is the most fun and amazing business out there, but I’m generally competing against huge corporations like Diageo or Campari who have budgets the size of the yearly GDP of a small country. So financially owning a spirits brand is draining and you need a lot of endurance and persistence for trying to keep up to date and with the speed of the big brands.
Especially if you have global aspirations. I don’t have a normal income for years now, but I will never quit my dream. Sir Edmond is my baby and like any other parent I will give it everything it needs from my capabilities. "
Looking at the future, how do you see the past, the present and the future of the gin market?
"I feel gin is booming and it will remain so
-Sorry for everyone who want to see that differently-.
In the mixology everyone is always looking for the next hot thing but from a consumer perspective gin is more fun than any other spirit. In my opinion this is the case because gin is a very open category with the possibility to play with many botanicals and flavors.
Besides the gin, the consumer can also play with different flavors of tonic and garnishes where other spirits are much more straightforward and don’t offer such big margins to alter in its flavor. "
If I wanted to launch my own gin brand what would you tell me?
"To bring a lot of money, persistence and a totally new concept to the table or invest your money in a other business. Gin is happening and that will remain so, but that also makes it a very competitive market.
Additionally, I advise to gather a team of people around you who all bring something unique to the table. I’m grateful for the team I work with every day, who are also fundamental on this incredible journey. A successful company can only exist if there is a solid team at its core."