Boss of Bullards gin declares: ‘I never plan to be bored again’
- Credit: Archant
He retired and got bored – but now he's chairman of the board. Meet Russell Evans, MD of Bullards, the man spearheading the rebirth of a brand already producing 2,000 bottles of gin a week in the heart of Norwich
Russell Evans was always ambitious, determined to get out of the tiny Welsh village he grew up in and succeed in life.
Now, aged 57, he's come out of semi-retirement to head up a new gin-making business under one of the most famous local brands which dates back to 1837, Bullards.
He's heading up a new distillery in the city centre where 2,000 bottles of gin are currently being produced a week but with huge expansion plans to quadruple this and increase the current turnover of £2m in the next year to £10m.
"I left university where I did a business studies degree and started work for Norwich Brewery and in fact worked on Bullards back in 1985," he said.
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Russell worked for Grand Metropolitan brewery which sent him to work in Norwich and he never looked back.
"I became brand manager for firms like Budweiser, Fosters and Carlsberg and then started my own advertising agency before giving up work about six or seven years ago. But I just kept thinking of the Bullards brand and re-registered it and in 2015 bought the rights but we didn't start making Bullards gin until 2016."
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Russell and his team including wife Clare hit upon an award-winning recipe for London Dry gin, which won the 'Best London Dry gin in the world 2017,' and then other flavours followed including Old Tom which includes mango and Norfolk honey and the strawberry and black pepper, recently used in collaboration with local ice-cream-makers Parravani's to make a new sorbet.
History has been key with Russell devising the 'Spirit of Norwich' trademark.
"The 'Spirit of Norwich' is all about harking back to the history but also about Norwich and everything that's good about this city. I came here not knowing anyone and just loved the place," said Russell. With demand for gin increasing, the next step was to create a new, larger distillery which has been set up over the past couple of years at Crystal House on Cattle Market Street after they out-grew the original distillery at the Ten Bells on St Benedicts' Street.
Meanwhile, he's also driving forward the distribution of the gin, getting it into even more outlets. Bullards is currently the official gin partner for Norwich City Football Club and distributed nationally with Majestic and regionally with the East of England Co-op and the gin is already in some of the most prestigious venues in the UK including Harrods and Selfridges as well as local store, Jarrold.
But it is not all plain sailing. He has been locked in legal proceedings with former director of Norwich Craft Beer Company Patrick Fisher over the rights to use the Bullards beer name. "Given we are no longer making beer using the Bullards brand, there doesn't seem a lot to argue about," said Russell.
Meanwhile, he is determined to get the gin sold abroad - and has just completed his first deal to distribute in Holland. "That really makes me happy because gin was invented in Holland, it's nice to be able to sell our gin brand to the country that started it all."
The son of a contract furnisher who created the interiors for the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain, Russell has been fascinated with history since he was a boy and has utilised this love to create the Bullards brand. The attention to detail is plain to see - the gin bottles are inspired from old Bullards beer bottles with the shape reflecting the famous Bullards chimney stack that towered over Norwich for more than 100 years. The logo is a 'tipsy anchor' taken from the original Anchor Brewery brand in 1837. Each bottle has to be made with the coloured glass from Venice and finished in Poland.
However, the biggest accolade for Russell has been the recent appointment of John Bullard, a descendant of the original brewery founder, as a director. "That has been the best endorsement I could have," he said. Russell, who lives in Spooner Row, near Wymondham, with his wife and their two sons, Joe and Max, is a man that when he sets his mind on an achievement, sees it through to the end. After he 'retired' he went from smoking 40 cigarettes a day to running his first marathon, aged 52. "I spent four-five years watching my kids play rugby at school then got to a point where they didn't need me, I got bored, I kept thinking about the Bullards brand," said Russell.
This is a man with big plans. He owns other well-known local brands he's hoping to relaunch soon, including the famous local manufacturer Boulton & Paul.
"I never plan to be bored again."