Belfast bar manager turned Jawbox Gin creator Gerry White has revealed his future export plans as his company continues to go from strength to strength.
He launched the brand back in February 2016 - at a location that was very fitting, “We did the launch in the Linen Hall Library as I spent a lot of time there, studying the history of Belfast,” he reveals.
“I wanted to do something different in one of Belfast’s real old buildings. It worked perfectly as the setting reflected the whole branding of the gin and harked back to the days when people rolled up their sleeves and would have just got stuck in.”
Gerry came up with the idea of Jawbox when managing the famous award-winning John Hewitt bar on Donegall Street, “It broke my heart having to leave, I’ve only been gone a year this week!
“I would never have left to work in a different bar, but the next level was to stay in hospitality and do something that was my own.
“The reason ‘why gin’, is because it’s the only spirit I like! I’ve always believed if you’re going to do do something, it needs to be something you have a passion for, and something you really believe in, or you’re not going to do it wholeheartedly.
Jawbox is an old nickname for the Belfast sink, “My grandmother used to tell us everybody used to gather around the Jawbox, everybody was washed in it, the dishes were washed in it, the babies were washed in it, it became the focal point,” says Gerry.
“It was where people used to gather, that’s why I always knew Jawbox was going to be the name,” Gerry explains, “It just resonates so well with Belfast, and the idea behind it still holds true today.
“We do the exact same thing in bars, OK it might be a table, but we gather around to talk. Even now, when you go to someone’s house, everybody stands around the kitchen sink.”
Having been a veteran of the pub trade in Northern Ireland for 30 years, Gerry, 59, decided to fulfil his dreams of launching his own premium gin.
And the local hospitality industry couldn’t have been more supportive.
Gerry explains: “When I started telling people my plans, everybody in the industry got right behind me; bars, restaurants, hotels - I just could not believe the support. It was unbelievable.
“Even to this day, Michael Deane and Niall McKenna from James St South use us in their menus, and most of the bar staff in Belfast use Jawbox to make some really excellent cocktails.
“The support that I got really was overwhelming. Hastings Hotels, Bill Wolsey, Visit Belfast and Tourism NI have been amazingly supportive. There is a great comradery shown by people in the hospitality industry here, and I think Belfast people in general will always be honest with you.
“Support-wise, I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Jawbox with ginger is Gerry’s favourite way to serve Jawbox, “The first ever recorded cocktail was with gin and ginger!
“Ginger ale hadn’t been invented back then, so it was a ginger syrup. And the first ever gin and food pairing was with gingerbread men in 1791. Ginger ale was also invented in Belfast, so it ties in with the story of Jawbox.”
Excitingly, after teaming up with local distributor Drinksology and Echlinville Distillery in Newtownards, things moved fast for Gerry’s venture. “Jawbox got so busy so quickly that I had to leave the John Hewitt. From meeting those guys to the bottle actually being on the shelf, was less than a year.
“They got so behind the project, it was unbelievable. Even though I always believed in my heart that Jawbox would be a success, the speed has been unbelievable.
“We always had the attitude, we’re never going to do things the easy way, we’re going to do it the hard way, the right way, and get the best absolute product we can produce,” Gerry says.
“That was really important, we weren’t doing any cost-cutting. Everything is done top notch. It is worth it in the long run, and I think we have proven that.
“I think all of us believe Jawbox is going to be a global brand. Everybody seems to identify with it.
“It’s a great ambassador for our city, that’s why it was so important to me that it said Belfast on the label. When it appears in bars across the world, you see Belfast sitting clearly on the shelf. I am very, very proud of that! We’re ever-growing locally as well as in the UK and Ireland.
“We’re also exporting throughout Europe and Canada with reach imminently extending to the US, South Africa, South Asia and Australia.”
Jawbox is currently available locally in M&S, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Russell’s and Winemark.