West Kirby is a small, seaside, village on the Wirral Peninsula sandwiched between Liverpool and Wales and just a stone's throw from the ancient city of Chester.
With such an incredible landscape and gorgeous vistas over the Dee Estuary and beyond (the sunsets are among the best you'll ever observe, trust me), it's a place that I'm incredibly lucky to call home.
West Kirby, and the coastal surrounds of Wirral, has inspired much of what I do at Tappers - from the seaside botanical heritage of our coastal gins, Darkside and Brightside, to an unwavering focus on following an all-natural approach to making spirits using the very best ingredients that nature has to offer.
When I set about creating the recipe for my first gin, back in 2014, the vision and objective was simple: bottle up a little piece of home for everyone else to enjoy. In 2016, Darkside Gin was born and Tappers, the brand and company, emerged.
Darkside Coastal Gin - a little piece of home, bottled for everyone
So, when it comes to sustainability - and how businesses large and small adopt new ways of doing things to minimise the impact they have upon the environment - for us, it's not a check-box exercise or a marketing stunt for some flash in the pan coverage in niche magazines or industry newsletters that never reach the wider public. Our home is our inspiration and at the very core of what we do. Sustainability isn't just a buzz word or part of some corporate marketing plan. For me, it's personal.
In 2016, Tappers became one of the first UK producers to implement a bottle return scheme for trade customers. For every re-usable receptacle, sanitised and put back into circulation with approval from HMRC (who initially struggled with the concept as it was such a novelty), we offered a small rebate applied to the next purchase. In this way, our bottles were reused two or three times before finally reaching end of life and the glass recycling facility. Local customers also benefited from a doorstep recycling scheme - think of us as the ginman, as it were, dropping off a delivery and picking up the empties left for collection.
While refillable pouches hit the headlines many years later to rounds of applause, notwithstanding the aesthetic oddity of drinking alcohol from what looks like an IV bag, I do question whether the environmental cost (energy, materials etc) of producing and circulating something new really does outweigh the practice of simply reusing something that already existed and always will exist - unless, of course, a brand ditches bottles entirely.
Refillable pouches - friend or foe to the environment?
Seven years later, the Scottish Government are implementing their own Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) on a grand scale (my thoughts on that are reserved for another time - like how it will interact with existing Council-provided recycling services).
So, it seems the good news is that everyone has finally identified that there must be a better way of doing things when it comes to packaging. The bad news is that we're not all quite in agreement yet on what the best way actually is.
Bottles aren't the be all and end all when it comes to sustainability and recycling, either. In 2017, when disposing of our spent botanicals one year into production, I thought: this surely can't be the best way of doing things? A little research later led us to start working with a company called ReFood. They operate a facility near to us in Widnes with anaerobic digesters that for six years now have been converting our spent botanicals into green biogas fuel.
ReFood - from gin botanical to green biogas fuel
Of course we're aware that these are small initiatives, taken by a small family business but we were enacting them right at inception. While some in the crowd key in to the marketing opportunities that might come with sustainability tokenism, and others dismiss sustainability entirely in the belief that bottom line is king, I've always taken a more holistic view and considered the bigger picture.
As Tappers grows, the sustainability challenges that we face also grow, but our position on needing and wanting to tackle them remains unchanged.
We moved into a new Distillery in 2022 - with that came significant challenges but also the freedom with which to address them.
For example, we now have the space and capacity on site to enable us to bring in larger quantities of raw materials on dedicated lorries, which in turn reduces the frequency of haulier journeys - something that also greatly assisted, in hindsight, with the supply chain chaos over the past 12-24 months.
Now that we have control over such things in a dedicated space, we've also been able to bring in a green energy supply to power our Distillery.
Without dependency upon landlords, we've contracted carbon neutral waste management to recycle 100% of our output - from glass bottles to packaging and everything in-between.
Freedom to...implement carbon neutral waste management
Despite these efforts, we're nowhere near close to being 'done'. Now that we're settled in to our new space, I'll be exploring options in the year ahead to see, for example, how we can reduce water consumption when producing spirits using Lena, our 500L Holstein Still.
I'm also challenging our trade partners to consider how they work with us. So far, I'm disappointed to report, with limited success. For example, I've asked our wholesale partners to look at consolidating orders so that we dispatch more to them in one consignment (and less frequently), thus reducing the number of haulier journeys and consequently carbon footprint. They remain unconvinced - convenience taking priority - but as ever I will continue to encourage them to consider the bigger picture.
After all, without our beautiful home, and extraordinary coastal landscape, there would be no Tappers.
31st January 2023