On lockdown: William Lowe, master distiller

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

01 June 2020

We caught up (virtually) with Cambridge Distillery master distiller William Lowe, to talk online onboarding, studying to become a master of wine, and RTD Negronis

Lockdown and social distancing restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic has had a severe effect on the work of most hospitality and drinks industry professionals.

To understand how they're coping with the challenge we've launched a brand new series of interviews. For the eleventh in this series, we had a chat with Cambridge Distillery master distiller, William Lowe.

First of all, has the distillery been in operation throughout lockdown?

Yes, very much so. We’re fortunate to have a good amount of space at the distillery which means that we have been able to adapt our way and rate of working.

How have the pandemic and social distancing measures affected your business?

Our Gin Lab for example, which is in the centre of Cambridge, was closed straightaway and without hesitation. It was something we knew we had to do for the safety of our team and of the general public.

We do lots of work with the on-trade, and this changed dramatically at the end of March. We’ve been working very closely with our network though, particularly those who have pivoted their businesses so we can support them. Collaborations have never been so important.

We’ve seen a huge shift in online ordering – through our own website, but also through the network of third parties that we’re listed with.

How have you adapted to the current, unusual circumstances?

Although the business has grown significantly since we first launched (we’re no longer making gin in our living room!), we remain a family business. My wife Lucy and I share the directorship of the business, as well as having a young daughter. We’ve had to adopt a shift approach to work so that one of us can be at home and one in the distillery. We’re very fortunate to live close by, which has helped enormously and means we haven’t had to factor travelling or commuting into our day. Adjusting to a new way of working, which is thoroughly planned, has been the main challenge though.

What is the drinks industry going to look like post-pandemic?

Different! I’m feeling broadly optimistic about it, though. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I think we will all find lots of new ways to engage with products using innovation and imagination. I think that making the most of these ideas will allow for the short term losses to be offset by longer term gains.

What have you been doing during your lockdown and what are your plans over the coming weeks?

I’ve been working hard on my master of wine dissertation and on my studies, as I’m hoping to become the world’s first joint Master Distiller + Master of Wine.

We’ve also been working as normally as we possibly can and have made great strides in our research and development efforts. We're currently working hard on bringing some exciting products to market in the next couple of months.

With some new kit set up in the distillery, I’ve also been able to conduct online tastings and tours of the distillery.

Also, we’ve welcomed some new team members into key new roles in the last couple of months, and for the first time, we’ve had to conduct all of their training and onboarding via video calls, sending samples out and online tastings. Obviously, it’s a challenging time for them to be starting new roles, but they’ve hit the ground running and we’ve made some fantastic progress already.

What do you miss the most from your ‘normal’ life?

Spontaneity! And going swimming with my family.

What drinks have been getting you through lockdown?

Negronis have always been a favourite of mine and we’ve just released a limited edition RTD bottle of Negroni using our Cambridge Dry gin – it’s fantastic.

Our new gin in prototype has kept me really occupied – we’re now at the final round of tasting, which is really exciting.

Lastly, Champagne. As the saying goes from Churchill, I think… 'In victory you deserve it, and in defeat you need it.'

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