Big Grin Distillery: The Cotswold gin company based in Burford

Ben Mills and Archie Ley

Ben Mills and Archie Ley - Credit: ©2020Sophie Carson

What do two young Cotswold entrepreneurs do when a pandemic hits? They set about accentuating the positive with their own distillery, that's what

Launched at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Burford-based Big Grin Distillery has certainly brought an ear-to-ear smile to the faces of Cotswold gin and vodka drinkers.

Created by former school friends Archie Ley and Ben Mills, the distillery was set up over the summer at Upton Downs Farm, which is also the home of Upton Smokery run by Ben’s family.

At the time, Archie had been working for a digital marketing agency in London and Ben had just finished at Exeter University. The new spirits business came about when the two entrepreneurial 23-year-olds returned to the Cotswolds to be closer to their families during lockdown.

Archie says: ‘When the pandemic hit, it made us want to be more local and family-based. The lockdowns and economic meltdown has forced many young people to become more entrepreneurial, and we saw a lot of friends setting up their own ventures. 

‘Some friends started selling masks, others sold their own artwork and one even illustrated her own book of cartoons. 

‘With our Big Grin Distillery, we wanted to be an antidote to what was going on around us. The name reflects the optimism and energy at the heart of everything we do. It also rhymes with gin, which is a bonus.’

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With their distinctive modern labels, the bottles of gin and vodka are aimed at a new wave of spirit drinkers.

‘We wanted it to be fun. Lots of other craft gins and vodkas take themselves too seriously and rattle on about botanicals with flowery labels. We’re here as an antithesis to that.

‘We wanted an edgy dynamic to our brand so we found a designer with previous experience in the music business producing album covers and band logos.

‘To reflect this, our bottle labels have a scannable QR code which takes you to our mixes page - both cocktail mixes and music mixes. 

‘We want to support young up-and-coming artists by showcasing them on our website - every month we have a new mix created by bands, DJs and musicians. Our first mix is produced by a band called Palifico Honey, which was set up by an old school friend.’

The Big Grin Distillery range

The Big Grin Distillery range - Credit: ©2020Sophie Carson

The drinks are as arresting as the labels. The house blend gin has more pep than a standard London Dry gin and there are hints of pink peppercorns and lavender alongside the citrus edges. The vodka, made from 100% wheat grain, has an unusually creamy smoothness due to it being distilled five times.

As well as via their website, the drinks are sold from a bottle shop at the distillery where there’s also a tasting bar so visitors can try before they buy.

Big Grin is still very much a hands-on operation with the 300-litre still capable of producing small run batches of 100 bottles, each one numbered separately, but Archie and Ben are not short on ambition.

‘We want to expand our range in the future and we will be developing a canned alcoholic beverage - a hard seltzer - using our gin or vodka, as well as producing liqueurs. 

‘We also have plans to dig a bore hole to source our own spring water and we have planted seven acres of orchard on the farm so we can eventually use our own fruits in flavoured spirits.

‘We wanted to set up a craft distillery brand that was fun and entertaining. In the current climate, many brands are striving to bring a smile to people’s faces, and this has certainly influenced the Big Grin ethos.’

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