The Maker, The Rascal – Dan Walsh
Ex teacher, turned booze enthusiast, formerly of Tinker Gin, flies solo. March 2019 saw the bottling of the first first small batch, having smashed in all the credit credit cards to make it happen. Fuelled by passion and sincerity (and gin).
The Full Rascal
Based in south Liverpool, I was a music teacher in a college, and in a band called Random Hand, based in Keighley, West Yorkshire. While in Keighley with the band, one weekend I worked on a bar at Leeds Corn Exchange, for an up and coming event company, Gin Festival. I’d never worked a bar before, but it was an awakening to see how many gins existed, at least 50 on the bars. Before then I knew about 3. My booze background was more wine / whiskey. I was lucky enough to have spent a lot of time in the south of France when I was younger tasting lots of wine and getting in to flavour, but I had no idea gin could be as complex, nor did I realise that the gin world was set for world domination!
As Gin, and Gin Festival’s popularity grew at an exponential rate I worked loads more events running the bars with some great Scouse beards / frustrated teachers, and it was there we honed our gin knowledge. Around this time, the college we worked for essentially offered us the wonderful opportunity of continuing to have all the responsibility of our full-time course leader roles, but with a third less contact time and a third less pay. Despite this very ‘interesting’ situation, I suppose the silver lining was that it made us available to commit to Gin Festival and eventually carve escape routes from teaching.
The gin world gradually became my main thing rather on the side. I remember helping out on the Sir Robin of Locksley brand table at a couple of events, which ended up being a very significant moment in the journey. Due to this I got scouted to join the Tinker Gin project, and made good friends with the wonderful Locksley guys.
The Tinker Gin
This was a project initiated by the owners of Gin Festival, with a few other staff members also involved. It was a really interesting thing to be a part of and undoubtedly laid the groundwork for me do eventually do Rascal. Particularly working with the graphic designer and the photographer – a pair of top bananas I’m incredibly lucky to have helping me with Rascal.
Tinker was flying wherever we went, which lead to me going full-time on the gin and leaving teaching! I felt elated and privileged to have escaped, so I got madly committed to Tinker / Gin Festival. Unfortunately, moments after I jumped ship, I soon became aware that the owners had employed an ‘accountant’ guy to ‘run’ the business (salary £100k, not full-time). Let’s say his name was Carl Flopkins. He then brought in his mate, a ‘hot-shot’ digital marketing guy that by chance was out of work at the time (salary £75k). Let’s say his name was Phil Mypockets. Their popularity within the team was about on par with two floppy cocks on a porn set (I imagine).
Surprisingly, getting them in didn’t turn out to be a great shout… And a year later Gin Festival Ltd folded, including Tinker Gin.
From Redundant to Rascal
At a loss to say the least, shitting my pants, with a massive mortgage on my head and no income… I started to explore the idea of doing a gin myself, without all the greedy, sneaky bastards spoiling it. I remember receiving a call from Carl Flopkins asking if I could sell his ‘theatrical’ themed range of gins. I try not judge others and be more concerned with what I’m doing, but it did sound pretty wank. I did think it funny that despite the collapse of GinFest supposedly hitting everyone hard, he was able to launch a 6 gin portfolio immediately after… I found irony in the theatrical avenue he’d chosen for the brand. I politely declined the offer and got back to planning my thing.
‘I was trying to create something as authentic, quality, fun, honest and unpretentious as possible’
The name Rascal popped in to my head and felt right – a bit cheeky and fun like Tinker was I suppose. Flavour-wise I took inspiration from various cocktails where citrus and tropical flavours proved a pleasing combo – so I was going for a tropical gin. I then got in touch with the bottling plant Tinker used to see how feasible it was for me to make it happen. My first recipe that almost became the Original Rascal was actually passion fruit and gooseberry, but the logistics of that one looked a bit sketchy so I carried on experimenting then came across one that I thought had enough wow factor to justify entering a market already stacked with great gin.
Regarding the bottle – I was very keen to have a matte coated bottle with a screen-printed label, partly for aesthetic but also for the feel of it. I soon found out that this was an expensive process, and not very feasible for small quantities. I was very lucky to find an established local company that would accommodate my small numbers. I vividly remember the point I got the decorated bottle through, the whole thing started to feel real and not just a pipe dream.
So Christmas 2018, I had a brand in theory, I had a tasty gin, I had a cool bottle… However, I’d also been effectively unemployed for about 6 months since the redundancy so my bank balance was approximately £0, at best. Just before maxing out a £15k credit card to go for it, I remember asking my dad something like ‘Is this a totally fucking mad idea?’
Batch 1 Bottling
At the bottling plant, bottling batch one – mega excited and terrified in equal parts. It looked like everything had turned out great!
Unfortunately, I later found that there was an issue in transit that damaged many of the bottles, I was pretty gutted and very anxious. Then the night before taking Rascal out for the first time (Northampton Gin & Rum Festival) there were some serious winds, I opened the storage unit on the morning of the event only to find stacks had blown over and smashed bottles on the floor. I literally wanted the earth to swallow me up.
It was an overwhelming relief when Rascal got such an amazing reception in Northampton. I massively appreciated the support and friendship of the Gin&Rum Festival team as I tried to get Rascal off the ground.
Lockdown #1 hits March 2020.
After an unbelievably amazing response in the first year of Rascal, this was a very unexpected challenge. I’d been working on a second expression for a while, but this gave me a kick up the arse to get it sorted – sink or swim! Lockdown had obviously impacted many businesses badly, so the supply chain was impaired and it took much longer to get Blood + Passion bottled. Finally bottled in June 2020.
Mayday mayday…. Rascal to Locksley… Do you copy?
Another consequence of lockdown was that the bottling plant had changed their business model and discarded all of their small independent customers to focus on the big guns, Whitley Neill etc… So I’d been desperately looking for Rascal’s new home. Can’t explain how unnerving this was, along with COVID, then my old mates at Locksley Distilling said they might be able to help me out!
The distiller John Cherry (coincidentally sharing the same initials as Jesus Christ) totally saved the day, deciphering my recipes and showing me how to work it all out at their distillery. The saviour, JC. The Locksley guys treated me like family and helped me loads developing Rascal #3 – Pepper Berry.
I suppose many people were popping out babies during the lockdown(s), I may not have done that but I did pop out a couple of gins…