Expanding cocktail business brings premium drinks to doorsteps this winter
North East England cocktail master The Swordmaker is tackling COVID-19 losses with its premium delivery service Bottled.Sealed.Delivered.
Problem-solving through the challenges of COVID-19 is all too familiar for independent businesses in the North East, with tier changes hitting hospitality harder than ever. Josh Callon, The Swordmaker’s Founder and Director, has launched a weekly delivery service of freshly made, pre-mixed bottled cocktails to save his business, following a successful trial in the summer.
With the loss of Newcastle’s thriving bar scene keenly felt, Callon’s initiative brings his handcrafted, freshly mixed cocktails to doorsteps around Newcastle and the North East – bringing a little joy through the cold winter months.
Josh explained: “COVID-19 absolutely decimated the diary for 2020 events, which was hugely disruptive, especially given how young the business was when the pandemic hit.
“I knew I needed to come up with a new service in order to survive. Lockdown proved to be the perfect opportunity to trial a bottled cocktail service; an idea that had been in the back of my mind since the beginning of The Swordmaker.
“The idea was to bring high-quality, premium cocktails to the people who were locked in, whilst remaining active and keeping the brand alive through the crisis.”
With a selection of thirteen unique recipes, the delivery service has proven a hit. In the first weekend, The Swordmaker sold out of all bottles and has since, through word-of-mouth, grown a loyal customer base.
Off the back of this success, Josh intends to establish Bottled.Sealed.Delivered as its own brand, offering both pre-made cocktails and home cocktail kits so customers can learn to make The Swordmaker’s unique recipes.
This will operate alongside the company’s private training services and its hand-made mobile bar unit which, in a pre-COVID world, was available to hire for private events, festivals and street parties.
Josh is also well-known for his consultancy services, having designed the cocktail menus at several of Newcastle’s favourite haunts, including the Market Shaker and Pumphreys Blues Café on Newcastle's Bigg Market.
Despite the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, Josh has high hopes for the future, with plans to build several new mobile cocktail bars, grow his team of trained cocktail makers and expand operations nationally. If public events return as expected in the new year, The Swordmaker is forecast to turnover £130,000 by the end of 2021.
Josh continued: “Once we get through this pandemic, I will be looking to train up a roster of around fifteen staff in preparation for the busy summer months next year.
“I’m also aiming to expand the consultancy arm of the business. I regularly work with local bar owner, Tommy Byron, bringing new and interesting cocktails to life in his venues. I can’t wait to start trying out new menu ideas with bars and establishments that will rise from the rubble when the dust of the pandemic has settled.”
Josh embarked on his career in cocktail making at the age of 19 with his first bar job at Slaley Hall in Northumberland. He then moved to ‘The Gin Bar’ at Newcastle’s Crowne Plaza, where he worked throughout his time studying music at Newcastle University.
“I always loved the creativity that you were trusted with when cocktail bartending, it was so much more than just passing a product from a shelf or selling a manufactured item. It was at The Gin Bar where I really started to enjoy myself bartending,” said Josh.
Fresh out of university, Josh moved to New Zealand where he further honed his craft, working in a variety of venues, from café bistros to champagne bars. It was his time working in Auckland where he says he developed his keen eye for detail.
Josh explained: “I spent a lot of my time in Auckland working at a great venue called Pineapple, which was without a doubt the most taxing cocktail bar I’ve worked in. It offered an extensive range of spirits and you were expected to say yes to any cocktail order regardless of whether you knew the recipe or not.”
Returning to Newcastle in 2017, Josh spent a year working with the North East’s leading artisan coffee roastery, Ouseburn Coffee Company, before launching his own company at the age of 25.
The young entrepreneur says he was inspired by the freedom of being a business owner and was attracted to the lifestyles lived by the bar owners he worked for in New Zealand.
“They hosted some of the most influential people in the country in their beautiful venues, serving the best quality food, coffee, cocktails and wine. My ultimate aim is to recreate that here in the North East,” Josh continued.
Josh, originally from the County Durham village of Shotley Bridge, took inspiration from his Derwent Valley roots when launching The Swordmaker.
Once a bustling industry town famed for its steel production and historic sword making, Shotley Bridge now lies quietly by the Derwent River.
In the late 1600s a colony of Germans – the Oleys and Moles - settled in the area and established what would become the heart of Britain's sword-making industry, hence the name of Josh's fledgeling company.
He added: “The German settlers paved the way for steelmaking in the North East and they paved the way for the formation of famous Consett Steel Works of the 19th century.
“Sadly, neither the swordmaking industry nor the steelmaking industry is prominent in the area and I feel passionate about trying to revive the area’s reputation of producing quality craft. The steel industry has moved overseas, but the cocktail industry and hospitality world is certainly still here, prevalent among our daily lives.”