Tipsy Wight is described as “the English countryside in a bottle”. Tom Stroud meets the husband and wife team behind the Island’s quirky vodka brand
With a wide range of flavour combinations, unique and intelligent branding and distinctive sloping bottles, Tipsy Wight is one of the Isle of Wight’s most compelling products. The company has been steadily growing for the last five years, with a range of vodka liqueurs that will soon offer 20 varieties, including unusual flavours such as crabapple, quince and rhubarb and vanilla.
“We wanted to make sure that Tipsy Wight is fun and I think that this message comes across to our buyers,” director Michael Green says. “At the end of the day, you don’t have to buy vodka. It is not an essential commodity. It is a pleasure and a luxury and seeing, touching and tasting our vodka’s should be an enjoyable experience. We wanted our customers to be delighted by every single aspect of Tipsy Wight, from the sloping bottles which are heavy and high quality, the labelling, the corks, right down to the ethically sourced packaging. There’s definitely a market for that.”
Michael is a chartered surveyor by profession and he’s been “working flat out since the early eighties”. He’s married to Ruth, who worked as a senior sister in the paediatric intensive care unit at Southampton General Hospital for around 20 years. Their lifestyle changed when their now 8 year old son named Toby was born. The Greens moved to Medham Farm in Cowes, a converted former dairy farm, where Ruth reinvented herself as beekeeper, chicken farmer and grower. Her homemade sloe vodka was the start of Tipsy Wight, which was launched in 2011, from the kitchen table.
“Ruth’s sloe vodka which was a slightly quirky take on sloe gin,” Michael explains. “We started putting it into interesting bottles and selling it to friends and they really liked it, so it grew from there. We found the ‘tipsy’ looking bottles which we really liked and we registered the name Tipsy Wight. We thought very carefully about branding and marketing and where our target markets were. From the outset we were uncompromising on quality, for both the product and the packaging. It was always going to be a premium product.”
The business began to grow in 2012 through sales at Island fairs and events. They now supply English Heritage as well as other establishments, with around 60% of sales being Island based. There’s a growing online market too, with the brand reaching a wider audience by selling through Not On The High Street. Ruth is responsible for the manufacturing of the vodka itself, and the flavours are her ideas and she looks after the steeping and the sourcing of ingredients.
“Flavoured vodkas are popular, but if you go into a supermarket the vodkas are flavoured with artificial flavourings and e-numbers, which we didn’t want to do,” Michael says. “Our philosophy is almost completely organic. We try to be as self-sufficient as we can and we grow all of our own ingredients. We don’t fly raspberries in from South Africa, we either grow them here on the farm or forage for them locally, harvesting them in season and then steeping them in vodka. Our customers really like that. They appreciate the provenance and the fact it is a local and natural product and that ticks a lot of boxes for them. Consumers are much more discerning than they were twenty years ago and really appreciate high quality products that are beautifully presented and produced with real care and attention to detail.
“The people that we aim at tend to think carefully about what they are buying and whether it is ethical. They know that our product is made on the Island and it is made from natural ingredients that we have grown, like the rhubarb, the apples, the pears and the herbs. We steep it in vodka and bottle it by hand and then put it into beautiful packaging. Our customers definitely like that.”
Tipsy Wight is now “a proper grown up company”, with three staff. It’s an all year round business, with sales peaks in summer and at Christmas, although Ruth is busy throughout the year looking after steeping the various flavours as well as managing their foraged fare. “We have become attuned to the seasons and one thing that Ruth and I have noticed is that actually the ‘summer’ starts much earlier than you think,” Michael notes.
In 2017 the Greens want to continue to grow the business. Their range of 16 flavoured vodkas will expand to a base of around 20, with seasonal specialities. Weddings are a key market, with elderflower vodka currently proving very popular as an aperitif served with prosecco.
“Our business plan has always been to grow Tipsy Wight into a sustainable, ethical business which is enjoyable to run and enjoyable to own,” Michael says. “The relationship that we have with our customers, retailers and suppliers has always been a happy one and we really treasure that. I have run businesses for a long time and the culture of every business is different and the environment that you work in is also different. It may be very competitive or it may be very stressful. Tipsy Wight is a business that we were determined was going to make everyone feel good about, from our customers, suppliers and retailers. It’s fun but we are also running a business and we take that very seriously.”