Gerry White - Jawbox Gin
In this month's show we sat down with Gerry White, founder of Jawbox Gin.
Last year Belfast went absolutely gin-sane for the old drink that has undoubtedly made a modern comeback.
Gerry White has been in 'the bar game' for many years and is incredibly passionate about Belfast, stories and of course gin.
We caught up with him to hear his story.
Check it out.
So Gerry, tell us a bit about JawBox Gin.
Jawbox is a small batch gin inspired by the magnificent industrial era of Northern Irish history when ordinary men and women put Belfast on the map for hard graft and craft.
It's a modern expression of this traditional, impressive and character.
I've been in the bar game for a very long time (general manager of the John Hewitt for 12 years) and gin is the only spirit I like, so when I decided to make my own it had to be gin!
Why is it called Jaw Box?
Jawbox is named in honour of the ever-celebrated Belfast sink, which years ago was the heart of the kitchen where the craic was heard and unforgettable stories were shared.
Back in the day, not everyone had the luxury of their own kitchen or scullery so there could have been a big Belfast sink shared between 5 or 6 families.
People used to gather around it to tell their tales, do their washing, share the gossip, celebate and commiserate all around the sink,
To this very day if you have people over to your house more often than not people end up congregating in the kitchen, around the sink, sharing those same stories.
So even the name is rooted in the history of Belfast. How else have you tried to do this?
We have the Belfast coat of arms on the label and an old black and white photograph of the first Gin Palace in Belfast on the back, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore.
It also says 'Belfast cut' on the label: as a wee kid I remember walking down the street and people coming up to you saying 'awh you're the cut of your Ma or the cut of your Da' which basically just means the best bits.
This is a nice tie in when we are making the gin, as it's the best part of the batch that end up going into the bottle.
What's the story behind the bottle itself?
The bottle itself is a wee bit different than other stuff out there. I had been walking about with the dummy sample for 2 years before I started Jawbox and I was determined that this had to be the bottle.
What's really special about the bottle is when I went to Richard Ryan at Drinksology for my branding he went into his desk and pulled out the exact same bottle.
That's when I knew it was all going to fall into place.
I didn't want a modern labelling, I wanted to get back to industrial Belfast and I think we achieved that with our black and gold Victorian style branding.
It's funny because I wanted the gin to look like it had been sitting on the shelf for 50 years and I've had arguments with people who claim they've been drinking Jawbox for decades even though we only launched in 2016!
Why do you think gin is so in right now?
I'll have to be perfectly honest in saying I was just lucky to be launching Jawbox at the same time gin was coming in.
I think a lot of it has to do with people getting interested in craft beer because it exposes them to locally, really well made products, that and the fact people like to travel more and are a wee bit more open to experimenting with their palate.
Plus we've tried to get away from 'gin and tonic' because I think sometimes people don't think they like the taste of gin when in fact they actually just don't like the tonic water.
Our signature serve is with ginger ale which was also invented in Belfast way back in the day by a pharmacist who made ginger syrup and a guy who owned a sparkling water factory.
I think the two complement each other really well plus it's another nod to Belfast's past.
Why did you decide to launch your own gin?
It wasn't an easy decision to leave the John Hewitt, but I felt that I needed to start something myself.
Since leaving the bar I've been working seven days a week sometimes nights and days on Jawbox gin, but to be honest, I enjoy it cause it's a project and product that I'm really passionate about.
I wanted to give something a go that I would be proud of.
It wasn't about making money but more so about leaving something behind, something with my name on it that hopefully people will still be saying 'cheers' with Jawbox gin long after I'm gone.
Recently I was doing an event with some off-licenses and one of the guys there wasn't convinced I had started Jawbox. When I finally convinced him he turned round and said:
I was like aye right mate!
But still, I was really chuffed and the nickname 'Jawbox Gerry' seems to be catching on which is something I can live with I suppose.
What's your favourite thing about Belfast?
I actually have a favourite street in Belfast.
For some reason University Square is a street I just loved.
When I was 16 I plastered a wee bit of a wall that's still there, so when I'm out and about with mates I always point it out and say 'here I did that wall there!'
I've a lovely memory from that street. When I was out socialising - maybe a wee bit later than I was intending – I would always walk up that street.
At that time all the houses had automatic security lights that lit up when someone walked past.
So as I walked up the street each light would come on and I would always say they're guiding me home.
What's next for Jawbox?
We've had a lot of requests from around different parts of the world but at the minute we're working especially with the American market in mind.
How can our listeners connect with you?
Jawbox has it's own official website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook but you can also follow me personally on @JawboxGerry across all the usual places.
That and of course by picking up a bottle from a shelf near you!
The Best Of Belfast Podcast.
Just want to give another big thanks to Gerry White for taking the time out to share his story with us.
We are always really excited to sit down with local legends who love Belfast as much as we do and love sharing those stories with you.
If you would like to be notified every time one of our stories go live (usually once a month) you can sign up for email updates below.
We don't spam and we only bother you when one of our new shows go live (once a month.)
Other than that, I hope Gerry White's story has inspired you for the new year and got you pumped up for all the stuff you have planned.
Until next time,
All the best.
- Matthew Thompson