The distillery that creates the perfect mix of G&T (gin and technology)

Behind the Silent Pool distillery is a haunted lake. According to local legend, a woodcutter’s daughter was swimming in the water when she noticed King John, who ruled England from 1199 to 1216, watching her from the bankAs he advanced towards her, she moved away, but stepped into deeper water and drowned. Every night at around midnight, her ghost reportedly rises from the depths. 

A few staff at Silent Pool, in Albury, Surrey, have reported seeing “strange things” in the area but Sophie Best, Head of Finance and Commercial, isn’t one of them.

“I’ve never seen any ghosts but it does get eerily quiet by the lake sometimes,” she says.

Best doesn’t have much time for the supernatural; she’s focused on a different type of spirit – gin.  

Silent Pool is one of the world’s best-loved premium gin brands, with the distinctive design on their bottles catching the eye of fans across the UK, as well as the US, Italy, Canada, Singapore, Peru, Russia and South Africa, to name just a few of the dozens of countries the company exports to. As demand has grown, so has production. The small team can produce up to 10,000 bottles a day from their two stills – named Juliet and Ophelia – and were welcoming 40,000 visitors a year before COVID-19 hit. 

When Best joined the company in 2016, staff were using paper to record everything the business was doing – ingredients coming in, bottles going out, sales, marketing, staff rotas, tax. What few digital files there were had been saved on individual hard drives, and people were using personal email addresses for work matters. As the operation expanded, she knew she needed a digital solution. 

She adds: “There’s two things that can close down this business overnight: one of them is running out of cash, which, hopefully, is unlikely to happen. The other one is HMRC. With cashflow problem, you might be able to borrow and muddle your way throughbut there’s no alternative with the tax office. We have got to be very diligent with record keeping. That’s why we had to digitise our operation, so we knew exactly what was coming in, what was going out and what we owed in tax. We needed a platform that could record our entire gin-making business from start to finish. That’s why Bevica was perfect.”

Ian McCullouch, Founding Director of Silent Pool, agrees: “HMRC are quite abrupt, so you either get it right or wrong – and you don’t want to get it wrong. Bevica underwrites our confidence in getting it right.” Bevica is a business management platform for the drinks sector, created by Microsoft partner TVision Technology. It’s based on Microsoft’s Dynamics 365so it can easily link with Microsoft 365, Power BI and PowerApps to help companies like Silent Pool manage finance, purchasing, logistics, warehousing, sales, customer relationship management and reporting.  Claudio Martell, Product Manager for Bevica, said: “Being part of the Microsoft Partner Programme allows us to connect with agile businesses seeking to improve their productivity and operational excellence. We are delighted to be able to support organisations that have this kind of future-proofing vision. 

With Silent Pool, juniper berries and the ingredients that make up the gin don’t have any duty, but the alcohol they buy does. Bevica allows them to buy that at the right status. Then, when they produce the gin, it’s kept at the right duty status for HMRC. If it’s exported, there’s no duty to pay and the system knows that. If they distribute it in the UK to a distributor or maybe to a local shop they sell to, then the system knows that and it’ll record a certain amount of duties payable.

“All they have to do is input the gin in the right location in Bevica, and the software will flag if duty is payable and how much that is. It’s really that straightforward. 

Best can now see forecasting and cashflow changes in real-time, run reports to assess sales figures in the middle of the month rather than waiting until the end of the month, analyse data across specific time periods to see which UK sales territory, country or sales channel has been the most successful. 

All this can be done on her laptop at home, at her desk at Silent Pool, or from her mobile phone while she is out and about meeting suppliers.  

TVision have been great,” Best adds. “They worked closely with us to set up the system, and we asked them so many questions along the way. For a small business like Silent Pool, which has a small team of staff who all have multiple jobs to do, Bevica has been brilliant. It just works and we don’t have to worry about it. 

Everyone can bring up real-time stock reports on whatever device they are using, wherever they are. That used to be a very slow and manual process, and you have to get it right because of the tax we might owe – some is duty paid and some is duty free. We also give away a lot of free samples. Trying to keep track of all that without creating a very complex system for the staff was a big challenge, but Bevica has solved that problem, too. 

One of Silent Pool's copper stills

As well their eponymous gin, Silent Pool also make vodka, rum and fruit-based gins using unwanted fruit from the nearby Albury Estate

“Part of my job is stock planning and forecasting. I sit down and work out a production plan, and then we know how many stoppers we need, how many bottles etc. With Bevica, we know that we have X number of bottles over there but we need them over here, and we need to put an order in for that product in two months’ time to make sure it arrives on time. We couldn’t never do that before; we didn’t have that single view of our operation.” 

Microsoft 365, SharePoint and Teams allows her to collaborate and communicate with colleagues, and share reports, charts and data with them. Weather data can be placed on top of sales data in Power BI to understand if rain affected sales at a fair or other outdoor event. 

Marie Abery, Microsoft Dynamics Business Group Director, says having a single, complete solution is incredibly attractive for companies. 

Most business leaders would say their organisation is complex, it’s just the nature of business today,” she says. “So, having a single view of the truth across your entire business isn’t just something staff want, it’s something they need. Bevica, which is supported by Microsoft Dynamics 365, gives drinks companies that peace of mind that they have a view of everything. But it goes much deeper than that, it also offers critical insights that can be acted upon.” 

All the information generated by Silent Pool is presented to Best in easy-to-view graphs, allowing her to see spikes in sales across the UK. This can help the company decide to step up marketing or introduce new products into the area.  

Realising what actually sells, means you do more of what’s good and less of what’s OK-ish or bad,” Best says. “It can be so easy to release a million products but maybe nobody really wants to buy them. Data allows us to have a really focused plan and stick to it in order to grow the business.” 

Silent Pool’s operation can be complex. As well their eponymous gin, they also make vodka, rum and fruit-based gins using unwanted fruit from the nearby Albury Estate.

Walk into the Silent Pool shop and you will see chamomile gin, damson plum gin, apricot gin and blackberry gin, among other flavours. You will also see new blends of Silent Pool gin that are infused with rose petals and citrus fruits, standing proudly next to the original product.

There’s also a range of best-selling drinking glasses, bottle stoppers, T-shirts, caps, candles, cushions, aprons and bags. 

Best admits that arranging the manufacture and delivery of all those products would have been “a nightmare” without Bevica.

We had to digitise our operation, so we knew exactly what was coming in and what was going out

– Sophie Best, Silent Pool

Creating all those different gins also keeps the company’s expert distillers on their toes. Rather than just stick to the Silent Pool recipe, which features 24 botanicals and a four-stage distillation process, the company’s experts now spend days hunched over a table on the factory floor, blending different ingredients to find the best combination. 

Different types of juniper berries – the basis for all gins – are mixed with local fresh fruit, honey from beehives on a nearby vineyard, lavender from a farm just a few miles away , camomile and a host of other herbs and spices to create new products. 

As you can probably tell, the team at Silent Pool are proud of their local area, and try to source as many ingredients as possible from nearby. That also helps to support local businesses and reduce waste. 

“We now produce gins for quite a few of the vineyards in the UK,” Best adds. “We take their dead grape skins, distil them down into a grape spirit and then distil it into a gin. This is product that they would essentially be throwing away. The vineyards also ferment their third or sometimes fourth press grape juice, send it into us and then we can distil it. We’ve done a couple of types of Vermouth as well. It’s adding strings to our bow. 
Silent Pool’s experts spend days blending different ingredients to find the best combination

Despite the huge success of its signature gin, it’s been handy having products that cater for a range of tastes during the Coronavirus pandemic. Silent Pool has kept trading throughout lockdown, albeit with a reduced workforce, but the customer tours had to stop for a few months. 

The company even branched out into selling gin-scented hand gel, and offered a discount to NHS workers on all its items. 

Abery, at Microsoft, has seen a lot of new products being launched by her customers since March. “I speak to many business leaders who have explored new revenue streams during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “The collaboration and organisation required to do that is incredible, even when you’re not dealing with restrictions and rules around social distancing. Technology has been a saviour for so many businesses grappling with the ‘New Normal’. 

With consumer confidence constantly changing, often in line with Government guidelines, Silent Pool has tried to adapt in tandem. 

What we have found recently is that we have to be a lot more agile,” McCulloch says. “Now we are in the ‘New Normal’, we have got to respond to changes in marketing and channels much more rapidly than we did before. Bevica has allowed us to do that without giving us that awful feeling of ‘have we missed something?’” 

Now we are in the ‘New Normal’, we have got to respond to changes in marketing and channels much more rapidly than we did before

– Ian McCulloch, Silent Pool

Visitor numbers had started to pick up again before the Government introduced a limit of six people gathering in one place and then a second lockdown. Tours of the distillery for groups of 14 people that had already been booked had to be changed to accommodate smaller parties. 

Best hopes the restrictions will ease in the run-up to Christmas, Silent Pool’s busiest time of the year. 

We do 40% of our total business between October and December,” she says. “We usually see a spike in demand in the summer, too. We have seen that online this year, though, because of the lockdown. Our website has been very busy almost from the moment lockdown was announced.  

Once the busy Christmas season is over we will start planning for the year ahead. We will clean the stills and tanks ready for the start of the good weather around Easter, when everyone thinks: ‘oh yeah, the sun’s out, I’ll have a gin and tonic’.” 

Bottling machine at Silent Pool

Silent Pool offers a refilling service to encourage people to reuse their gin bottles

Even with the Government’s restrictions in place, Silent Pool is continuing to grow its business. Bevica and Microsoft 365 have played a part in that and both platforms will ensure that gin fans can enjoy their favourite tipple this Christmas. 

If you’re lucky enough to find a bottle of Silent Pool under the tree on December 25, there may be more “spirits” in your home than you realise. Remember the haunted lake behind the Silent Pool distillery? Every bottle of gin contains a small amount of the crystal-clear water. 

Best quickly adds: “It’s filtered before it goes into the gin!” 

That’s just another thing that Bevica keeps track of.