Top 10 spirits pitches on Dragons’ DenBy Melita Kiely
A number of spirits brands have braved the experts on hit TV show Dragons’ Den over the years. But while some businesses left the lair with investments, others weren’t quite able to seal the deal.
By Melita Kiely
Hit BBC show Dragons’ Den is now on its 19th series. The premise sees budding entrepreneurs pitch their business plans to five multi-millionaire ‘dragons’ in the hope of securing their financial investment and business acumen.
There have been many pitches from up-and-coming spirits brands over the years, from subscription services to rums, liqueurs and even moonshine.
Here, we look back on 10 of the most memorable spirits-based pitches. The selection spans those who successfully secured investment, to others who had to make the difficult decision to turn offers down.
Scroll down to read our list of 10 spirits pitches on Dragons’ Den – and let us know in the comments if you have a favourite boozy pitch.
Craft Gin Club
Anybody with an inkling about gin is sure to be familiar with the Craft Gin Club. Jon Hulme and John Burke were the brains behind the subscription service, which sprung into action in 2015.
The following year, the pair graced TV screens across the UK as they secured a £75,000 investment from former dragon Sarah Willingham in return for a 12.5% stake in the start-up.
Since then, the company has gone from strength to strength. In November 2020, the membership club hit 100,000 members – boosted by the rise in at-home drinking.
While English alcoholic tea brand Noveltea succeeded in raising £1.4 million to fund its global expansion in December 2020, unfortunately, it’s Dragons’ Den appearance was not as lucrative.
Vincent Efferoth and Lukas Passia founded the brand in 2016, and entered the BBC show in 2018. Three dragons did offer £80,000 for a 30% stake in the business – but this was rejected by Efferoth and Passia.
Entrepreneurs Thomas Aske and Tristan Stephenson are renowned in the drinks trade for a number of acclaimed bars – Black Rock, for example.
It was little surprise, therefore, that the dragons delighted in the pair’s whisky pouch subscription club, Whisky Me, which bagged a £75,000 investment on the show in 2021. Whisky Me sends subscribers a 50ml letterbox-friendly pouch every month, with information and a live online tasting, as well as exclusive discounts and awards.
Aske and Stephenson secured the funding from three of the dragons: Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones and Tej Lalvani. All three dragons made an offer, and Aske and Stephenson negotiated a shared investment from the trio for a 15% share of Whisky Me.
Another Manchester-based producer has also found success on Dragons’ Den: Rockstar Spirits. The rum producer received a £25,000 investment on the TV show in 2021.
Tom Hurst, founder of Rockstar Spirits, had sought the funds to help him take the brand to new international markets. He asked the dragons – Deborah Meaden, Theo Paphitis, Touker Suleyman, Tej Lalvani and Sarah Davies – for £25,000 in exchange for a 2% equity stake in his business.
The brand launched in November 2018; its portfolio includes the overproof Grenade rum range and the Two Swallows brand.
Hurst received four offers, with Paphitis offering double the requested amount (£50,000) in exchange for a 10% stake. However, Hurst eventually accepted an offer from two dragons, Suleyman and Lalvani, who jointly offered £25,000 for 4% each.
The dragons have been known to openly express regret at ‘ones that got away’. Could Berczy join the ever-growing list of missed investment opportunities?
“I feel like I may regret that,” said dragon Steven Bartlett, after choosing not to invest in hard seltzer brand Berczy earlier this year.
Berczy co-founders Nick Graham and Nick Johnson asked for £120,000 in return for a 10% share of the business, but despite impressing the dragons with their products, they weren’t able to secure an investment. The hard seltzer portfolio boasts a trio of flavours – passionfruit and turmeric, lemon and lime, and peach and raspberry – each canned at 4% ABV.
The hit BBC programme welcomed Manchester-based Didsbury Gin into the den in 2018 – and sent the brand away with a £75,000 investment. Didsbury Gin founders Liam Manton and Mark Smallwood appeared on the show asking for a £75,000 investment in return for a 10% stake in their business. The pair had been made redundant that same year, and decided to go full-time with Didsbury Gin.
Two dragons made the pair an offer during the show: Jenny Campbell and Tej Lalvani. Didsbury Gin’s founders had offered a 10% share in exchange for the money, but eventually settled on 33.3% for the same amount to welcome both Campbell and Lalvani on board.
In February 2022, Max Reuther, chief executive officer at O’Donnell Moonshine, stood before the dragons: Touker Suleyman, Sara Davies, Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones and Steven Bartlett. The Manchester-made brand was founded in 2016, and includes flavours such as Tough Nut, Wild Berry, Sticky Toffee, and High Proof (72% ABV).
Reuther was looking for a £200,000 investment in return for 5% equity. But while the dragons saw potential in the business, unfortunately a deal could not be done.
House of Elrick Gin
Aberdeenshire-based gin brand House of Elrick was offered a cool £80,000 investment on Dragons’ Den in 2018, which was accepted on the show. However, things didn’t quite go to plan post-production, and the Scottish gin walked away from the offer.
In the episode, dragon Peter Jones offered £80,000 in return for 10% of the business, which was founded by Stuart Ingram. After the show, the maker was unable to reach an agreement with Jones in relation to the percentage stake of the business, and so did not continue with Peter’s investment.
Instead, House of Elrick went on to pursue a £350,000 crowdfunding campaign.
Liz Beswick and Cam Brown co-founded Collagin in March 2017, not without contention. The gin claimed to be the ‘world’s first’ gin containing collagen, and was designed to fit on both a back bar and in a beauty parlour.
In 2018, Collagin received a £50,000 investment offer on Dragons’ Den to help it grow internationally. The co-founders had entered the den seeking the amount for a 10% equity stake in the company.
Fashion retail magnate Touker Suleyman and Vitabiotics CEO Tej Lalvani, however, eyed an opportunity, and negotiated a 30% shared stake of the business in exchange for the £50,000 investment.
Jo Hilditch made her first batch of cassis in 2005, and secured a contract with Fortnum & Mason a few years later in 2008.
In 2015, Hilditch turned to the dragons for investment. But despite receiving offers of £50,000 from three of the dragons, who each wanted between 30% and 40% of the business, Hilditch turned down the offers.
Since then, Hilditch has rebranded her company as White Heron Drinks, which boasts two products: British Cassis and British Framboise.