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Søren and Bettina Kongsgaard are impassioned creatives. There is great joy in making their Danish apple gins, and you get a sense of just how much they love making it from the moment you meet. Soren’s knowledge is deep, and born of craftsmanship; it is wonderful to see someone so committed to their craft, bringing extraordinary products to life from scratch.
Mr & Mrs Kongsgaard are the Danish husband & wife team driving premium drinks brand, Kongsgaard Gin. It is a craft spirits business with big plans, enjoying the remarkable revival of gin, and the growing demands of discerning customers. Now based in London, and exporting internationally, Kongsgaard are winning the admiration of mixologists and connoisseurs around the world, with their unique Scandinavian approach.
As well as being an ideal home for ambitious startups, London has the highest density of cocktail bars in the world. Like its founders themselves, however, the product begins in Denmark. Kongsgaard is a fuller, more characterful gin; a premium Scandinavian product, introducing traditional Danish apples to the recipe.
As with any luxurious product, details matter a great deal. Danish apples are a secret weapon. They develop slowly due to temperate conditions and benefit from a thicker skin. “It is the perfect apple-growing terroir, with clay soil, long nights, and sheltered from the sea” explains Soren. “There are fresh acidic notes… this is the beauty of Danish apples – the play between the aromatic elements: sweet notes, mild spice and fresh acidic notes. They are a delicate fruit, like an apple from your grandmother’s tree.” The apples are hand-picked, sun-dried, then cold-pressed. “We work with a new apple orchard every season. Each batch, therefore, has a unique flavour. On the bottle, you can see the individual source and the harvest dates”, Soren explains.
It is highly unusual for a gin brand to produce their own base spirit, but such is their commitment to mastery. They do this with soft winter wheat sourced from Picardy in Northern France. Distillation is led by a master distiller they recruited in Cognac, famous for its fine brandy, using a traditional Cognac still, heated by flame. Over a 2-month timeframe, the distiller carefully reduces alcohol content (down from 96% ABV) with limestone-filtered spring water. The triple distillation process, adding in botanicals and spice, begins first with juniper, as the essential and dominant flavour, true to gin heritage. Kongsgaard then distinguishes itself from London dry gin, introducing raw cold-pressed apples, spices, coriander seeds and cinnamon on it’s 2nd run. The third, final run on the press includes fresh lemon and ginger.
Great gins, like great whisky, can be sipped neat. Soren’s top tip for gin connoisseurs is to look for a minimum of 42% alcohol by volume on the bottle, as this is a tipping point on product quality: “at this point, you get a much smoother drink, because of how the alcohol infuses with the other ingredients.”
The Kongsgaard’s have built their business up from bootstrapped beginnings, self-funding for a full 5 years of, ‘blood sweat and tears’. Both founders are foodies, with backgrounds in the creative and marketing industries, and a history of running a small business before.
Soren’s plan has always been to create an exciting product with export potential, and made with pride: “It’s not a sprint to set up this kind of business – we set up at a time where there were just a handful of gin producers in Denmark. There was lots of experimentation with mixologists. Then we got some attention from the UK, getting amazing feedback from Craft Gin Club, then moving to London 2.5 years ago to take it forward. Now we are working full time, with 6 of the biggest distributors in the UK, and exporting Kongsgaard to 11 countries”.
On transitioning from a brand to a company, they registered the IP in a new UK company and positioned to raise money from investors.
“We wanted to work with the best, but in London, you can throw a lot of money on startup legals and accountancy. We heard about SeedLegals from other entrepreneurs. SeedLegals put us in for SEIS and EIS pre-approval upfront. We got assurance for that through the platform, which was amazing.”
Their next step was to create new investment Term Sheets using SeedLegals, and opening a funding round for initial investors. “Term sheets were easy to create. I think understanding a Term Sheet is crucial, as investors want to hear about it from the business owner. On SeedLegals, it was laid out perfectly, and made sense. It is very easy to put in different elements or terms into a round, and it is all intuitive. For me to have it laid out, and to be able to give out professional documents was very important.”
“We really appreciated the cost advantage, but it also saves you time, which means you can focus on the business. Having it all on one platform is a huge advantage. You get a full overview of documents, and when each one is needed. It is very user-friendly. You unlock new documents as you progress.”
“The experience for the investors was one of a good impression too. It helps us founders to look like we know what we are doing. Everything is in order”, Soren explains.
“Afterwards you have a great overview of your legal agreements (Employment, IP, Advisors, Contractors, and a digital Cap Table. You can map out the effects of dilution under different circumstances. This has been useful, as they approach a 2nd round of Angel investment.
Distribution-wise, the Founders’ eyes are on India and China as emerging markets with high potential. Product innovation continues too, with Kongsgaard Dark Gin aged for 18 months in Limousin oak – Cognac barrels, which introduces new vanilla notes and distinctive colouration. It is an exciting new category, bridging the gap between whisky and gin. Investors are able to try a sample from their first batch.
Kongsgaard is now aiming to scale up production volumes, their distribution channels and their marketing spend, on the back of new investment. It is an exciting time for the company, building up momentum after a very productive year’s work. They will no doubt impress investors who recognise how extraordinarily committed they are to doing things properly. This is the Scandinavian way.