The entrepreneur behind Berlin’s latest gin

In our weekly feature series, The Local looks into a successful entrepreneur's life - the story behind their successes, major challenges and how being an entrepreneur changed them forever. This week, Sparsh Sharma talks to Stanislav Bic, founder of Gentle Gin and BerlinSpiceMan.

The entrepreneur behind Berlin's latest gin
Gentle Gin founder Stanislav Bic.

Gentle Gin, a saffron gin produced in Berlin, is distilled and filtered using traditional methods before a blend of spices are added.

How did you come up with this business idea?

Gentle Gin was born very randomly. I was going around asking chefs and other people about this product I had in mind. One of my customers (from BerlinSpiceMan) suggested that I reach out to the Irish gin master and horticultural expert in Berlin, Marcus O'Shea.

Aaron Plantener, who runs Berlin's Rainmaking Loft decided to join me, and his expertise in bars and gastronomy has been a great help.

Along with these new cofounders, I did a lot of testing and sampling before the final product was made.

My discovery of this product seems so coincidental as I knew a lot about spices, restaurants and bars and O'Shea knew about gin. Of course, some other chefs helped too. Gin is the latest trend in the beverage industry. Alcohol is also easy to sell.

What were the initial challenges? How did you overcome them?

To find a grip on our plan, starting with how to sell our product!

Our USP is that the spices are straight from the farm and their quality is superb. Most of our other direct competitors import in big quantities and the logistics involved make the spices lose their quality and aroma.

We, on the other hand, source our organically-grown condiments mostly from places that have been the historical origins of such spices and store them properly where there's no sunlight so that they don't lose their aroma, thus, giving a better taste.

The other challenge was to find customers, which takes time. We began importing spices starting with five- to ten-kilogram deliveries, but now we're up to 50-100kg.

We also worked on our distribution chain besides fighting through German bureaucracy to allow import of these spices.

How has the journey been so far?

The saffron gin we produce is niche. We sell through customers instead of eCommerce as it involves investments in SEO marketing, etc.

Also, with business to business sales, there are constant deliveries and people get to know you through word of mouth – saving a lot of money in marketing.

I did similar work for two years for someone else. Now, I do it for myself and we will break-even in about six months. As I managed to get investments, my entire energy goes in product development with no diversion for thinking about survival.

We also plan to introduce many more gins: classic, ginger, juniper, lavender; and go online this year selling more food items along with a wide range of related products like spices. The next phase of growth, after the tech industry, would be in the food and beverage industry.

How has becoming an entrepreneur changed you, personally?

It makes you more responsible and independent but also more interdependent on others.

Many aspects of the business – hitherto unknown – emerge. If my startup fails, it is my own responsibility.

I also have a responsibility towards my customers and suppliers. Every delivery has to be on time and I have to be patient with people, especially in a multicultural context.

I sleep less and face ups and downs almost every day; if the deliveries go up, so does your enthusiasm and when they don't, you feel WTF am I doing here.

It's also fun as you manage to develop a good network and new people bring in fresh ideas. It feels as if I have learnt a lot already and it would be interesting when I hire more people.

It's like cooking a pie with different ingredients: the combination and cooking techniques is important or no one will want to eat it.

There is also a constant reflection on oneself.

Any other personal reflections or message to budding entrepreneurs?

Don't scale up your business in the food industry immediately as it will pile up inventory. You need to find customers first and take their feedback.

In the industry, expiry dates are important and it's always good to have fresh deliveries constantly. So don't buy too much stock.

Also, don't enter too many markets too soon and don't try to get investment too quickly. You may lose all your rights and privileges and find yourself working for an investor.

Instead, spend a lot of your time in product development and look for funding only when you really need it. Try to first make a case for yourself and get some customers first.

Don't get too many people on board, two-three are enough. If you are an introvert, find an extrovert partner.

Are you an entrepreneur in Germany? Contact us and we might feature your story

Sparsh Sharma works as a freelance journalist for The Local and blogs about his experiences in Denmark. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparsh_s.


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Only in Germany: McDonald’s begins offering ‘Spargel Burger’

Amid Germany's famous 'Asparagus Season', the fast food chain has begun offering an unusual twist on typical ingredients.

Only in Germany: McDonald's begins offering 'Spargel Burger'
A basket of Spargel in Kutzleben, Thuringia marked the start of this year's season on April 14th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

How do you know that you’re definitely in Germany? One sure fire way: when you check the menu of a McDonald’s in the springtime and see a ‘Spargel Burger’. 

Germans are so enamored by the ‘white gold’ –  special light-coloured asparagus which is much thicker than its North American green counterpart – that it’s now a featured fast food at McDonald’s Germany, and with classic Hollandaise sauce and bacon to boot. 

On Thursday, the popular American fast-food chain restaurant – which counts nearly 1,500 outlets in Germany – published a photo of the “Big Spargel Hollandaise” saying that it would be available at select restaurants. They assured customers: “Yes, it’s really there.”

But its release was met with mixed reactions. “We absolutely have to go to McDonald’s sometime,” wrote one. Yet another called the unconventional creation “perverse.”

Another commenter showed skepticism: “Hollandaise sauce on a burger? Does that even taste good?”

Others weighed in on social media to point out that the product is a sign of Germany’s fascination with the vegetable. 

The burger is the latest to join the asparagus craze, with a phallic-shaped Spargel monument in Torgau, Saxony capturing the public attention – or bewilderment – earlier in the week.

An annual tradition

Every year, Germany typically celebrates ‘Spargelzeit’ (asparagus season) from the middle of April until June 24th, which many dub ‘Spargelsilvester’ (Asparagus-New Year’s Eve). 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Spargelzeit

The beloved vegetable, harvested heavily around the country, usually has its own special menu devoted to it at restaurants, and is sold in supermarkets – or road-side stands – next to jars of the classic Hollandaise sauce. 

The top states which grow the crop are Lower Saxony, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, but Beeliz, Brandenburg is also synonymous with Spargel in Germany. 

In normal years the tiny town hosts a sprawling festival to mark the start of the season, anointing a Spargel king and queen.

READ ALSO: Here’s why Germans go so completely crazy for asparagus