The Shivering Mountain brand creation by James Backhurst at The Allotment.

Shivering Mountain Distillery resides in the heart of the UK’s Peak District National Park, in the beautiful Hope Valley and overlooked by Mam Tor, the majestic peak known locally as the “Shivering Mountain”. They collaborated with James and the team at The Allotment, to create the premium gin brand from scratch, that would not only create local pride in the gin but also appeal to national and international audiences. The result is a uniquely distinctive and authentic gin brand that is highly sought after by the premium retailers, the hospitality sector and gin lovers around the world.

A great success for Shivering Mountain Gin Distillery

James Backhurst

What started your journey into the creative industry?

I come from a family of engineers and designers, my Great Grandfather invented one of the first electric washing machines and my Grandfather invented, designed and built tools for NASA’s Apollo missions and the Eagle moon lander. My dad was a graphic designer and my mum was highly creative too; all of them inspired me, so you could say a career solving problems was inevitable. I also wanted to do a job I loved, every day I get to solve business and creative challenges, this sense of purpose is inspiring and so rewarding for myself and the team.


Could you share the pivotal career moments that have led you to your current success?

Luck played a big part in my career success; yes, you have to put yourself out there and take the risks and for me the right time, right place, right people cliché rang true – you could say the stars aligned. I was fortunate that people could see skills in myself that I couldn’t; I have worked with some brilliant mentors, colleagues and clients and all have helped me fine tune the skill of taking a complex problem, distilling it to a big idea and then bringing that idea to life in ways that touch hearts and minds and in turn drive growth and prosperity for our clients and the communities they serve.


How were you instructed to work on this particular brand?

We got the job when another great client of ours recommended us. We had a chemistry meeting and were given a comprehensive business plan as the brief, it was clear our client had big ambitions. From day one our client trusted us implicitly, especially after the first creative presentation, we have a fantastic working relationship and together we have helped them create an amazing brand. Trust comes when the client can see their investment delivering an exceptional ROI, Shivering Mountain has delivered above and beyond all expectations.


What core message did you aim to communicate through this brand’s identity?

People see through marketing guff and waffle, ‘authenticity and relevance’ is the core of this brand, from the name, to the story of the Peak District, to the mountain inside the bottle, to the exquisite attention to every tiny detail – authenticity was part of the strategy that’s helped Shivering Mountain position their brand as a premium product within a highly saturated market.

‘Authenticity’ was also essential if a key ambition and business objective is to break into several international markets where key brands already have a strong foothold and market share, our client is now exporting to several international markets and the uptake and response has been remarkable.


“Inspiration for us always comes from our research phase called ‘The Big Dig’”


Where do you usually seek inspiration when crafting a brand’s message?

Inspiration usually resides within the client or brand. Inspiration for us always comes from our research phase called ‘The Big Dig’, here we unearth the business or brand’s real purpose. Lately there has been a lot of resistance and negative press about purpose and its place in branding, but without it what have you got to work with? All businesses exist for a reason, they are based on a big idea, this is the case whether they offer products or services. Our goal is always to find the core idea/purpose of a business, we ensure it’s unique, distinctive and has longevity. Then we start bringing it to life so it’s relevant and appeals to the intended audiences and markets.


Can you describe the client management and feedback process for this project?

This was an 18 month project, we were dealing directly with the business owner on every part of the brand daily and weekly so it was more a collaborative journey than a process.


How many concepts were presented, and how did you navigate the design process?

The ‘Big Dig’ I mention above is a brilliant tool that helps us create highly tuned purpose/proposition statements, these help focus the creative brief and shape the brand’s personality. We usually create 2-3 clear and distinctive routes, this approach helps us take out subjectivity and ensures we are all working from an agreed brand blueprint. One of the propositions presented resonated perfectly and that’s the route you see today.


What did you find most challenging about bringing this brand to life?

There were two big challenges:

Our first challenge was creating cut-through in a saturated and plateauing sector. To solve this we advised the client to invest in an iconic bottle, a beacon that will shine brightly and demand attention in premium bars, hotels and retailers around the world.

The second challenge was the bottle’s design, we wanted to create a bottle with lots of authentic depth and detail, these details would become the stories that the sales and marketing teams could use to promote the brand. We focused on an interactive bottle with a mountain inside that shivered as you rotate it or walk past it. The optics and engineering was a long journey from concept to delivery, the bottle looks quite simple but it was such a complex and technical job, we pushed the glass manufacturers to the limit, but the results speak for themselves.

How do you and your team push past creative blocks or internal disagreements?

I know I keep coming back to this but the ‘Big Dig’ is a brilliant way to break through any creative block, it helps us come at the job from a variety of angles, this helps us all see opportunities that some might have otherwise missed. Having a clear brief, purpose/proposition and brand blueprint also ensures we minimise disagreements internally and with the client.

Creatively we are all sponges, soaking up influences and ideas from the world around us and then using them to help influence and inspire various aspects of the project.


In your view, what elements make a brand’s identity stand out and stick in people’s memories?

To me, how a brand makes you feel has always been what makes it memorable. We use emotive brand storytelling and where appropriate, wit to create a ‘smile in the mind’. We’ve found these tools always leave a lasting and memorable impression.


What benchmarks do you use to gauge the success of this and other branding projects?

Design effectiveness is always our benchmark and metric – Did it deliver above and beyond the client’s ambitions and expectations? Did it challenge and inspire hearts and minds? Did it sell? Did it increase website traffic? Did it deliver way beyond its ROI? Etc. Shivering Mountain has surpassed all its brand and business objectives.


“I come from a world of magic markers and Cow Gum. A time when you had to draw and express your ideas without a computer…”


How has the creative landscape changed throughout your time in the industry?

The speed of change is incredible, I come from a world of magic markers and Cow Gum. A time when you had to draw and express your ideas without a computer, the internet or photocopiers etc. When I started everything was manual, at times I found it restrictive and frustrating. But then Desktop publishing emerged, although it was still relatively basic you had much more control over the creative direction and output. Fast forward to now and we can deliver ideas and approaches that were previously impossible to achieve. We live in a truly amazing time, technology is a liberator and enabler of creativity, technology enables us to balance profitability, productivity and perfection in our final product.


If you had the opportunity to rebrand any global company, which would it be and for what reason?

We have been lucky enough as an agency to deliver some amazing projects, all fill me with a great sense of pride – from London City Airport to Radical Sports Cars to The Donkey Sanctuary, we have and are doing the jobs we love. But if we had to chose one it would have to be a charity or a ‘brand for good’, we have done several charity based brand projects, making a difference to people and the planet gives us a real sense of purpose and pride.


What advice would you offer to budding creatives aspiring to break into the industry?

In the words of Stefan Sagmeister ‘Style = Fart’. These words have always rung true for The Allotment. Focus on ideas that touch hearts and minds. Don’t just focus on what you think looks cool.


Is there a ritual you have before starting a project?

Not really, creating mind space and clearing the decks to think about the challenge properly could be deemed as ritualistic?


In an alternate universe where you weren’t in the creative industry, what profession would you work in and why?

I am a real petrol head and raced for a go-cart team for several years when I was younger, there’s something addictive about driving a beautifully engineered machine on the edge, so anything from the world of motorsport would be amazing.


What’s the most off-the-wall idea you’ve ever had that never saw the light of day?

Projecting messages onto clouds for the Met Office during a brand repositioning project.


If you were a brand, what would your slogan be?

Ideas = Growth


During a tea break, what are you dunking?

Ginger Crunch in Yorkshire tea with a milk and two sugars – perfect.