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A wee yarn with Gerry around the Jawbox

SUCCESS STORY: Gerry White’s Jawbox gin has won fans throughout Ireland, Europe and beyond
SUCCESS STORY: Gerry White’s Jawbox gin has won fans throughout Ireland, Europe and beyond
By Ciara Quinn

HAVING spent close to 35 years behind the pumps of some of Belfast’s top bars, Jawbox gin founder, West Belfast man Gerry White, continues to win plaudits for the product that is the sought-after spirit throughout Ireland and Europe.
We meet in the city centre’s Grand Central café where bottles of his product are proudly displayed on the ground floor – with the gin stocked of course in the exclusive top floor Observatory bar.
“I was general manager of the John Hewitt for 11 years which I loved, I absolutely loved it,” he recalled. “The John Hewitt is owned by the Belfast Resource Centre with all profits going to it, then on to community projects who wouldn’t necessarily get government funding. It was really satisfying, there were no TVs, no gaming machines, managing there was all about conversation.”
Gerry spoke of how the initial spark of the Jawbox brand came about due to his “wee bit of entrepreneurial spirit” – the ‘spirit’ being his drink of choice.
“In all the years I’ve worked in bars the only spirit I’ve ever liked was gin. I had the idea of producing my own gin, bringing out my own brand. If it didn’t work I was more than happy to stay on as a barman, I would’ve always regretted never giving it a go.”
Gerry said the process took over two and a half years from the concept to getting the name registered.
“I did come close to giving up but all the right people came together, the absolute best of the best, with Echlinville distiller Shane Braniff, his head distiller Graham Miller and packaging and branding coming from Drinksology. Everything started to move dead fast.”
The launch night of Jawbox took place in late February 2016 – “a night of one of the worst storms, so I wasn’t hopeful people were going to turn up” – at the Linehall Library, with a little help from the then Lord Mayor Arder Carson.
“I didn’t want to launch Jawbox in a bar, every other bar would’ve gone ‘Well, why didn’t you launch it in my bar?’ I wanted something ‘old Belfast’ and at the start Linenhall [Library] told me that didn’t really do launches as such. I loved the setting and told them I had the Lord Mayor on board – I just had to ask him,” he laughed.
“I then went over to City Hall and said ‘Any chance of speaking to the Lord Mayor?’ The staff were brilliant and Arder came over and fair play as he likes a brandy.
“The next day, when it was being rolled out, I think almost every bar in Belfast took it.”
In the event, over 200 people turned up to support Gerry that night – “one of their own”
Jawbox is now served in bars across Ireland, has its own mural in Kelly’s Cellars, is the go-to spirit at Belfast International Airport, is served across the water as well as its signature label displayed in over 5,000 retail outlets in England, Wales and Scotland.
Recently awarded Supplier of the Year at the Institute of Hospitality Awards at Titanic Belfast, Gerry was one of five artisan suppliers chosen to showcase his product at a reception for Prince Charles and Camilla at the Grand Central on Wednesday.
“The name comes from my granny, Maisie, Maisie Cunningham, who would always say to us ‘In my day we all stood round the jawbox and did our washing,’ as not everyone had the pleasure or the luxury of having their own shared washing area. Everything would have been washed in a big Belfast sink, clothes, dishes, the baby – everything was washed in it. People shared their stories, told their tales, it was their jaws going round the box. I always say to people to this very day, when they have parties, where do people go? The kitchen. Everybody stands around the sink.”
It’s evident just how much pride and enthusiasm Gerry has for the product that has grown at a speed he never foresaw just three years ago.
“The award for Supplier of the Year meant an amazing amount to me, it was my fifth time being shortlisted, twice for Jawbox, always the bridesmaid, never the bride. It was fantastic.”
The 60-year-old says the power to promote Jawbox via social media is “amazing”.
“There are places Jawbox is appearing that I would never know. Philip Schofield posted a bottle to his Snapchat, everybody was ringing me saying ‘did you see it? Did you see it?’”
Having grown up in C­onway Street and later Lenadoon, Gerry has his base just off Queen’s University Belfast. “Where will the next three years take Jawbox?” I ask him. He replies: “The States.”
“You only get one chance in America. It’s a matter of making sure we have the right importer, distributor. Sean Muldoon and Jack McCarty from the Dead Rabbit are out there who are going to be so supportive. I used to work with Sean in the Northern Whig. “Just two weeks ago Jawbox was used as the reception drink for the Irish Film Festival in Australia, we launched in Sweden.”
Inbetween “surprising” those who take part in weekly ‘Gin Jaunts’ every Saturday afternoon as part of the extremely popular Taste and Tour experience, Gerry hosts Jawbox gin evenings at various hotels were he shares his passion with others keen to hear how Jawbox was born.
“I was really surprised to see how many young people turn up to these events. I nearly dropped when someone asked me to sign a bottle recently.
“What I set out to do from the start was build a legacy, make the product authentic, that’s why my signature is on the bottle. I knew from the start that the quality of this product had to be better than anything else out there.”

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