It’s like sunshine in a bottle; a golden, yellow-tinged and elegant container exuding a textured and natural feel, consisting of a modern gin with a new name and a long history. Renais, founded by brother-sister duo Alex and Emma Watson, breathes life into not only the cocktail industry but also the gin scene, with a spirit drawing heavily from their strong family links to Chablis and Burgundy, France.
Taking the risk to leave a steady and stable job at Diageo, the brand representing drinks like Guinness and Tanqueray, Alex decided to enter the drinks scene on a new note with his actress sister. “I wanted to make my own contribution into our family’s legacy,” Watson said. “I wanted to make something that paid tribute to French winemaking broadly but also my personal family experience in Chablis and Burgundy.” Inspired by his father and his work as a wine producer in France for the last 30 years, and drawing from his more than a decade in the drinks business, the French-born Watson’s love for spirits, particularly gin, culminated in the birth of Renais, which uses recycled grape skins from his family’s vineyards.
While Watson conceded there’s not much more one could possibly add to the iconic reputation of Chablisian or Burgundian wines, he understood the United Kingdom and United States both share an equal love for gin and gin-based cocktails. “I see there’s a lot of opportunity and excitement, particularly around luxury gin, and felt, as someone who just loves gin, gin is the foundation of so many brilliant cocktails, and felt really inspired that I could do something totally original in that space.”
Of course, he wanted to ensure he not only perfected a luxury gin but also brought something new to the table while feeling the self-placed pressure of adding to his father’s continuing legacy in winemaking. Alex shared, “I wanted to be really respectful and really careful about how we did it.”
So, what can you expect from Renais? Utilizing recycled grape skins was essential in the creation of Renais, an element Watson called “non-negotiable” when working out what exactly he wanted inside the spirit. “The fact that I can take the grape skins from my family’s vineyard, and the fact that each bottle of Renais has a little smattering of grape skins from there, is incredibly special. And, more so than that, as well as being a more sustainable way of producing spirits, the quality of the base spirit that you get and the character and the flavor that the grapes bring is incredible.”
Watson sought botanicals reflecting some of his favorite tasting notes in white wine while still strongly standing as a gin. The response from just an 8-month-old gin so far has been far from lackluster. Last year, Spirits Business released its annual article of gin trends and brands to watch for 2024, naming Renais the top gin. Renais also won the acclaimed SoHo House Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2023 and was one of the most-read articles by Financial Times.
“We’re certainly not clapping ourselves on the back just yet, but it’s been so lovely, the warmth and responses we’ve had from critics, press, media, but also consumers and people who’ve really enjoyed engaging with the brand,” Watson said.
But perhaps the next largest accomplishment for Renais will be its entrance into the United States thanks to its partnership with Republic National Distributing Company. The brand recently signed a distribution deal to be available for purchase within the United States, as well as appear in bars, beginning in Miami, New York City and California. “We’re incredibly proud of and excited by the partnership that we signed to bring Renais to the United States. It’s right up there as one of the things we’re most excited about.
“Gin is the backbone of so many classic cocktails, and I’m so excited to place Renais into that scene and look at the reception. The nice thing is, it’s a really versatile liquid that you can use in so many different ways. You can have it over ice, on the rocks or it can be in a gin and tonic, but the nice thing is, in the United States, there’s probably a less entrenched view that gin has to be with a tonic. I’m really excited to see what you guys do with it and what you make of it and see how it lands,” he laughed.
And for gin enthusiasts planning a trip to London this month, Renais makes a special, limited-time appearance at M Restaurant in London. Renais just launched a tasting menu for February, offering tasty tipples incorporating and highlighting its many flavor profiles. Watson hopes the brand’s introduction into the restaurant marks the first of many partnerships with restaurants in the United Kingdom and United States.
Sign up for Renais privé and receive behind-the-scenes snippets, tips and early releases of upcoming merch. You might even come across world-famous bartender Jack Sotti as he invites you to take part in some masterclasses on cocktail making from the comfort of your own home (perhaps showing you how to make Watson’s favorite Renais cocktail, the Terroir Martini). On Renais privé, Watson noted, “We really want to build a community around the brand and make sure we’re giving something interesting and of value to people wanting to see a bit more.”
After a stressful pre-holiday season and a busy work schedule, there was no better time for a relaxing spa experience than during my recent trip to Pasadena with the FXExpress Publications, Inc. team. We headed to The Langham Huntington, Pasadena for the 20th anniversary of the GT Tested Reader Survey awards, which meant a jam-packed trip, but I managed to carve a little time out of our busy schedule to visit Chuan Spa at the hotel.
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