You may have noticed that the colourful flags are out which means Pride is here again. For many companies, Pride is a yearly corporate jamboree but for Joe Wilson at Stonewall Gin, it’s far more important than that. 

Wilson is a veteran of the drinks trade. He began his career at legendary Leeds venue the New Penny – claimed to be England’s oldest gay pub –  before moving on to the Stonegate Pub Company. He later worked as an estate agent before founding Stonewall Gin in 2020. 

His timing could have been better with the first bottles hitting the market just in time for the pandemic. But the brand has survived and prospered and now has five expressions currently available from Master of Malt. And for every bottle sold, Stonewall Gin donates £1 to charities to support LGBT people across Britain. 

We caught up with Wilson to learn more…

Stonewall Gin interview

From left: Richard Longworth, Sarah Riggall, Tom Longworth and Joe Wilson

Master of Malt: How did Stonewall spirits come about?

Joe Wilson: I had recently rediscovered the story of the Stonewall Riots and I just thought it was incredible, I then asked friends etc if they knew the history of the riots and many people didn’t so I really wanted to tell the story. At that time my in-laws Richard & Sarah (who now produce our gins at their distillery) were in the drinks business, I re-told them this story one night over a couple of drinks in Leeds and they equally found it inspiring and from that conversation in a bar in Leeds our ‘Stonewall Spirits’ brand was born. 

MoM: What was the inspiration behind it?

JW: I really wanted to help support LGBTQ+ charities throughout the brand and also bring to market a brand that didn’t just exist for ‘Pride’. I have for years seen alcohol brands bring out pride bottles for Pride Month then disappear as soon as it ended and to me it simply wasn’t good enough! It was really important for us that the brand would help raise money for LGBTQ+ charities all year round and not just be a ‘Pride special edition’ our community doesn’t just exist for the month of June. 

MoM: Where is the gin made?

JW: It is proudly produced at our family distillery,  ‘Skegness Distillery’, in Lincolnshire. My In-laws (Sarah & Richard) do an incredible job at creating our flavours and have worked very hard on the recipes and distilling process for our Stonewall Gins!

MoM: What has been the biggest challenge?

JW: God, where to start ha! I think for me the on-trade, she’s a tough cookie to crack! It can be really tough as a small brand to compete with the larger/bigger brands not just on pricing but listing fees/retros/ POS support but also getting venues to think outside of ‘oh yes this would be ace for Pride’. I have to try and change the way people look at it so I am like: ‘Yes, it would be great but this brand doesn’t just exist for that…’ 

Stonewall Gin - interview with Joe Wilson

MoM: Can you tell me about some of the work that the money goes to help?

JW: So from this year (2024) we will now be donating to four different charities throughout the year including Stonewall UK, Switchboard and ParaPride. The ParaPride charity has newly been introduced to me by Tristan Bush and they are a small LGBTQ+ disability charity and I am so glad he introduced me to them as I think it’s important we support smaller charities and the work they are doing to help support the LGBTQ+ disabled community is amazing! We donate £1 for every bottle sold and have so far raised around £10,000. 

MoM: What will you be doing for Pride this year?

JW: Every month is pride month here at Stonewall Spirits, so we will be doing what we do every month, producing quality craft gins whilst supporting my LGBTQ+ community and pushing for representation with the hospitality and spirit industry! 

MoM: Do you think there’s a problem with lack of LGBT representation in the drinks industry?

JW: I think the issue is many larger drink brands just want to put a pride label on their bottle in June then disappear on the 1 July. Is one month out of 12 good enough to support the community? I don’t think so… You also have to be resilient as there is still A LOT of homophobia in the world, we face this a lot on social media which brands may struggle to deal with as sometimes it can be quite overwhelming and feel like you’re being attacked. However I have definitely noticed more LGBTQ+ drinks brands come out in the last couple of years which is great to see! 

MoM: As a year round LGBT brand do you have mixed feelings about some companies getting on the rainbow bandwagon come June?

JW: My main issue is with the brands who bring out their ‘Pride’ bottle and aren’t donating any monies from sales to LGBTQ+ charities or organisations (there are many!) I find that really wrong, do better! I do understand brands may want to show their support and some have good intentions and want to help celebrate which you know is great, but maybe just think a bit deeper on what pride means and how you can actually support the community with your pride bottle.  

MoM: What’s your favourite drink you like to make with Stonewall Gin?

JW: Personally I am currently in love with our Stonewall Raspberry & Limoncello Spritz (recipe on our website)!