Taking around 18 months to renovate and with a top speed of 40-45mph, The Slow Gin Van lives up to its name in many ways…
When brothers Chris and Simon Ross thought up the idea of launching their own portable bar business when on holiday in France a few years ago, nothing could have prepared them for what was to come.
Fast forward a few years and the duo completed renovations on their Citroen H van, all in time for a global pandemic to hit.
Taking around 18 months to fully convert, Chris, 30, who lives in Inverurie says the whole experience has been “a real labour of love”.
Teaming up with their dad, James, who also lives in Inverurie, the trio have worked in all weather conditions to get the van ready for service.
Originally manufactured in 1971 in Paris, Chris and Simon purchased the van online and were in for a treat when it arrived kitted out with dog food bowls as hub caps.
Dad’s help was key
Chris said: “My brother, myself and my dad all worked on it. Every time I went up to the garage my dad was there. He was vital to getting us to where we are. We spent every weekend and every evening for months going to work on it. It could range from an hour to three hours, if not longer and we worked on it right through the winter of 2018 and into the summer of 2019.
“It took from when we bought the van to when we first had it rolled out at a friends wedding for pictures around 18 months – it was just finished externally at that point and not internally.
“We did of all the external work and cosmetics ourselves, but we had to get experts in to get the engine working. When we bought it, it was a shell. It didn’t have brakes or an engine transmission. The hub cabs on the wheels were small dog food bowls when we got it. We wanted it to look as authentic as possible so we had to think about every single tiny bit of detail. We like to think it is back to its prime when it was made in a factory.”
Having to seek some help and assistance to bring it back to life, the duo called on the help of Citroen H van experts to source parts due to them being so rare and hard to find.
“You can’t really source a lot of these parts any more so you have to get in touch with these experts who know the right thing and where to look to get the same engine from that same model. We’ve been really meticulous with it,” said Chris.
“We had help from a friend of my dad’s who is an industrial model maker. He was really handy with the electrics and put in all the internal electrics which run the lights etc. We made the copper lights ourselves out of pipe to tie into the copper work surfaces which are just sheets of copper from eBay. They actually got stolen in transit so luckily for us the seller sent more. We did all of the interior and floor ourselves.”
Having hunted for the Citroen H van since that family holiday in France, Chris and Simon, 26, didn’t actually know what make or model their dream van was until they stumbled across it online.
Chris said: “A few years ago we were on a family holiday in France and we were driving somewhere and we saw this really interesting looking van plodding along. I had no idea what it was, and then years later I saw it online and it was a Citroen H van. My admiration for these vans really began there.
“My brother and I were discussing how we’d like to run a mobile bar for weddings and parties – it was just a casual conversation and we weren’t thinking anything too serious at that point. As we spoke more and more about it we were sending each other van ideas and then ended up pairing the two ideas together.”
Chris, a graphic designer, and Simon, who is a mechanical engineer, used their knowledge and skills to resurrect the van into their new gin-inspired offering, but Chris says it was the help of their dad James, who really helped them, steering them in the right direction.
He added: “None of us are experts in car restoration – my dad has experience working on cars as he’s done a few older cars himself. Simon’s skills as a mechanical engineer were really helpful as he was able to create different parts of the van that we couldn’t find or source which was really clever. I did all of the branding and things like the website and the graphics on the vehicle. We were able to pull experience from all of our different areas of expertise but it was a massive learning curve.”
Go slow for sloe!
With a name like The Slow Gin Van, which Chris and Simon think is rather fitting, Chris also sees it as a way to alert other drivers on the road when travelling behind it, that their journey may take a little longer than anticipated…
He said: “It has sort of named itself really. It is a very slow van and we’ve spent ages on it. It also is a bit tongue in cheek and plays on the whole sloe gin thing, too. It is almost an apology to everyone who is stuck behind us on the road!
“I think we’ll primarily just focus on Scotland. England is quite far away – especially when you’re travelling in a van like this. We want to focus particularly on Aberdeenshire so we can physically drive the van and there are so many beautiful locations up here that we thought we’d try and stay here first. For anything further afield we could put it on a trailer and then drive it into the venue. It was good to be able to get it moving so we didn’t have to always have it on a trailer.”
A great fit
With hundreds of gins now hitting the market and the spirit continuing to be a massive hit with consumers, the idea of launching a vintage mobile bar dedicated to the spirit seemed to fit with Chris’s love for Scottish produce.
He added: “There are around roughly 90 gin distilleries across Scotland so it’s sort of becoming Scotland’s third national drink behind whisky and Irn-Bru. It made sense as there are so many brands. There’s micro distilleries in Aberdeenshire run by two people and then there are the big ones similar to BrewDog who make their LoneWolf gin locally, too. The selection is so good and it is so popular. It’s something a lot of people enjoy. There’s so many on the market that I would like to try, so we’re offering a broader selection to people – we may even have gins they have never even heard of.
“We haven’t selected a menu yet as once we launched we had to stop due to lockdown and the coronavirus, so we’ve had to put the brakes on. Scottish gin will be the main focus and there’s a huge variety for us to pick from.
“We’ve got a fridge in the van which is suitable for beers, cans, bottles and we’ve also got a dual draft facility which is a portable unit which we can attach to kegs. That can be hooked up for prosecco, beer, cider and so on. We’re quite versatile with that as a result.”
A masterpiece in the making
Looking to specialise in events including weddings and all kinds of celebrations, Chris and Simon are both looking forward to seeing their masterpiece finally in action and can’t wait for the day they run their first event.
Chris said: “I have a personal licence and my brother has now got a job offshore so he hasn’t had the chance to do his yet. To begin with I’d be looking to run the bar and hire some people with experience to get involved, too. I used to work in a bar years ago but it has been a while since I was last behind a bar. It will be a bit of a learning curve again, but I’m always making cocktails and stuff at home so I’m really looking forward to it.
“We initially had three packages we had in mind for the wedding and events industry. That was focused on medium-sized weddings etc. I don’t think there’s really numbers we wouldn’t take a booking for. We’ve already figured out how to run more ice and stock to the van as we have a trailer with extra fridges in it. Providing we had a decent network we’d be able to do much bigger events.
“We were hoping to do the Fort William Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup this year but with everything that has gone on, we’ve not been able to. That would have been a huge test of our capabilities.
“When we were working on the van on those freezing January nights we just kept saying to each other ‘we can’t wait to see it in action’. We can’t wait to get everything in motion.
“It became a dream to get the van ready and then to have to halt launching immediately was difficult. Ultimately everyone’s in the same boat and everything, hopefully it just means we’ll be really busy next year.”