Multi-award winning and set to expand into new sites in Birmingham, we look at the innovative and very successful business founded by Phil Innes
A ‘random’ visit to a bar in Florence proved to be a game-changer for Phil Innes. It gave him the idea of how he would translate a love of wine into a business that has become one of the coolest in Birmingham – and which may well have tripled in size by the end of this year. “I always knew that I’d want to set up my own business,” said Phil, from Harborne, who developed his knowledge of wine while working for the likes of Wine Rack and Oddbins during his time studying at Manchester University. Phil’s ‘lightbulb moment’ came when he spotted a machine tucked at the back of the small bar in the Italian city. It turned out to be a wine sampling machine – a piece of equipment that dispenses several different wines by the glass. “The Italian culture is very different, traditional, and they like their wine served by hand, but I wondered that maybe it could be different in the UK where younger customers in particular would be more than happy to serve themselves using these machines. Instead of being at the back of the bar, why not at the front as the main focus where people could use them themselves and try lots of different kinds of wine?”
These sampling machines were such a rare sight in the UK at the time that when Phil founded Loki Wine the only other place to have them was Selfridges in London. In the three years since opening in Great Western Arcade, Phil has seen his unique offering create a huge buzz in Brum. Loki Wine is regularly packed out with customers looking to sample his unusual and varied wines. Loki Wine is a fine wine merchant/shop and bar dedicated to offering a huge range in diverse and hard-to-come-by fine wines from around the world at affordable prices. It stocks more than 600 wines and spirits. But it’s the wine sampling/preservation machines which are the big draw and talking point. “We started with three machines able to serve 24 wines,” said Phil. “We now have five, serving 40 different wines which are being constantly updated.” The whole thing works brilliantly thanks to the chip-and-pin style Loki Wine Tasting Card which patrons purchase first. You either load the cards up with money or a tab. Once you’re up and running, it’s time to enjoy as many and as varied glasses of wine as you like. Even now, after three years of standout success, there’s nowhere else in Birmingham or the West Midlands selling wine in this way. The secret to success however isn’t just the novel gadgetry – it’s down to the expertise and knowledge of Phil and his team going out and finding intriguing and exciting wines from around the world. A couple of days after we spoke Phil was jetting off to California on a wine-buying trip. Another member of his team was in Argentina doing the same. All of which goes to explain why Loki Wine isn’t proving to be a hit just with customers but also industry experts. Loki is the most awarded wine merchant in Birmingham, winning 11 major national awards in the past three years. It was also named Best Drink Merchant at last month’s inaugural Birmingham Food, Drink and Hospitality Awards.
You might think all this success would be going to Phil’s head? You’d be wrong. Sure, he has plans to expand: “We have two more sites we are looking at in Birmingham at the moment. At least one will happen. If I get both I will be very, very happy.” But Phil doesn’t believe in getting too big. “Seven outlets would be a really nice number. It’s what I envisaged when I started. Seven is about right for the kind of specialist wines we sell. We have one wine, for example, of which only four cases of 12 bottles were imported to the UK. We had one of those cases. If you get too big in this business you just can’t do that. Everything changes to being large scale, bulk buying. It’s not what we are about. I’ve always believed that with wine the smaller you go in production the better the quality will be.” The perfect example of this ethos for perfection, is Loki Wine being the first place in Birmingham to use a Coravin – a clever piece of kit that allows the rarest and most expensive wines to be extracted from the bottle without removing the cork… Now that’s attention to detail for you!