I read that you met in Agricultural College originally. How long ago was that and why’d you guys swap the world of farming for gin distillation?
Yes, we met in September 1997. After, leaving we both went into the world of fresh produce which led us slightly away from our agricultural roots. We wanted to get back to our farms and start our own business. We looked at many options including growing crops, such as lavender, to produce essential oils. This was the inspiration for distilling – a still is required to extract the essential oils and when we realised we could distil spirits we spoke of flowers no more!
Are you having fun? ‘Cos anything that involves that much gin looks like fun…
Yes we are…….we are earning less, working more but it’s all good! We have met some fantastic people along the way. When people hear about our story and try our lovely gin they have been more than generous in their praise and actually many have tried to help us! Seeing what mixologists can do with our gin is awesome…..there are some very talented people out there doing amazing things with cocktails. They love our gin as its robust and complex flavour feeds into their creative side.
I read that when starting out (around 2010?) you were considering vodka production as an alternative? So, why’d you settle on gin in the end?
The original vision was to distil our spirits from the grain grown on our farms. Although this is still an ambition, the capital requirement to achieve this was too much for us to start. We were going to produce Vodka. However, we were always gin drinkers really and although it doesn’t originate here in the UK, gin as we know it today is very British! So, we started looking into producing gin.
I also read that you’re best mates? I’ve never had the chance to work with mine, but what’s it like? Does it affect the business relationship? Is it more fun – do you get on each other’s nerves more?
“They say you should never work with your friends… However, in this case it seems to work.”
Both Tom and Sion are very different characters but we have a very similar outlook on life and a vision of what we want to achieve. Having known each other for so long I think we can almost guess the others opinion. We don’t get on each other’s nerves but we would be naive to think starting a business together would not change our friendship in some way. However, there are not many days that go by when we don’t laugh. Even when things are very stressful we usually see the funny side of something which makes all the difference. We are in this to make great spirits not advance our careers, which means it all about having fun along the way!!
Could you tell us about your still, what it does, why you bought the customised German one?
There is a great tradition in continental Europe for producing brandy, schnapps and Eau De Vie (Ed: we recommend that you do not drink Eau De Vie, not now, not ever…). There is a lot of small producers and this has led to an expertise in producing good quality small stills such as ours. For some reason they are in Germany and quite a few small producers in the UK have opted for a Carl, some for Klothe but no one had opted for Holstein. We felt that it was better built and the patented catalyser we felt gave it an edge. We had the first small Holstein in the UK. It is an important part of our gin, without this still we are sure that the quality would not be quite so high.
How does the Northamptonshire spring water that you guys use affect the final product?
When making anything you should always add the best ingredients…Keith Floyd said that if a wine that is not good enough to drink is not good enough to cook with. This is a philosophy we have embraced. There are seven springs in the field across the road from the distillery. We tasted all seven and chose the one we liked. Purely on taste. It has a smooth, fresh, sweet element that comes through in the gin. It is after all 56% of the bottle so a vital part.
How’d you come up with the botanical blend that makes your gin unique? Did it take a lot of trial and error? When you make a batch, do you have to weigh out each ingredient in painstaking increments or is there room for…uh, slack?
It took 4 ½ months of arduous mixing and tasting!! It was great fun as we had friends and family around the kitchen table tasting and giving opinions on each blend until we all agreed on the ‘one’. We developed the recipe with distilled essences then scaled it up to distil. We take great care with every distillation carefully measuring out all the ingredients and processes we employ in making the gin. We have improved our process over the last 14 months but the recipe is exactly the same.
Will you be developing any more varieties? I read that you’ve done Elderflower and Sloe gins in the past… again, is that a long and arduous process?
We have a few ideas in the pipeline. We are working hard to establish our gin as the competition is so high at the moment. We are ensuring that everything we produce is always at a high standard. As such we will only release new spirits when we are completely happy with the product. It also means a lot more mixing and tasting of course!!
I love that personal touch with the hand sealing of every bottle. Considering the volume you put out, is it a lot of work?
Simply…..yes! It seems we cannot do anything the easy way and so it is with our process. However, we think that people can see the love, care and attention that goes into every bottle. We are one of very few that distil and bottle in the same place. Having that finish on the bottle demonstrates the fact that we do it all!
What’s it like getting your product into the likes of F&M and Harvey Nichols? Was that a challenge?
We have many great outlets across the county now and to have F&M and Harvey Nics amongst them is great. They add real pedigree to our credentials. They were always on our list of people to approach. We simply called them, explained our story and had a meeting. Once they tasted the gin they both felt that it was of a standard that could be on their esteemed shelves.
Suppose I wanted to start making my very own gin (not likely, since I’d have no idea of what I’m doing and apparently distilling done wrong is a bit destructive…) – what would the process be like, what would I need, how hard would it be and how much money would I be looking to invest?
We can’t give away all our methods!! But it takes a vision of what you want to achieve. A great deal of planning, we worked on this for 3 ½ year prior to launch. Once we knew what we needed to achieve our vision we went about starting the ball rolling. There was a point in the process where we effectively had to ‘press the button’ which meant there was no return. We have gone ‘all in’ on the investment.
It is possible to start at many levels, some people start a ‘brand’ which requires much less investment by having it contract distilled and packed. It is possible to spend a fortune on developing and launching a brand and it fail. So it is all a big risk. Even the big boys get it wrong sometimes.
If you could go back to the beginning and start over, what would you change or do differently?
We have made a million mistakes and probably lost quite a lot of money in the process. But we have learnt and will not be making the same mistakes twice. We used quite a few consultants in the beginning. No one has the same drive and ambition as yourselves so we would probably change this. Although we did have day jobs at the time so in some way there was no other option. One piece of advice to anyone is listen to all advice but listen to your own instinct……it will most probably be right!
Did you ever have a point where you knew it was working, or that you’d ‘made it’? Do you remember that point?
Don’t think we’ve made it yet!! We have a long way to go. For me when I tasted the first distillation after it had settled I knew we had created a very special gin. It was a real wow moment. It was then followed by our first review by David T Smith, then a silver in San Francisco and the IWSC.
What was the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome and what did you learn from it?
There have been many along the way. Dealing with the stress of all the challenges that come your way is the biggest of all challenges. It seems at times that when all seems hopeless there has been almost a divine intervention that has helped us along the way. The biggest thing is when all seems hopeless you have to find a way. Explorers had that endeavour to keep going…….it’s that kind of power you need from within to achieve your goals.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you guys in your work – drink industry or otherwise. Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from?
There are many people who inspire us. From friends who had started their own businesses to individuals who have achieved something amazing. Mankind is amazing and there are sources of inspiration everywhere. Don’t wait for your ship to come in…..row out and meet it.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
Meeting people who are passionate about their food and drink is the best part. Either in consuming or creating it. The least enjoyable part is the donkey work. When people hear about what you do they often don’t realise that amount of hard work there is in just making it happen. We are constantly under pressure but the rewards are brilliant….just to see people’s reactions when they taste our gin makes it all worth it. No prize can equal peoples reaction when they discover our gin for the first time!
If you guys weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Most likely still in fresh produce. We may not have taken the leap into starting our own business and sat comfortably in our old industry. Who knows what life bring you. We started this process five years ago from a conversation which just snowballed into gin!!
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the gin business?
Most days are different. Most likely they could be split into production days, where we distil and bottle. Show days where we attend shows and tastings. Then there are meeting days where we meet some of our customers, meet some new customers and all the other little meeting you have to do to run a business. It’s great that there are no two days that are the same really!
Most days turn out much different to what you first expected. And of course there are never enough hours in the day!
What advice would you give to aspiring food & drink entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Planning. Be sure of what you want to achieve. Have a clear vision. Then do it. Yoda said…do or do not, there is no try!
And we always ask 3 customary ridiculous questions
If you could invent a completely new use for gin (assume that the laws of physics do exactly what you want to allow this to happen…) – what would you choose, and why?
Producing a lot of power – no need for nuclear power just Ginerators!! (Ed: lol)
If you could hire any musician, fictional or real, live or dead, to become a WE brand ambassador and put on a gig to raise awareness, who would you pick?
If a wealthy benefactor donated a super powerful industrial cutting laser to your distillery, and paid the power bill (and you HAD to use it for some reason or another…) – what would you do with it?
Just for cutting stuff……we would never use the scissors again. Opening boxes, cutting wire, cutting tape, opening letters, splitting logs……….anything that you can cut.