Full name: Natalie Wallis (Palmer)
Role: Group Commercial Manager, WH Palmer Group
DOB: 17th October, at drinkstime!
Twitter Handle: @langleydistill / @palmersgin
Fun Fact: “I once made Mary Berry a cup of coffee while I was meant to be serving gin.”
We know you as the great-great-great granddaughter of Langley Distillery’s founder (…is that enough greats?) Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your backstory, what you were doing before you joined at 19? Had you always planned to work with the family business?
That is the correct number of greats – I have to check myself! We have over 200 years of experience in distilling.
I had just left school & was waiting to start university. I started covering a maternity role in our finance team. I now count bottles in my sleep.
As I understand it you guys, in the guise of ‘gin elves’ produce on contract for about 100 other brands. Could you tell us how that works? Do they basically give you a brief and an ideal flavour profile? Has it always worked that way for the distillery? It’s only recently that you distilled your ‘own brand’, right? (see next question…)
We contract distil for the global gin market, producing the equivalent of 70 million bottles of gin annually for our brand partners. Some customers come to us with an idea of a flavour profile; others with a brand idea; others will come just wanting a ‘gin’ and we guide them through the whole process from start to finished gin. We happily work with artisan distilleries right up to multinationals.
The distillery has always contract distilled (for over 200 years) and this is one of the main focuses of the business.
As for Palmers Gin – recently launched to celebrate 200 years in the business and still going strong! Could you tell us more about it? The botanical mix, the choices you’ve made and so on. It’s the first gin you guys have released under your own brand, right?
Palmers is the first own brand gin we have produced. My grandmother, Angela Palmer, created the recipe and adored it; so last year we felt the time was right for everyone to be able to release her secret, which had been shared by the family for decades. Palmers is a classic London dry gin with juniper in abundance, complemented by spice and citrus notes coming from the grapefruit added to the distillation.
We distil using traditional methods, macerating the botanicals overnight whilst they are being warmed to release the essential oils.
I heard somewhere that you guys own what is the UK’s oldest working copper pot still – The McKay. Could you tell us about that?
At the distillery we like to call McKay our ‘newest old still’ – it dates back to 1863; but we recently refurbished it to enable us to bring contract distillation to a whole new market. It’s a beautiful still with a capacity of 300 litres.
You were also recently made a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company Of Distillers and were granted Freedom of the City of London. Could you tell us a bit more about that, what that entails and what it was like? If I wanted to be a Liveryman, what would I have to do?
Becoming a Liveryman was a great honour. It has been a tradition in our family for over six generations. The process starts with an application for the Freedom of the City, which allegedly allows me to drive sheep once a year over London Bridge. Being a ‘freeman’ then enables you to continue the process of becoming a Liveryman. It is a very traditional process and either you must be relevant to each Worshipful Company’s business (distillers/ fishmongers/ grocers etc) or by family descent. Luckily I was both! It involves me in the distillers’ chosen
Luckily I was both! It involves me in the distillers’ chosen charities, and allows me to meet people in the distilling industry, who I might not come across in my normal working life.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the gin industry?
My days vary quite a lot! Anything from making sure the stills are loaded and running correctly to handling new client or product enquiries – no day is ever the same. The gin industry has changed significantly over the last few years. We spend a lot of time in product development and guiding people in all things gin – whether that’s how to distil, how they can market their gin, & what they can and can’t do!
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
Launching Palmers was one of the greatest moments because of the strong family connection we all have with the brand. It’s amazing to be able to now speak about something in the wider industry, which has been kept under wraps for so long. The entire launch process has been a journey which has been so interesting & educational.
Where do you get your ideas?
For new product development I always try to listen to our brand partners’ needs; but I am also strongly guided by what I would like to see or buy as a consumer.
What’s your philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
It’s always past 12 o’clock – somewhere in the world! But drink responsibly.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
Working with natural botanicals is a constant challenge, as there are so many different situations that can change at any given moment. We have amazing relationships with our field-based suppliers; so we have learnt over the years only to source the best & most sustainable botanicals
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
I always try and look for alternative ways to create flavour profiles in gin, and it can be challenging when looking at the sustainability of botanicals. But we love to see traditional and contemporary botanicals rubbing shoulders with each other, and launching our botanical business has meant we now forage a growing number of regional botanicals too. My father is our main botanical buyer; and I love my botanicals.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
I love making people’s ideas become reality. When a client tells our development laboratory that they have hit the nail on the head with a new product, it doesn’t get much better. There isn’t really a side of my job that I enjoy least, although working with natural raw materials means that the weather or natural disasters can throw a curve ball when you least expect it!
What advice would you give to aspiring gin business people who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
It’s hard to fit 212 years of business into one answer; but I would say what I say to my customers: listen & research; understand what it is you want to do; have clear aims; use the highest quality products; & understand the feasibility of each move you wish to make.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
I would be a volcanologist! But I already have my dream job, so it’s unlikely!
If you could get anyone to try your many gins (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the gins would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
I wish the Queen Mother had tried Palmers. Being a gin fan, like my granny, I feel she would have loved Palmers as much as my family all do!
Where next for you and Langley Distillery?
Continuing to make people smile all over the world, and to innovate.
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you could swap lives for the day with any fictional character (and you’d be guaranteed to return to your life after 24 hours), who would you choose, and why?
I’d swap with Mary Poppins. Who doesn’t want to be able to tidy the house with one click of the fingers!
If you had to become some kind of vegetable related superhero, which would you become, and what would you superpower be?
I’d be an aubergine, floating mellifluously and exotically in multiple places, all at once
If the army donated a functioning army tank to the distillery (and paid its fuel/ammo expenses) what would you do with it?
I would have the tank lifted onto the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square, and fill its lemon-caressed barrel with iced bullets of finest G&T. The parachutes fitted to their tail (obviously) would allow them to drop like specks of snow into the gaping mouths below.
‘Sampling’ is just so important, no?