In the back of a house in deepest Herefordshire there is a small room with a small but ominous looking 22nd century modern day equivalent of the machine age that Professor Bernard Quatermass himself would be in awe of. It sits on a laboratory bench quietly and seemingly innocuous but, once awake it starts to bubble, heat, cool and drip all at the same time using the power of it’s bluetooth brain, the sum of its work far exceeding the value of its individual parts.
When a scientist and an auditor make gin together, this is what it looks like. The mechanics and the science of distillation are well understood by this couple, Ross and Leigh, who share an analytical background and a love of gin. The creation of the essential parts of gin making are therefore easily and repeatably obtained and stored beside the Quatermass machine by them. But that is just the thing with gin as any Victorian Mother worth her sorry salt would have told you – making gin is easy, making good gin, that’s the tough part.
Ross and Leigh are the team couple behind this newest of gin makers. For a hobby Ross is an extreme runner which seems odd because in every other respect he seems like a sensible and level-headed fella. Leigh, is the shy and retiring one who prefers to tend to the garden where many of the botanical ingredients come from and dream up ever more inventive botanicals. You definitely get the the feeling that somewhere near the lab there is a secret chalkboard full of equations…
If this were all it took to make great gin then everyone would be doing it. But it is far more complicated than that. Things that you think would add great and unusual flavours when you find them don’t always translate in the distillation process and some things, you imagine routine and ordinary, knock your socks off in the distillate! It gets even more complicated when you start on the ruinous path of the dark art of blending for this is where the mystery exists. This is where the passion, the experience and the vision becomes reality.
There is no such thing as a short conversation with an expert or an enthusiast and Ross and Leigh are both. Ross waxes lyrical on the process of gin production and their story of how they got here is a fascinating one. All of this delivered in the soft Dublin brogue that tends to make everything seem grand.
The recent explosion in UK gin making is due in large part to the case of Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs v Sipsmiths.
Sipsmiths of London forged the way for small craft distillers in the UK and, perhaps unknowingly at the time, were instrumental in giving birth to the small-scale gin making industry. HMRC, with a waft of a derogatory hand, assessed this nascent distillery as nothing more than a “moonshine” producer. HMRC where up to that point used only to dealing with large conglomerate distillers, a very convenient situation indeed for both an easy life and tight control on the market and its revenue. They saw this small London operation as a threat and far too time consuming and troublesome to waste their time with. I wonder if those mandarins are still in a job as Sipsmiths slowly took over the London gin scene?
It took a change in legislation to achieve the granting of their licence in 2009 and nothing was ever the same again. Only a year before our own Chase Distillery had been denied a licence initially which forced them down the road of developing a much bigger operation.
But the renaissance of gin making has opened our eyes to the potential quality of this delightful and refreshing tipple. None more so than in the hands of Ross and Leigh. Their own gin collection (kept only for reference of course) has the volume capacity to keep a London borough of mothers ruined for a long time alone. But it’s what the two gin geniuses do next that is so exciting. They are creative in their blending. Don’t mistake this for random. The blending process is just as scientifically documented as everything else they do but whilst they document their experiments – they do experiment.
For example, inspiration came from the famous rose – Gertrude Jekyll – just outside the distillery door and so the petals of this legendary rose are now distilled into a jar in the laboratory shelf.
With three gins currently in the product range, nostalgia drove my first tasting choice inevitably to Rhubarb & Custard. I tasted neat gin first to savour the complex flavours and then with just a splash of a good quality tonic such as Fever Tree (a small amount of tonic will develop and enhance the flavours). And there I was, sat back down at my Nan’s kitchen table with my favourite pudding!! So good we put our money where our keyboard is and bought a bottle on the spot! The other two – Premium and Thai inspired are none too shabby either!
With plans for gin tasting days and gin making courses this quiet backwater of the Herefordshire countryside will be a little better known in future.
To find out more about what Ross and Leigh get up to in the “lab” or to book your own gin experience visit their website and follow them on Facebook.
The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire” – Winston Churchill
Woods of Whitchurch