Having known each other since schooldays, Phil Burley and Graham Veitch have had several successful businesses in their careers. Many of these, as often happens during the meandering path of life, have led to the next. Their journey into distilling began when another of their ventures saw them moving, scrapping and selling breweries. During the process, they found that they were getting a few enquiries to do the same with distilleries, and something about the set up behind such a business really started to speak to them.
Keen to assess viability, they got in touch with industry veteran, Jamie Baxter. “We met the very next day in October 2013 and within an hour we decided to build our own distillery in Leicestershire. Our first product was always intended to be Gin” Baxter told us. This wasn’t the end of it however; the trio set their sights towards other opportunities and other services that weren’t being catered to yet.
To run in tandem to their own, they set up another business to build distilleries for other people and in the time since that meeting have completed over a dozen. Not ones to waste time, they ordered the still ahead of Christmas 2013 and by New Year the rest of the equipment was also in trolleys, freight containers and on pallets on their way to Leister.
The speed may surprise many in the industry – especially to all of those who’ve read about years of HMRC wrangling and careful research, but Baxter had (even back then) done this type and scale of project many times before and so knew exactly what we needed and where to get it from.
“The original plan was to install it in Leicester city centre and we found suitable premises, but the owner got cold feet and so with the still on the way we had to find an alternative site”. Thankfully, They landed on their feet and ended up on the picturesque Bawdon Lodge Farm in Nanpantan, just south of Loughborough in the old milking parlour. It’s a beautiful location, but it’s not without it’s problems, Baxter revealed: “It’s very pretty but we don’t get the footfall that we had originally anticipated from being in the middle of the City.”
Despite having the plans underway and now a location, perhaps rather surprisingly for such a decisive team, they did not have a brand name for the product they were about to make. In fact, they kept discussing many options right up until they started developing the gin itself. This wasn’t too much later, mind, as with the gleaming copper stills all set, the first batch of gin was distilled towards the end of June 2014, just six months later.
The Development of Burleighs Gin
“I have some 25 Gins in the marketplace now and knew exactly what I wanted to create for our first gin – a good, honest traditional London Dry Gin with bold flavours that can stand up to any tonic water”. According to Baxter, Burleigh’s signature product had to make a great G&T so juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, cardamom, cassia and fresh orange peel were all considered essential to the idea.
“I was struggling, however, to find something to set us apart a little and also root us in Leicestershire. A friend came to visit as he had studied at the nearby Loughborough University and he persuaded me to take a walk with him in some woods close to the distillery. As we walked he pointed out some dandelion and burdock growing next to each other and joked that they could be made into a drink. It struck me that that was of course exactly what I was trying to do and so I got in some samples of those two, plus silver birch and elderberry, as well as several others that we saw growing. As soon as I smelled the burdock root sample I knew that it would work well, and trials proved it.”
Those woods around the distillery are, incidentally, where the distillery’s flagship sprits gets their name – Burleighs. Rather uniquely however, the recipe developments lead to three separate concepts being made all using the same ingredients. “It constantly amazes me what a big difference in the final flavour of a gin can be achieved with a very small change to the botanical recipe. I used this to our advantage with the Burleighs range by creating three different Gins with from the same eleven botanicals”.
For reference, readers, the signature product (at 40% ABV) has a traditional flavour profile, with lots of juniper, coriander and citrus. The Export Strength version, (bottled at 47% ABV), has a more spicy profile and the Distillers Cut (also at 47% ABV) is a deliberately more ‘contemporary’ style of gin.
To make their gins, the team use a 450litre Holstein copper pot still with a four-plate side column. It takes around ten hours and each batch is around 600 bottles per run (and just 500 of the higher proof 47%). For you geeks who always ask us about such matters – the Burleighs range is made using a single shot method.
Burleighs Gin range to taste….
Burleighs London Dry Gin, 40% ABV:
Citrus aromas of zesty orange emerge upfront, complimented by underlying juniper. This is a classically styled gin on the nose, and leaves you little doubt as to where it wants to go next.
To taste, it’s traditional to the core and anyone who likes a crisp, London Dry Gin (both literally and figuratively) will find a lot of familiar and enjoyable ground here. The cardamom plays a clear role in the background, but the citrus holds into the mid section and a touch of the floral elements from orris comes through towards the finish. It never strays too far from the path, and before long a black pepper-like spice sweeps through the finish.
There’s not much change in a G&T, which is great assurance that it’s a brilliant gin, but which also makes it just that little bit boring in today’s crowded market place. It’s classic, it’s good but it’s not something to write home about. Looking at the team sheet, the elderberry and burdock root aren’t really that apparent. We’ve got no doubt they play a part, but given that they are the more unusual local botanicals it’s a shame they aren’t a little more prominent as, on paper, they are the stars of the show, but from a flavour perspective they don’t really add an obvious sense of place.
Burleighs Export Strength Gin, 47% ABV:
Dusty black pepper tones are clearer to see now that the ABV has been dialled up, and it’s much clearer to get the cassia and the burdock/rooty elements on the aroma to taste. It’s bone dry too, with juniper in the backdrop all the way through the journey and often taking the lead.
That dry angelica woodiness and juniper pine duo again shine through on the finish too, which is significantly more pronounced and while it’s not radically different as a Gin (it is, after-all, the same thing at a higher proof), the added 7% seems to give the local botanicals more of a chance to live a little.
Burleighs Distiller’s Cut Gin 47% ABV:
More floral, less citrusy, almost softer aromas emerge. There’s still a good zing upfront (this time more caramelised than fresh) to taste though, before elderberry’s rich tones surround that classic gin core to fantastic effect. It’s piny (earthy this time rather than green) and spiced but with slightly more prominent violet orris notes and much more of a sense of personality.
There’s something much more captivating overall about this one, so much so that it makes you wonder quite if there’s a need for both the regular and the export version to be available in the UK given the Distiller’s Cut grounds their locality better than either, while the other two essentially deliver the same form of classicism.
In a G&T, the elderberry is clearer while the cardamom supports it well. Once again, it delivers a far more interesting series of flavours and nuances than the flagship or export strength. Not just a more memorable experience, the increased prominence of cardamom and elderberry notes make it quite an interesting gin to play with from a garnishing perspective too (we’d opt for an orange peel and rosemary sprig).
Not just a gin maker, but a gin school and a showroom distillery
It’s worth noting that 45 West acts as Baxter and co’s showroom, as such there are a few other bells and whistles in there that they don’t currently use for their own production, but which help other clients with their decision making process and which helps them with their consultancy. It’s also why it looks like a textbook version of how to set up a distillery too…
The distillery isn’t just geared towards consultancy however. For us mere mortals and those not necessarily looking to set up a craft distilling business of their own but who merely want to go and explore, have fun and make their own gin – 45 Gin School runs on the site as well.
“Our guests our shown around the distillery by one of our distillers and learn about gin in general, and of course Burleighs in particular. After that they use one of our ten mini stills to distill their own full size bottle of gin to take away with them. We provide over 100 botanicals to choose from and as much help, or as little, as people want”.
If this all sounds familiar and you think you’ve seen it all before, well… it’s because you have. Baxter is a prolific consultant whose ideas for methods, set-ups and distillery footprint has stamped its mark across the gin world. City of London, Salcombe – there’s a Baxter shaped reason these business share so many qualities.
As one might expect from such decisive leadership and from having the kind of restless minds keen on being productive, this is a distillery that was never going to rest on its laurels. They have continued to innovate new ideas for recipes and have released several other expressions such as a collaboration with Leicester’s Football club and Burleighs London Dry Gin, Pink edition. The latter release came about when Baxter paid a visit to Tokyo right at the end of the cherry blossom season, when the city was awash with pink. Feeling inspired, he bought as much of a preserved cherry blossom called Sakura as he could find and upon his return distilled it with the other eleven Burleighs botanicals, as well as rose petals, chamomile flowers and hibiscus.
“We did a single batch of 600 bottles and sold the entire batch through our website in just four days. Because of the difficulties in maintaining supply, we will release larger batches just three or four times a year”.
Their namesake range is now growing, too, and while it may seem that their gins might continue bubbling under the surface, it’s worth remembering that the range, as innovative and intriguing as it is, is merely the tip of the iceberg. The true influence of 45 West is very hard to surmise or really account for. In our opinion, ‘craft’ distilling in the UK and the shape that many distilleries have emerged recently has been directly because of the consultancy work that’s emanated from the team over the past three years.
Next time you walk into a distillery and see a 450L Holstein still, an active mini gin school, open door visitor centres, active tours etc, you should be comfortable enough to place an odds on favourite bet as to who’s been involved in the set up.
Baxter has been involved in so many distilleries and it is his business model that has seen a huge amount of them survive. As with our comments with some of them – this is also the very reason why they can at times feel a little hollow, as they’re purchased, copy and paste ideas that have been taught to them, rather than something that’s come from within. That’s no bad thing, merely a testament to a successful model that runs itself (and that so many have relied on to grow).
Looking at the source of it, it’s easy to see why, too; Burleigh’s is a great operation and there’s so much there that’s mightily impressive. Yet in equal measure, all of this praise of their implicit understanding for the business of Gin and for the amount that they have contributed to the scene is also our biggest bone of contention with the range. We have to question why a team that knows so much about the industry, who have made so many recipes and who can claim genuine credence as having a Master Distiller would play so safe when the shackles of client opinions and demands were removed? Why be so classically styled as to nullify any memorable point of difference in the final flavour and why not showcase that expertise through the liquid itself, not just the distillery business and the set up?
For us, as solid as the London Dry Gin is and as tasty the Distiller’s Cut, given the calibre of all involved it’s frustrating to not have received the masterpiece that Burleigh’s could have been. It just doesn’t leap out at you, grab your soul and suspend disbelief. It’s the Gin equivalent of a VW Golf. You really can’t go wrong with it, but it lacks the raw sex appeal you can find with others out there that don’t have the same user friendly nature, but that deliver moments of unexplainable joy.
Try the gins for yourself. We’re not certain that you’ll be whisked away by a transportive spirit or transfixed by unique provenance, nor will you necessarily be clambering to recommend it to all of your friends, but what we are absolutely, unequivocally certain you’ll agree with us on is that they are rock solid offerings that make a cracking G&T that any gin lover is bound to enjoy. Try it once and it’ll become a cabinet staple in no time.
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