Picture the scene… a campsite in the middle of the woods, with only your friends and the stars for company. Your face is glowing orange and all of your sentences are punctuated by the crackle and pop of the fire. In your hands, a glass; in your glass, a Gin and Tonic. That moment – or rather, those many moments – served as the inspiration for Puddingstone Distillery’s Campfire Gin, so it was with great excitement that we delved into its story.
Co-founder and distillery Ben Marston explains: “As we mentally journeyed back through our past, looking to pinpoint all of the sensory experiences that had influenced and even defined us, we realised our best encounters with gin had been outside, often by a fire. The environments varied, but the comfort, warmth and simplicity that being outdoors with a good drink, alone or in the company of friends, staring at stars or blanketed by lush woodland resonated with us.”
Ben and his wife Kate both felt a real connection to and passion for Gin, having shared bottles of the spirit throughout many special events in their lives. Their home region, Hertfordshire, didn’t yet have a distillery and – with experience in tourism – the Marstons knew there was an opportunity to step into. It went deeper then that though. As Ben says: “we had a premeditated idea of the product and brand, an itch that needed to be scratched, a path into the woods that needed to be explored.”
Once the duo had decided that they wanted to make a gin, their first stop was a book shop, where they picked up The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, and Diffordsguide: Gin by Simon Difford. Pawing through the latter, they were suddenly sure of the fact that they could do it – that everything they hoped to achieve could fit around a gin distillery.
That happened in January 2014. In September of that year, the Marstons embarked on a road trip to visit the Strathearn, Pickerings and Durham distilleries, but it wasn’t until 2015 – after the duo passed their Institute of Brewers and Distillers exams – that Puddingstone Distillery began work on Campfire Gin in earnest.
After this, they began playing around with recipes on a one litre still – honing the final botanical line up for Campfire Gin before transferring to their 50 litre still, Isabella, to further tweak the recipe.
Since then, Puddingstone Distillery has added the somewhat more robust Amelia to the roster – a 200l still that will take over the main production of Campfire Gin in January 2017. This doesn’t mean Isabella is being put forward for early retirement; rather, she’ll be used for experimentation and the production of other gins, some of which will be exclusive to the distillery shop.
Campfire Gin is a one shot product – though Ben, in his capacity as Head Distiller, hasn’t ruled out going down the concentrate route in the future should demand require it. That said – he hasn’t ruled out getting an even bigger still, either. This adaptable, roll-with-it nature is, ultimately, one of the main advantages of being a tiny distillery.
The botanicals – juniper, orris, coriander, angelica, coffee cherry, roasted hazelnut, physalis, orange peel and grapefruit peel – are all macerated in a neutral spirit ahead of distillation. The cut is tiny, with each run on Isabella producing just enough spirit for 46 50cl bottles.
Campfire Gin to taste…
Fresh and waxy citrus peel floats to the top of the glass, so strong it’s as if you’re rolling the pith between your fingers. When served neat, orange and grapefruit dominate the nose entirely, leaving little room for anything else to assert itself. With a splash of water added, both citrusses comand the lead, though their caustic nature is eased.
When sipped neat, sweet orange laps at the tongue to the fore, while a warm, slightly spiced coriander seed comes in at the back. Orange and grapefruit peel aside, the botanicals play their parts with subtlety, providing a backdrop against which the aggressive citrus sings. Juniper isn’t particularly noticeable to taste in it’s own right, although the mouth is left with a vague sense of pine towards the end of the sip. Coffee cherry, hazelnut and physalis may well all be in there, but their effects are not that obvious to taste in their own rights. With a little attention they do tease in and out of focus but they are more like the more subtle crackle sounds of a fire, rather than the bright flame that is the citrus.
Campfire Gin has a consistency we’ve not quite experienced before; even with tonic, orange and grapefruit hold court, given endurance by the coriander. They’re almost loud enough to hold everything else back, although the hazelnuts add a nice depth to the mix and the core juniper does comes through.
It’s an exceptionally well made spirit, with absolutely no harshness and a smoothness that helps it glide down the throat with ease. As a gin, it’s certainly on the more progressive side (devout juniper fanatics may perhaps want to look elsewhere as it only really delivers a piney nip towards the end) but it’s finely crafted, utterly delicious and would work fantastically in many a classic cocktail, thus filling gin’s role, albeit working to its own rules. We particulalry enjoyed it in a Negroni.
In the spirit of honesty, we must admit to being a little disappointed with the flavour of Campfire Gin. With such unusual botanicals in physalis, hazelnut and coffee cherry, a more anchored, less citrus forward affair – in which these are allowed to come forward – would perhaps have been more appealing given what the name conjurs up.
That said, Puddingstone Distillery already has variants in the works. A navy strength and a cask aged expression are planned, and with little Isabella soon to be reprieved of the task of day-to-day distilling, we’re hoping for more. Ben has established himself as someone who knows flavours, and who knows how to create a smooth, super tasty spirit. If he chooses to create a more juniper forward gin, we’ll be the first in line to try it.
The Marstons have a clear understanding of the gin industry and a respect for the accessibility and transparency required to succeed these days. They know that story is key, and that consumers are smart enough to seek the story behind the end product. To meet this, they share candidly on social media and host regular tours of the site, which – for £15, including two cocktails – are bound to bring people to them.
The love they have for the outside is reflected not just in the gin, but in what they plan to do with it. Ben explains: “We’ll be using our product and the site as a hub for driving a series of activities designed to engage people with the positive aspects of being outdoors… it’s one of the reasons we managed to license a whole field! An appreciation for our natural environment is programmed into many of the current activities and plans moving forward. Simple things like charitable contributions to environmental and conservation projects and like configuring a rainwater harvesting system as a supply for our condensing water.”
Puddingstone Distillery relied heavily on crowdsourcing to get off the ground, which somewhat accelerated its following, both in social media and locally. Ben and Kate had to engage with their audience (and potential investors) right from the off to give people a fair and true impression of what it was they planned to do.
The bottle helps bring these impressions along; it’s short and squat, with a white, orange and gold theme. Campfire Gin is written in neat, curly typeface and the overall label is tactile and embossed. A marketing direction is certainly those that enjoy the outdoors – we for one can’t wait to road test this fireside, with only trees and chirping crickets for company.
That the crowdfunding target was met isn’t a miracle or a spot of good luck either, but the result of a lot of hard work. The Marstons have poured everything into this, working tirelessly to create a product that will hold appeal not just in their thirsty town, but nationwide. This core energy and steady progress is based on learning, research and embracing all of the possibilities that a craft gin maker can become is something to just be admired. It has left us in no doubt that this is no flash in the pan project, no hot and fast flame that will blow out at with the faintest of breezes. Both Campfire Gin and Puddingstone Distillery are much more akin to the glowing embers that will endure, sparking many exciting projects for years to come.
For more information about Puddingstone Distillery visit their website: puddingstonedistillery.com
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