Sure, medicine wasn’t all that, and life had something of a toil until you die (aged 40) vibe about it, but there was some element of culture, or some absence of common sense in the Middle Ages, that holds a wonderful appeal to those of us observing these times from a distance. It was an age of superstition and ludicrousness, and this silly tale – that of the Brindle Cuckoos of Lancashire – was really nothing too much out of the ordinary.
The Legend of the Brindle Cuckoo tells of a time in which the first call of the cuckoo was believed to be a signifier of spring. The fertile land would wake up, and crops would start to grow. The warmer seasons were a time in which fruit and grain was in abundance, so the local folks – presumably delirious with over-nourishment – decided that it would be quite nice if it was to last forever. The key to this, they realised, was to wall in a cuckoo so that it couldn’t fly off, thus keeping summer around forever.
Unfortunately, they built the wall about two stones too short, so the cuckoo made like a bird and flew on out of there, foiling their plans somewhat. Though eternal summer was a misfire, the story stuck, and locals were still referred to as the Brindle Cuckoos long into the 19th Century. Inspired by this old, old story, the newly founded Brindle Distillery decided to name its first product Cuckoo Gin.
Cuckoo Gin is a family affair, based on Gerard and Cath Singleton’s farm in Brindle. When they decided to enter the booze world in 2016, their children Alice, William, Liz and her husband, Mark Long were all in for the ride.
Mark explains: “After visiting the Cotswold Distillery in March 2016, and seeing the ‘grain to glass’ process, Gerard had a brain wave. Holmes Farm in Brindle, Lancashire, which has been in the Singleton family since the 1930s, hadn’t been an efficient farm for many years, and so Gerard came up with a way to diversify, enabling the farm to work once again and invest in the family’s future. We would grow our own barley and wheat on the land at Holmes Farm to create our own alcohol, and use the spring on the farm to pull water from the land to brew, distil and cut our own alcohol to strength.”
In May 2016, Mark married Liz and – wedding out of the way – the family launched straight into creating Cuckoo Gin. He and Gerrard studied alcohol production and gin distillation, and they applied for farm diversification funding in order to get them up and running.
It took 13 months in total to transform Holmes Farm’s cow shed into a distillery, though only 15 months in total to go from inspiration to bottle, with Cuckoo Gin launching at a gin event in Skipton in June 2017. A biomass boiler was installed to heat the brewery and still, and while sustainability is a key interest for the team, they now boost this with a little bit of electricity to get the still from 80 to 100 degrees.
They ordered in a big old still from Kothe, based in Stuttgart, Germany, and set to work. As big Gin drinkers already, the Singleton family had an idea of what they liked, so they set all of the gins they liked as a benchmark and started playing with botanicals. “We wanted to make a gin that we all loved and could get excited about, whilst also creating something that would stand up in the market alongside a tonic and in classic cocktails,” Mark said.
Once they had a vague notion of the botanicals they wanted to use, they brought in consultant Gerard Evans to fine tune the recipe, and really look into what the botanicals get up to once they are distilled.
The idea behind the distillery was to safeguard the future of Holmes Farm by using its crop to make alcohol, but to help get things going – and to see them through the initial period while they work out the potential of their own yields – Brindle Distillery is blending its own alcohol with NGS (sourced from Manchester).
Creating their own base makes the process far costlier, but the principle to use the farm has stuck, and eventually they plan to make other spirits that require a grain spirit. It does make the run incredibly long, though – they brew on day one, distil to strip the alcohol on day five, do a spirit run on day six and, finally, make Cuckoo Gin on day seven. How very biblical!
To transform the Brindle base and NGS mix into Gin, the spirits are blended and added to the still. All of the botanicals – juniper, lemon, orange, grapefruit, porridge oats, ground almonds, liquorice, chamomile, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cassia, angelica and orris root – are added to a vapour chamber basket and vapour infused. The spirit is distilled at a starting point of 50% ABV, and the resulting distillate (at this point well over 80%) is cut down to bottling strength (43%), with spring water from the farm.
Explaining their distillation methods, Mark said: “We run at low temperatures, taking our time as we have a large scale still therefore we are not in any rush to catch up with orders! The choice of vapour infusion came about after a number of blind tests; maceration vs vapour vs maceration and vapour… Vapour came out on top, so that was our final decision!”
It’s worth noting, while we’re on the topic of process, that Brindle Distillery places a real emphasis on sustainability. All of the raw materials in their spirits come from the farm, the water comes from a natural artesian acquifier and the botanicals are sourced sustainably and ethically. All of the waste materials from making the gin are put to good use, too, with byproducts fed to cows and chicken, and straw from the barley used as their bedding. Every other natural byproduct is composted and spread across the fields to get next year’s crop up and running.
Cuckoo Gin to taste…
The base is huge on the nose, delivering a spicy, cereal-like hit that, while not unclean, certainly hints back at its time in the fermentation tanks. As such, barley is the first, and most dominant, botanical, though presumably it’s been given additional weight by the use of porridge oats and almonds. There’s a discernible an earthy juniper lingers in the background, and sniff carefully enough, you’ll find that the lemon, orange and grapefruit citrus trio hums merrily beneath.
To taste, the citrus trifecta pipes up quickly, and there’s a flush of green chamomile before everything melds into a lava-hot mix. The cassia and cinnamon in particular lend fire, teaming up with the spicy base to heat up every crevice of the mouth and throat on the finish. The botanicals that could provide sweetness, like almond and oats, play more of a role in the texture of the gin, bringing a certain richness that would work well in a Martini. They also add to the length of the gin too, which is notably long and lingering.
With tonic, the grainy undertones still reigns supreme, with the cinnamon and cassia continuing their assault. A rocket-life pepperiness flourishes across the mouth as coriander seed and juniper bring a dash of freshness, and the citrus trio dance around in the background, their brightness egged on by the quinine.
In a G&T we’d garnish with sweet, fresh fruit like pomegranate or perhaps even a sliver of mango. It may sound like a strange mix, but spice is so well represented in the gin that adding in some sugar would result in a well-rounded drink. Mark’s personal favourite garnish is rosemary and black pepper, though the Singletons opt for orange peel and a fresh slice of ginger.
The Cuckoo Gin bottle is a beautiful, well thought out package. It’s made of clear, sky blue glass, with black botanical drawings and a little bit of information about the distillery printed directly onto it. Brindle Distillery has created room to expand the range without redesigning by placing the gin’s name and logo on a copper coloured sticker, front and centre. It is very obvious that careful consideration has gone into every detail – a quick flick through their social media channels shows the team pawing through Pantone charts as they try to find the right shade of sky blue.
The sheer size of the family team means that no stone is going unturned in their quest for a successful gin brand. Each member of the family has room to work to their strengths: Mark’s wife Liz is an actress, so mans the Cuckoo Gin stand at events up and down the country, along with Gerard’s wife Cath and their two other children, William, an agricultural machinery specialist and Alice, a journalist (who also runs the social media).
Looking in, we’re not convinced that on the existing distilling apparatus they own, Brindle will ever be able to go totally “From Scratch” and not have to mix their base spirit with NGS. Pretty though it is, a still needs way more than 4 plates to be able drive up the alcohol to the dizzying heights of over 96% ABV. That’s no bad thing, though, and in many ways, having the home made spirit as an addition to what goes into the pot (and be evident to taste on the way out) makes its use more akin to that of another botanical, as opposed to being the canvass on which they all sit.
We’re glad that they as a team have chosen to be quite transparent about this dual use fact, as valuing the idea of grain to glass is a core reason that many have supported Cuckoo early. Showing a level of brand maturity and awareness in striking the right balance of explaining a USP while not being disingenuous is something that many start-ups fail to do in their early months, which leads us to believe their is a bright future here.
Hundreds and hundreds of gins have popped up since the Gin renaissance, and while many are bound to fizzle out with the spirit’s inevitable fall in popularity, some will survive, and even thrive, in the next phase, whatever that may be. Cuckoo Gin, with its tasty gin and genuine family story has every right and reason to fall into the latter category. By opening a distillery, the Singletons have safeguarded the future of their farm, and with a willingness to diversify not just what they do with the land, but what they do with their spirits, they’re going to find an audience for years to come.
We’re really excited to see what the next year or so has in store for them. Everything they have achieved so far has been done to great success, and in a time frame that few achieve too. With such an industrious team, a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance, they could be a known brand in no time at all…
For more information about Cuckoo Gin, visit the website: brindledistillery.co.uk
Say hello on Social Media!
Copyright © Gin Foundry