Nestled in the small village of Dullingham, on the outskirts of Cambridge, lies the English Spirit Distillery. The subtle play on words in the name gives an insight into not only the people who work there, but the spirits coming off the run too. Let us explain why.
Master Distiller and Founder Dr. John Walters graduated from Oxford with a doctorate in biochemistry, and after a while spent working in various companies, decided to settle down in the drinks industry. He decided to start his own distillery after listening to a radio talk show that stated eau de vie production in England was impossible. Taking to the internet, he set about researching and trying to prove the theory wrong, which ended up becoming the catalyst for his distillery’s actualisation.
The distillery requested a permit from HRMC in 2009, that was granted two years later in 2011. Since then, the product range has grown and includes Malt Spirit, Old Salt Rum, Grappa, Sambuca, straight Vodka, flavoured Vodkas including Cucumber, Colombian Coffee Bean, Vanilla Pod and a Gin.
Given Walters’ distaste for tonic and being the huge wine and food fan that he is, he wanted to create a gin to be enjoyed on it’s own. Botanicals were chosen for their flavour, smell and provenance. They include 5 varieties of coriander, fresh zests of lemons, limes and oranges, as well as macadamia nuts and grated angelica root. Walters’ understanding of the chemical makeup of the ingredients have come in useful in choosing both the type of botanical and the required amount. There’s even talk of cultivating various juniper plants for new projects too. Under different soil conditions, the English Spirit Distillery team are able to affect the level of pinene in each berry thus giving off varying flavours, from resinous to ripe green notes.
The English Spirit Distillery is one of true provenance and integrity with everything from fermentation, distillation, maturation and bottling being done on site. Using his vodka as a base (which is derived from local sugar beet), Walters hot macerates the botanicals adding them at different stages before distilling them all together. And being true to the gin’s labelling as a ‘Dry Cambridgeshire’, nothing is added in after distillation. The gin is then cut with purified water in a separate 200 litre still. The distillery is home to five stills ,all named Fanny. “The name is a bit of a joke. Originally to kick back at more sophisticated names in the industry. We are simple people and we wanted a bit of fun, so we tried to think of a common female name from the 40s or 50s area and Fanny popped out. It’s a wonderfully warm and misrepresented name”. Now, we know what you must be thinking… If Oxford graduates in biochemistry are simple people… What does that make the rest of us!?
Dr. J’s Gin smells as coriander heavy as one might expect, given the contents have five different types of the botanical in there, but perhaps unexpectedly, the orange emerges too. To taste, lemon shines through with a waxy juniper undertone to the gin. It’s quite sweet and bottled at 45% Abv, it’s incredibly smooth. It combines spice with citrus well and leaves a lingering orangey note long after you’ve quaffed it down.
In late 2014 the distillery relocated 10 miles away to a larger site to accommodate 50 small alembic stills. The company is doing it’s best to preserve it’s small craft nature and keeping the quality of the spirit under tight control. Dr. Walters believes that the 200 litre still is the secret to the quality of his spirit, allowing him to better cut the hearts from the heads and tails. Throughout every run, Dr. Walters cuts only the hearts, discarding the heads and the tails.
Dr. J’s Gin is one of the few spirits in the range not to display the England flag. “England is complex about openly displaying their pride. The French are very proud of what they do. I want people to buy into being proud – the English spirit.” The label instead features gin’s ultimate hero – the juniper plant – that is illustrated in botanical drawings which is overlapped in metallic silver medieval typeface. It’s a bit of a car crash as far as bottle designs goes and doesn’t reflect the gin inside. Both the gin and the team deserve to be better represented than the current designs offer – Walters and his team are craftsmen with passion and dedication. If the aim was to go for a medieval appearance, they’ve managed to do just that but if the aim was to encapsulate the English spirit of today, they’ve missed a beat. We suggest they look to Warner Edwards for inspiration on how symbols can take on multiple meanings. The look and feel of the bottle means that many will never opt for this gin purely because of its design and will go for gins of lesser quality but more shelf appeal. A real shame.
Throughout the year, there are interactive visits to the distillery in which the team let guests see the entire distilling process and even talk them through it. If you are extra lucky, you might even be able to distil your own bespoke spirit on site; a fun and insightful experience, well worth having a go at if you are a fellow gin lover. Although the exact details are kept tightly under wraps, it’s interesting to note that Dr. J does not just distil for his own brand, but also for others out there.
Despite the advent of new technology and processes, the English Spirit Distillery company stills holds firmly onto long held distilling techniques. This is seen in their small 200 litre stills imported from Portugal, modified only slightly to better suit their needs, with flour applied to seal the pots during distillation. “You can’t buy experience and you can’t forget the past.”
For more information about Dr. J’s Gin, visit their website: englishspiritdistillery.com
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