Mark Hird, the owner of Poetic License distillery has been in the leisure trade for 20 years, working his way up after becoming trained as a Chef, working as a food and beverage manager until eventually going into partnership and owning a hotel.
Over the following 15 years, Mark has managed to expand his interests to include the 12 venues he now owns, including his flagship site, The Roker Hotel.
With his direct routes to market, it became obvious that there was not just good potential in owning a microbrewery – but good commercial grounding for launching a successful business that would thrive much further than just in the North East.
With a great love for local produce, great ale and spirits it seemed almost like fate, Mark decided opened the microbrewery in 2012, naming it Sonnet 43, after the famous poem of Elizabeth Barrett Browning who was born a stone’s throw from the brewery site.
With his brewery in full flow and having visited distilleries in South Africa and seeing the rise of micro distilling all around him, Mark decided to look into the possibility of establishing a micro distillery of his own. Having identified a young talent by the name of Luke Smith who began his career at the Sonnet 43 brewery in late 2013, he tasked the eager young soul to cost up and help plan the opening of a new distillery.
Having learned as much as they could from micro experiments and books the duo embarked on an IBD distilling course in late 2014 to reaffirm, refresh and improve their skills. Following on Christmas at the brewery, on January 4th 2015, the project became official and Luke moved to begin working within the Roker Hotel as a full time gin distiller, using a 5 litre still to produce trial recipes.
Distilling, compounding and working his way through hundreds of botanicals – it took 5 months to create a London Dry Gin as well as a rough Old Tom Gin. It took a further 2 months of tweaking recipes to get the exact botanical bill they use today.
Throughout this time, they also sourced a still, pumps, pipework and got in contact with HMRC to secure a rectifiers licence and license to keep spirit under duty suspension.
They even refurbished the Roker Hotel bar to become Poetic License Distillery Bar and Soul Food, although for its grand opening in March 2015, the bespoke still they commissioned (nicknamed Gracie) still hadn’t arrived, they had a band play in the area where Gracie now sits for the opening. All good things comes to those who wait and all.
Unusually for European craft distillers, the Poetic License still is from China. Overcoming the challenges of being the one of the first from the producer and the inevitable language barriers they were able to spec up many of their own ideas, change standard parts and ensure that Gracie is one of a kind.
The biggest obstacle (and if ever there was a reminder about the devil being in the detail) was the assembly itself. It took about two days to build, but once the team turned the still on for the first time, progress was brought to a sudden halt with a huge bang and plastic flying everywhere. The electric box was produced for the American market, which means that sadly, pumping 415 volts through its components rendered them, the motor and the four heating elements completely useless!
A quick call to china had the right electric box on airfreight with a new motor and set of heating elements, two more days with the electrician and Gracie was brought back to life. Weighing in at 1.75 tonnes, she is 500 litres working volume, 770L to the top of the pot. To create their gins, they crush all of their botanicals in a little home brew malt mill before steeping them for 24 hours before distillation, giving them time to macerate with the spirit.
Using a one shot process, they produce two different gins at around 400 bottles in a batch.
Poetic License Northern Dry Gin
The Poetic License Northern Dry Gin has 13 botanicals in total, most of which are classic, (Juniper being at the forefront, as well as with coriander seeds, angelica root). Green cardamom is complimented by dried Persian lime, alongside four different types of pepper (one which Cubeb Berries).
On the nose – the resinous piney nature of juniper is both clear and omnipresent. To taste, it’s a classically styled gin, with juniper leading throughout, while cardamom and cubeb adding a drying spice that lingers beautifully. It’s a gin for gin lovers and at 43.2% ABV, isn’t shy in a G&T (which we recommend pairing with a lime wedge. Classic gin calls for a classic garnish)
Poetic License Old Tom Gin
The Old Tom is a little different to most with no sugar (all the sweetness is derived from liquorice root), along with a clear tint from barrel aging. The extra maturation is not just for taste but also a nod to trying to recreate a more historically accurate Old Tom, where in the past distillers would sell gin by the barrel (because glass bottles weren’t readily available). Poetic License selects their barrels with sweetness in mind and given the taste profile, sweet Sherry casks are the likely candidates being used here.
With rose petals in the botanical line up (which they also add along with hibiscus) after distillation and bottled at 41.6% ABV the nose is both soft and the gin has a floral but oaky aroma, which is accentuated by Indonesian cubeb peppers. There is a notable citrus hint that accompanies the floral elements too. The soft oak also permeates through the aroma. To taste, similar flavours emerge with juniper coming back into play while the orange seems more pronounced. The signature cubeb – so apparent in the London Dry, makes a cheeky return to give the gin some spice towards the finish, which incidentally is long and quite sweet.
Despite being a part of a much larger parent company, (incidentally, the “Poetic License name is linked to the sister brewery) – The Poetic License Gin team remains incredibly small with only 4 (including Mark and Luke) working at the distillery. With all the distilling, bottling, labelling and sales happening within this small team they’ve got their work cut out just keeping up with demand.
2016 looks set for further growth too and don’t be surprised to see a lot more of Poetic license in numerous bars across the UK. With high profile retailers such Booths due to stock Poetic License this year as well as the likes of Speciality Drinks and Mathew Clark who have also taken the gins on, the distillery should begin making its way out of rainy Sunderland and throughout the country in no time.
As for further afield – only time will tell about how fast they will look to export into the USA, Canada and Australia and with enquires lining up it’s just a matter of the right partner at the right time as opposed to weather it will happen or not.
For more information about Poetic License, visit their website: www.poeticlicense.com
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