Despite its very comfortable status as the home of gin, London – for all its way-paving craft brands – hasn’t had much to say for itself when it comes to grain to glass production. You have to go back a fair few decades to get the first whiff of fermentation & distillation in the same place – and none of which survived after the War. For the most part today, distillers buy in their neutral alcohol from another maker, pop it into their own stills alongside a grab-bag of juniper and other botanicals and call it job done, which is fair enough, we always thought. Space is limited, making vodka is expensive and time consuming and – for Londoners, at least – there aren’t any farms in the city to get wheat from anyway so it’s not exactly something you thing of when wanting to showcase the capital’s provenance.
Doghouse Distillery founder Braden Saunders did not share our sentiments. “I was actually amazed when I discovered in my research that nearly all gin distilleries make their gin from neutral grain spirit that they buy in,” he told us. “I have always lived by the mantra ‘if you are going to do something, do it properly’.” Thus, when he decided to open up his distillery in Battersea, London, it was always going to be an all guns blazing, from scratch affair. A stretch at the best of times, but Saunders wasn’t even coming at it from a distilling background.
Explaining his venture into gin production, Saunders said: “I ran a pub with my wife in Australia that specialised in micro-brewed craft beer. I learnt to brew when we made colab beers with local breweries and really enjoyed the manufacturing process. It wasn’t enough to just have good beer, though, so I started working on building an amazing selection of great boutique wines and also spirits.
“I have always loved Gin and it was at this time that I started trying different gins, including some awesome West Coast US ones. So, in 2014 I set it as a life goal to make a gin!”
Mission realised, Saunders jetted off to Kentucky in April 2015 to attend the American Distilling Institute conference, then enrolled on a short course at the Institute of Brewing & Distilling in January 2016. After that, he immersed himself into any literature on the subject he could find, before trawling around distilleries to see how it all worked first hand.
So to England from Australia via America Saunders journeyed, heading to London not just because it is the land of gin, but because he’s felt the magnetic pull of the city ever since he pulled a five-year stint in the early Noughties. Plus, he adds, “it’s the best city in the world, right?”
Of course, not being a Londoner himself, Saunders had absolutely no idea about the association between Battersea and dogs, so Doghouse Distillery was little more than a coincidence. “I love booze, I have drunk a lot of it, served a lot of it over a bar,” he explains. “That passion for booze comes hand in hand with spending a fair amount of time in the doghouse…”
As fascinating as the grain to glass approach is, our real interest here is in Doghouse Distillery’s juniper juice – Renegade Gin. Saunders had an idea in mind for his flavour profile right from the off, inspired by his years of drinking and serving gins. “I felt something was lacking,” he explained. “Gins were either too bitter (as in London Dry) or too sweet/citrusy, so you had to move from them to something else after a few. I basically wanted to create something that was sessionable, something you could drink all night. Like the ‘pale ale’ equivalent in the gin world.”
Before he even had the site, back in early 2016, Saunders worked with Charles Maxwell down at Thames Distillery to develop the initial recipe for Renegade Gin. Here he learnt the huge impacts the smallest of changes can make – information that has served him well since he made the move to his own distillery. At Doghouse, he began adding in new ingredients, amending the recipe piece by piece until he had something he was entirely happy with. Then he had – as so many do – the great struggle of up scaling his recipe up to one suited to a 1500l still.
Renegade Gin has 14 botanicals in it, though Saunders keeps his cards fairly close to his chest. There’s juniper, coriander, cardamom, angelica, orris, grains of paradise and bitter orange amongst the line-up, but the rest – providing an herbaceous, leafy backdrop – remain a mystery. Knowing Mr Maxwell’s penchant for it, one would suspect winter savory is a good bet to begin with…
Production begins in the field. Saunders buys in wheat from an English maltster, which he mills, mashes and brews into a high sugar wort. Then he adds yeast and ferments into around a 10% wheat beer. This is then pot distilled up to a 30% low wine before being put through Doghouse Distillery’s rectification column where it transfers into a high purity vodka.
As we’ve mentioned in other articles featuring grain to glass made gins and berated them for it, we’ll just say it here for the record – this is made to EU 96% ABV standard, not the “almost there” 94/95% ABV you see in some small operations, and the Doghouse Distillery stills have monster sized columns to be able to handle the workload.
A handful of the botanicals (no doubt the hardier, more standard ones) are left to macerate overnight in the base vodka, then in the morning the rest of the ingredients are added in and the still is switched on. The distillation run is a long, slow eight hours, producing somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 bottles (once cut down to bottling strength of 42%) at a time.
Renegade Gin to taste…
That grainy base is there, albeit in a very clean, almost tropical form. There’s a huge, green leafiness to the gin overall, with hints of sage and something ever so slightly mentholic tugging at the nostrils.
To taste, a great big sage-y flush of green strikes the tongue, though it’s immediately joined by a raging grains of paradise spice, which sets the mouth ablaze temporarily, before great big swathes of jungle leaves swing back like Tarzan himself, filling the mouth with an infinitely herbaceous flush and a quick snap of juniper. It’s good stuff and rock solid Dry Gin – it tastes like nothing else on earth, for a start, but with its ultimately ginny conclusion, it’s nowhere near as much a heathen as many of its counterparts.
With tonic, the waxed leaf flush is even brighter, with the dilution of the spirit hushing the spice and allowing the foliage to roam free. It’s incredibly green and delightfully refreshing, a G&T for a hot summer day, for sure.
It’s interesting to hear Saunders’ take on garnishing, which – in the age of Instagram dictating our decisions – is somewhat refreshing. He drinks Renegade Gin with nothing but ice and tonic, letting the spirit’s flavours speak for themselves. That said, he’s well aware of the marketing potential behind a suggested serve, so if you are looking to dress your G&T up, the Doghouse suggestion is a sprig of rosemary.
Renegade Gin comes in a bottle that could be as polarising as marmite, Brexit or Ed Sheeran. You see, Saunders is an unconventional man, inspired by unconventional art, be that tattoos or graffiti. It is the former that adorns the bottle, with inky, black and grey images of London landmarks reflecting the spirit’s old, traditional core and its new age values. Some will love it – others will grimace, but it stands out and it conveys, entirely, the ethos behind Doghouse Distillery which is to celebrate all of Saunders’ interests, be that booze, art or music.
We’re big fans of this gin. The grain to glass approach is to be applauded, Saunders’ ability to see a challenge and run head long into is it commendable and the fact that the gin tastes so damn good have resulted in something that genuinely, truly excites us. Too few are talking about the entire production process, and fewer still are doing it and in this case, there hasn’t been a massive premium placed on it – the mid thirties’ price tag is reasonable. It’s still very early days and there will be a bit of settling in that will take place (the base spirit being refined further, the gin bedding into a consistent recipe and the brand evolving out and into the world). There’s a big future here, and we can’t wait to watch it unfold.
For more information about Doghouse Distillery, visit the website: doghousedistillery.com
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