The craft distilling movement is slowly, but surely gaining traction outside of London and with it fantastic new distilleries are emerging. Created by best friends Sion Edwards and Tom Warner, Warner Edwards Gin is made in a 200-year-old converted barn in Harrington, Northamptonshire.
Tom and Sion met on their first day at agricultural college in 1997 and have barely been seen apart since. Both brought up on family farms, Sion in Wales and Tom in Harrington, their background stories share an uncanny resemblance, albeit separated across England. This has given them a very practical, hands-on approach that far too often can go amiss within the gin distilling scene, often dominated by more business focused minds. Don’t be fooled however, their grounded beginnings have not prevented their ambitious entrepreneurial spirit.
It was during these college years that they realised their shared goal of establishing a company. At the start this was just talk, but when they left their studies – both taking up jobs within the food production industry – their chat became much more serious and plans started to be drawn out… And drawn out it was! Their distillery finally opened in December 2012, four years after the initial turn in the road conversations that sealed their commitment to this project.
However, it was not always going to be about gin; Their still, ‘Curiosity,’ was very nearly not the significant lady that she has now become. At first, Sion and Tom wanted to create an essential oils business, focusing on lavender. It was only when they came across an obstacle involving the fact that the still would be dry most of the year after the harvest, that they started to think again. It was this unforeseen hiccup that lead them to an interest in distilling vodka, influenced by Sion’s Polish wife. Thinking that they could grow the grain themselves on Sion’s farm and start the distillation from scratch, the idea soon came to a standstill. They found out that the capital investment needed was going to be a heavy figure that they would not be able to work out at such a young age.
Whilst not totally going off the idea, they racked their brains some more and found themselves turning to another favourite drink of theirs, Gin. Turning it over and over in their minds they soon realised that this could be their ultimate fail-proof plan. A British drink that has the quality and flavour profile that foodies and drink-connoisseurs love, whilst also on a practical note, easily made within a small still (unlike Vodka). It seemed like the perfect idea. Now they needed to act on it.
Tom’s family are the third generation to reside at Falls Farm, which incorporates the land in which the once historical local Manor House used to stand, and now has a distillery to it’s name. This transition adds to the history of the area; the house was once host to the Red Cross Crusaders before being dismantled in the 18th Century and featured dramatic gardens including fountains, three fish ponds, and courtyards. It is their preserved ruins or ‘falls’ that you can still see carved into the grass today, and which gives the name to this very farm. These ancient water features also portray just how much water is located and stored underground the Harrington countryside. Fortunately for Tom and Sion it made it easy for them when they went to each of the springs and made notes on the differences in flavour. They eventually ended up choosing the sweetest tasting spring water – which they filter through osmosis – to use to cut back their gin.
What about the distilling you ask? ‘Curiosity’ is an Arnold Holstein still that is the ‘beating heart’ of all of Warner Edwards’ operation. The still was chosen because of its magnificent copper surface area that includes eight copper plates (they only use 4) and a copper catalyser. This means that after the distillation process the gin comes away as smooth as possible – having had most of the acidic tang taken out of it. ‘Curiosity’ is a huge beast that also future proofs them by giving them substantial room for growth.
Warner and Edwards believe that this type of still is made in a better fitted fashion for their requirements than any other, including the more commonly known and used CARL stills that they so nearly ended up buying. The name ‘Curiosity’ was derived from a cat’s paw prints found imprinted onto the cement barn floor, a name that they believe is also representative of their curious nature and the interesting and unusual still itself. Getting the paperwork was not easy either, an application to HMRC for licensing with an average approval time of 28 days instead took 9 long months. “Imagine our application to distil on a farm, we sounded like bootlegging criminals. It’s not rocket science, we are just two guys trying to make awesome gin.”
What helps to make Warner Edwards so refreshing and endearing is the very fact that Tom and Sion clearly are just two normal practical guys whose interest in gin inspired them to try and create a craft distillery. They are not financially supported by some other big businesses but rather explain with such frankness how they managed to secure their financial situation, which meant going back to HSBC three times to ask for a loan. Indeed, Tom had to move back home with wife in tow; it was only four months later that he managed to move out of Falls Farm, where the distillery and his parents live alongside each other. Whilst it is Tom and Sion who are the face of their gin, it has been somewhat of a family affair.
Locating their distillery in Warner’s 200-year-old renovated family barn, their plans for the future revolve around using the Edwards farm when the time comes to expand. Their families also helped them buy ‘Curiosity’ in the first place. Whilst they both saved for over ten years in their previous jobs, it was their families who managed to add a little extra to the pot, evidently believing in Sion and Tom’s mission. Tom has admitted that money was their biggest hurdle when they began, “We are fairly set craft distillers with a burning, driving passion and are mostly under financed. Money and licensing second, were our biggest obstacles. We spent most of the money getting the wheels turning and we are still not really marketing yet. Managing cash flow is arduous. The more we sell the more we owe. It’s great when you get an order through, but you have to make sure you can hold the duty on that for two months. In the first month we had to do cash flow everyday. You could have the best product in the world and no money to produce it.”
This home-grown dimension is also demonstrated in their gin and it’s production. It was on the job that the two of them started experiencing a learning curve, which is not ending quite yet. They played around with their first few batches of gin, tweaking their methods and playing around with the time needed for the gin to settle before bottling. They have figured out their method since and ended making constant adjustments, but in no way is this a closed book. Undeniably, this is the huge benefit in such artisanal distilleries; the constant striving to perfect their gin is enabled by the fact that they are able to do just that. There are no bureaucratic measures to interject, rather they have the total control and freedom needed to do as they please which is helped further by the fact that there are only two members within the brand. It does also mean however, that being such gin distillers is not just a job, but rather a lifestyle choice and constant fixture too, and one that they will not be running away from any time soon.
Some external produce is always necessary for such a small distillery. Like many other British gins, their neutral grain spirit is brought in from Langley’s, and their botanicals are a heady international mix which includes cardamom from Guatemala, angelica root from Holland, black pepper from Vietnam & cinnamon quills from Sri Lanka, along with local elderflower, Italian juniper and Spanish orange. The botanical list was not easily chosen but rather took a total of four and a half months of weekly gin tastings to decide.
Through a process of trial and error, they were, alongside eight of their friends, able to whittle down the botanical list and blend a total of ten. Interestingly they do not macerate these botanicals for any length of time, but rather throw them into ‘Curiosity’ with some spring water and neutral grain spirit. However, they are keen to highlight that they don’t make a concentrate but rather use a one shot method which gives the gin’s profile it’s very freshness. This is helped along by the use of the sweet spring water which cuts back the alcohol from 89/90% ABV to a total of 44% after it’s 12 hour run. The gin is then left to sit for 16 days, giving it time to blend together well before being poured into 700 bottle batches that are then secured and labelled by hand.
Having said themselves that they had a limited budget but refused to skimp on branding, they decided to hire one of the best, Blue Marlin agency in London. The first thing that you notice when looking at their bottle is the unusual square shape. Chosen precisely because no other gin to their knowledge used such a bottle, it also helped to symbolise the strength and fortitude of their spirit. A piece of copper is wound up on the bottle neck, which is complimented by the navy blue bottle cap and ribbon which is painstakingly glued on to each and every bottle by hand. The label is also a simple yet eye-catching blend of blue, white and gold with a prominent weather vane that points from west to east, Wales to England, Warner to Edwards, water to elderflower, representing several aspects of Sion and Tom’s story. The W.E. also helps to exemplify their ‘United in Spirit’ tagline which is all about trying to encompass the fact that people are brought together through having a tipple of gin. After all, what better way to show that than through Sion and Tom’s own story, in which two best friends united their dreams together, and created their own gin distillery? “We do it in a barn. We have field. We are two friends. We make great gin”.
So what about those tasting notes…. Is it really that good? Well, in short. Yes.
Soft on the nose with warm citrus from the orange peel and piney juniper. There’s a touch of juniper on the nose and a good dose to taste. It’s orange forward for sure, but coriander, cardamom and juniper anchor the gin while balancing out the flavour profile. Warner Edwards is a beautifully soft and crazy smooth gin with a sweet and moreish lingering aftertaste. It’s a must try for any gin fan and a constant presence in the Gin Foundry cabinet.
Within less than two years, W.E. had produced 28,000 bottles, and had received hugely successful reviews and awards. This success has allowed them to add to their range, with a Sloe Gin, a Rhubarb Gin and an Elderflower Gin now standing proud on the roster. We’ve no doubt that Warner Edwards will continue to build on the booming reputation they so quickly developed for themselves and become one of the great success story of British craft distilling.
For more information about Warner Edwards Gin, visit their website: www.warneredwards.com
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