Picture the scene… your in a campsite in the middle of the woods, with only your friends and the stars for company. Your face is glowing orange and all of your sentences are punctuated by the crackle and pop of the fire. In your hands, a glass; in your glass, a Gin and Tonic. That moment – or rather, those many moments – served as the inspiration for Puddingstone Distillery’s Campfire Gin, so it was with great excitement that we delved into its story.
Co-founder and distillery Ben Marston explains the inspiration behind the gin: “As we mentally journeyed back through our past, looking to pinpoint all of the sensory experiences that had influenced and even defined us, we realised our best encounters with gin had been outside, often by a fire. The environments varied, but the comfort, warmth and simplicity that being outdoors with a good drink, alone or in the company of friends, staring at stars or blanketed by lush woodland resonated with us.”
Ben and his wife Kate both felt a real connection to and a passion for Gin, having shared bottles of the spirit throughout many special events in their lives. Their home region, Hertfordshire, didn’t yet have a distillery and – with experience in tourism – the Marstons knew there was an opportunity to step into the fold. It went deeper then that though. As Ben says: “we had a premeditated idea of the product and brand, an itch that needed to be scratched, a path into the woods that needed to be explored.”
Once the duo had decided that they wanted to make a gin, their first stop was a book shop, where they picked up The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, and Diffordsguide: Gin by Simon Difford. Pawing through the latter, they were suddenly sure of the fact that they could do it – that the lifestyle they wanted could fit comfortably around a gin distillery.
That happened in January 2014. In September of that year, the Marstons embarked on a road trip to visit the Strathearn, Pickerings and Durham distilleries, but it wasn’t until 2015 – after the duo passed their Institute of Brewers and Distillers exams – that they began to work on Campfire Gin in earnest.
They began playing around with recipes on a one litre still, honing the final botanical line up for Campfire Gin before transferring it to their 50 litre still, Isabella, to further tweak the weightings.
Since then, Puddingstone Distillery has added the somewhat more robust Amelia to the roster – a 200l still that took over the main production of Campfire Gin in January 2017. This doesn’t mean Isabella is being put forward for early retirement, though; rather, she’ll be used for experimentation and the production of other gins, some of which will be exclusive to the distillery shop.
Campfire Gin is currently one shot product, though Ben, in his capacity as Head Distiller, hasn’t ruled out going down the concentrate route in the future should demand require it. That said – he hasn’t ruled out getting an even bigger still, either.
When Campfire Gin launched, the Marstons were incredibly happy with their juniper, orris, coriander, angelica, coffee cherry, roasted hazelnut, physalis, orange peel and grapefruit peel line up. It was a fun, citrusy gin with enough strange ingredients to intrigue even the most hardened of Gin snobs. The launch went swimmingly, until disaster (well, ok, not disaster, but great inconvenience) struck: coffee cherry, though a well (and quite widely) used ingredient, was not quite as accredited as other obscure fruits. Unfortunately, someone recently put it forward for a novel food application, which brought it to the attention of those in charge and meant an awful lot of paper work. Ben and Kate had to think (and distil) fast, eventually settling on rooibos as a replacement.
Campfire Gin to taste…
Fresh and waxy citrus peel floats to the top of the glass, so strong it’s as if you’re rolling the pith between your fingers. When served neat, orange and grapefruit dominate the nose, though that rooibos addition sneaks up, planting a hint of tea at the base that sends radiates warmth.
When sipped neat, sweet orange laps at the tongue to the fore, while a warm, slightly spiced coriander seed comes in at the back. Orange and grapefruit peel aside, the botanicals play their parts with subtlety, providing a backdrop against which the aggressive citrus sings. Juniper isn’t particularly noticeable to taste in it’s own right, though there is a breath of pine in the aftertaste that suggests it was there all along. With a little attention, hazelnut and physalis do tease in and out of focus, the former bringing a rich note that has gained some amplification since the roobis/coffee cherry swap.
Campfire Gin has a consistency we’ve not quite experienced before; even with tonic, orange and grapefruit hold court, given endurance by the coriander. They’re almost loud enough to hold everything else back, although the hazelnuts add a nice depth to the mix and that core juniper does finally flicker through.
It’s an exceptionally well made spirit, with absolutely no harshness and a smoothness that helps it glide down the throat with ease. As a gin, it’s certainly on the more progressive side (devout juniper fanatics may perhaps want to look elsewhere as it only really delivers a piny nip towards the end), but it’s finely crafted, utterly delicious and would work fantastically in many a classic cocktail. It’s filling the gin role, but definitely working to its own rules. If you have a bottle, your first step should be to decant it directly into a Negroni.
In the spirit of honesty, we must admit to being a little disappointed with the flavour of Campfire Gin. That comes across a lot harsher than it was intended, but with such unusual botanicals in physalis, hazelnut and rooibos, a more anchored, less citrus forward affair – in which these are allowed to come forward – would perhaps have been more appealing given what the name conjures up.
That said, Puddingstone Distillery already has variants in the works. A navy strength and a cask aged expression are already on sale, and with little Isabella soon to be reprieved of the task of day-to-day distilling, we’re hoping for more. Ben has established himself as someone who knows flavours, and who knows how to create a smooth, super tasty spirit. If he chooses to create a more juniper forward gin, we’ll be the first in line to try it.
The Marstons have a clear understanding of the gin industry and a respect for the accessibility and transparency required to succeed these days. They know that story is key, and that consumers are smart enough to seek the story behind the end product. To meet this, they share candidly on social media and host regular tours of the site, which – for £15, including two cocktails – are bound to bring people to them.
The love they have for the outside is reflected not just in the gin, but in what they plan to do with it. Ben explains: “We’ll be using our product and the site as a hub for driving a series of activities designed to engage people with the positive aspects of being outdoors… it’s one of the reasons we managed to license a whole field! An appreciation for our natural environment is programmed into many of the current activities and plans moving forward. Simple things like charitable contributions to environmental and conservation projects and like configuring a rainwater harvesting system as a supply for our condensing water.”
Puddingstone Distillery relied heavily on crowdsourcing to get off the ground, which somewhat accelerated its following, both in social media and locally. Ben and Kate had to engage with their audience (and potential investors) right from the off to give people a fair and true impression of what it was they planned to do.
The bottle helps bring these impressions along; it’s short and squat, with a white, orange and gold theme. Campfire Gin is written in neat, curly typeface and the overall label is tactile and embossed. A marketing direction is certainly those that enjoy the outdoors – we for one can’t wait to road test this fireside, with only trees and chirping crickets for company.
That the crowdfunding target was met isn’t a miracle or a spot of good luck either, but the result of a lot of hard work. The Marstons have poured everything into this, working tirelessly to create a product that will hold appeal not just in their thirsty town, but nationwide. This core energy and steady progress is based on learning, research and embracing all of the possibilities that a craft gin maker can become is something to just be admired. It has left us in no doubt that this is no flash in the pan project, no hot and fast flame that will blow out at with the faintest of breezes. Both Campfire Gin and Puddingstone Distillery are much more akin to the glowing embers that will endure, sparking many exciting projects for years to come.
For more information about Puddingstone Distillery visit their website: puddingstonedistillery.com
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