When Durham Gin founder Jon Chadwick first set up shop in 2013, he was sure he was onto a good thing. He’d spent some time touring the university towns of North America, where he saw a growing passion for Gin and Whiskey that seemed to echo the appreciation for micro-breweries that was going on back home. It felt like the the next step for booze, and he very much wanted to be a part of it.
Not that booze was his field… Chadwick had spent 12 years working as and amongst the NHS’s top brass. Part of his job was to help spread public awareness about the dangers of alcohol abuse, an irony which isn’t entirely lost on him. This wasn’t a case of if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, though, as he told The Journal when Durham Gin launched in April 2014: “We are never going to get to the stage where we are abstemious, so what we need to do is get people away from binge drinking and cheap alcohol.”
So, after taking a redundancy package from the NHS, Chadwick, inspired by his holiday, made the very quick decision to enter the Gin market. “Gin is an exciting spirit with more flavour than vodka; the delicate interaction of flavours is very interesting. We could see a shift in the market of customers becoming more educated about provenance and production, and the shift in mass producers to the small craft is happening in many sectors, such as beer, so we knew Gin was going to have its time. The permutations of flavour combinations are infinite, we aren’t just seeing the ‘grandmas perfume’ flavour profile anymore,” he told us.
Chadwick’s assertions that people would move towards locally made, small-batch products proved right: today Gin is a huge industry, with festivals, subscription services and all sorts of merchandise supporting the enthusiasm of its followers. In fact, there are so many people making the spirit now that there’s even another Durham Distillery, though this is based in North Carolina. We’d love to see a collaboration between the two; some gentle Durham V Durham rivalry resulting in a Best of UK/USA bottling.
In total, it took a year to develop Durham Gin, with Chadwick and his distiller at the time, David Wilkinson, running trial after trial until they had a recipe they were happy with. In the end, the 10 botanicals that went into the gin were: juniper, pink peppercorn, celery seed, angelica, coriander, orris, elderflower (grown locally), orange peel, lemon peel and cardamom.
In 2014, Wilkinson left Durham Distillery to join Spencerfield in Edinburgh and was subsequently replaced by bright young thing Jess Tomlinson, a former chemist with an MSc in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot Watt. She was thrilled to combine her passion for science (and experimentation) with a love for Gin, and has been a core part of the team ever since.
To make Durham Gin, Tomlinson makes a mix of neutral grain spirit and Durham Spring water and adds in the harder botanicals – crushed juniper, angelica and pink peppercorns. This is left to rest for 24 hours before being poured into Durham Distillery’s 400-litre copper pot still, nicknamed Lily. The coriander and orris root are added, and the still is warmed up. Meanwhile, the lighter botanicals – elderflower, orange, lemon, celery seed and cardamom – are added to a basket above the pot for vapour infusion. The gin pours off the still at around 80% ABV, with each five to six hour run producing enough spirit to make 300 bottles (once cut back to 40% with filtered water).
Durham Gin to taste…
Celery seeds rise up on the nose, flooding the senses with a strangely familiar bitter green note. It lends a different angle to the usual juniper–angelica combination, which are clear enough to leave the letters G, I and N stamped, indelibly, onto your nostrils. The celery is odd, bringing a fresh nip of anise and an exotic, curried feel that combines with the pink peppercorn spice that’s prominent in the backdrop.
Though shy on the nose, the sweeter botanicals are given a chance to come through on the taste. The peppercorns deliver a quick burst of spice before a light, bushy elderflower joins the parade, but those celery seeds soon sweep in to dominate. It’s funny, celery… it’s a taste that very much belongs to it and only it. Anyone who’s ever done some backyard foraging will know it, and you’ll picture those big, stringy storks straight away.
Durham Gin has got both depth and length to it – the lingering spice holds firm towards the end, the elderflower adds some sweetness to the mouthfeel while the 40% ABV remains smooth on the finish.
The booze works to suppress the celery, so when you top up your glass with tonic (thus lowering the ABV) the seeds transform into magic beans, shooting up into great big celery stalks, strong enough to climb. There’s also an incredibly anise-like flavour that develops in a G&T, though the pink peppercorns yank it back to earth, dropping an anchor in a deep ocean of crispy, celery-like greenness and bringing a certain complexity. The juniper from the nose strikes a distinct note in its own right when mixed, and what you end up with is the sense of something alive and verdant; a forest of herbs before you.
It’s a nice G&T, though a little progressive and certainly too vegetal to work for sweeter palates (and in sweeter cocktails). That said, its place in a Negroni or something cooling like a Gin Rickey is well earned.
Quite unusually, Durham Distillery takes the tails cut from the Gin distillation and slow filters it through their custom column (this based on Jack Daniels’ Lincoln County Column) to create their own brand of vodka. It takes around two weeks to filter the tails, which are then re-distilled (with another, even more discerning heads and tails cut made) before being cut to 40% and bottled. Only a few hundred bottles are produced each month, but it’s nice to see an effort being made to reduce waste.
The Durham Gin branding is neat, with copper wording and a strong, loud, purple logo peering out through the clear glass. It is smartly framed by the label, and recognisable from a distance. We’re not sure it’s one you’d call for at the back of a bar on looks alone, but that’s only because Gin (and Gin bottles) has got increasingly progressive since the gin’s 2014 launch. It certainly stands its ground, though, and has a well considered look. It’s an offering that many would be pleased to have on their shelves…
We do wonder if a slightly better brand strategy or a stronger sense of style (everything is nice, but a little safe in our opinion) could have put Durham Gin in better steed. If you consider that Tarquin’s and Warner Edwards launched just a year or two before them and have grown to become some of the biggest and widest selling independently made gins in the country, it seems remiss not to point out that Durham Gin isn’t widespread in comparison. Chadwick certainly got in early enough for his gin to be a household name and the liquid is distinct with wide reaching appeal, so it’s clear that while there’s been progress, it hasn’t quite clicked with the public in the same way its competitors have (like Rock Rose or Pickering’s to name a couple of other examples).
That said, we’re nowhere near Gin’s eleventh hour, and Durham Distillery has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, with Chadwick working on a handful of (currently top secret) variants. We hope to see something truly inspired; something that’ll make people stand up and take notice, because their place in the spotlight is long overdue.
For more information about Durham Distillery, visit their website: durhamdistillery.co.uk/
Say hello on Social Media!
Copyright © Gin Foundry