Faith & Sons Gin
Ask any dictionary and it will tell you that to have Faith is to have complete trust or confidence in someone or something. We, like you, have faith in Gin. A congregation has faith in God. George Michael had to have faith to stop that river becoming an ocean and Filipe Sousa of Manchester’s Faith & Sons Distillery, well… he has faith in his dream.
“I’m son of the faith,” he says, not un-confusingly. “Coming with my wife, Maria, and daughter, Magdalena, from Portugal to England was a step into the unknown, a true leap of faith. That’s where the name comes from.” An ex-bartender, Sousa had the idea to make a Gin ever since he arrived in England back in August 2013. A trip down to the very South West corner of the country only confirmed this desire.
“After seeing the guys from Tarquin’s distilling in such a basic way, I was really amazed. It was challenging, and it got me motivated to make something similar. Gin was trendy already, but personally it was the infinite combinations between production methods, botanical varieties, aroma and taste that fascinated me.”
Sousa saved up or a year before he embarked on his distilling journey, putting money by bit by bit so that he could afford the necessary equipment. He had already studied a little about distillation in Germany (but, from we understand had stopped early, feeling that there was no point finishing the course having gathered the info he needed), although there was still a good amount of trial and error required to get the recipe in place.
Faith & Sons Gin is an organic product, a fact that Sousa is undeniably (and deservedly) proud of. Working on a small scale (each three hour distillation run produces 200 50cl bottles at a time) as well as for himself entirely, allows him the opportunity to seek out the right botanicals from the right people; there was no race to find something quickly and there isn’t a huge still to fill. This is actually small small batch gin, rather than the ‘small batch’ that sees thousands of bottles roll off the factory line. An increasingly rare thing in this crowded market…
There are just six botanicals in the flagship Faith & Sons Gin: juniper, coriander, angelica, liquorice, lemon verbena and mandarin peels. Quite often, distillers spend years chasing strange ingredients in a bid to stand out, but all Sousa sought was to create a tasty gin. No gimmicks, just a decent juniper juice that would work well in cocktails. “I like simple things,” he said, “so I always referred back to ex-Tanqueray distiller Tom Nichol talking about it, saying that sometimes less is more.”
Juniper, coriander and angelica was the start point for Faith & Sons Gin. After that, Sousa added the liquorice to bring in a touch of sweetness. The next step was to add a personal touch, which came in the form of lemon verbena. “I had a massive bush at my house in Portugal,” he recalls. “It brings some very good memories and saudade, and is my favourite tea, providing a green, grassy flavour.”
‘Saudade,’ for those not in the know, is a ‘deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone.’ It’s another of those beautiful words we just don’t possess within the English language, but it’s something we can relate to greatly. Sousa is an honorary Brit by now, but that doesn’t mean he’ll ever stop missing his Portuguese home, and no matter how long he stays here or how often he handles his ingredients, every time he prizes the lid from his jar of lemon verbena, he’ll get a brief whiff of home and a sense of something missing from within him.
The last ingredient also carries with it a wave of nostalgia, as Sousa’s grandmother used to buy the little fruits for him when he was a child. Another note of saudade, completing the overall flavour profile with a mighty citrus punch.
Faith & Sons Gin to taste…
On the nose, lemon verbena greets the senses with refreshing clarity, giving the gin a light, grassy tone. The mandarins are not evident, but they add a little zing to the aroma and bring some vivacity that seems to help the smell leap out of the glass. To taste, the verbena is quite dominant on the fore, but after a quick flash of mandarin, juniper and the earthy liquorice root keep the flavour profile from running too wild. It’s quite a simple gin in that it doesn’t really transition in flavours in extreme ways; it doesn’t progress from being one thing to something completely different, rather it hits one delightful chord and sustains it all the way, long past the sip has finished. It’s a good, easy gin that can and will be enjoyed by fans of the spirit. It’s not trying anything new, but that’s what the rest of the collection is for…
The Faith & Sons collection is a surprisingly vast one, considering the one-man-band size of this operation; as well as the flagship, there’s a Pineapple Gin, a Mango Gin and a Coffee Gin Liqueur (which, at 37.5%, is way more gin than it is liqueur…). The latter is Sousa’s absolute favourite in the pack, though it’s also the one he has the hardest time shifting. In fairness, it’s hard to know what to do with it, but we say Negroni. (Honestly once you’ve had a coffee-laced Negroni, you’ll never fully recover; it’s a love that burns bright.)
The Mango Gin features in the 2018 Ginvent Calendar, so it’s fair to say that this is the one Sousa is touting a little more than the rest. It seems that Faith & Sons fans have got behind this outrageous tipple too, so it was only right that we tried it as well.
Faith & Sons Mango Gin to taste…
The Mango Gin was a happy accident. After cooking and pureeing the mangoes, Sousa mistakenly added the fruit to the Gin ahead of filtration. After realising what he’d done, he tried to filter it out but it was impossibly gooey. He tried it and wasn’t convinced, but his wife was wowed and insisted that he leave it as is. Like all sensible men, he obeyed, putting it through a course filtration instead.
The final product really is something special, a little dash of tropical summer that soothes the soul all year round. But is it a gin? Not really, no. This is a mango puree liqueur, with a soupçon of something green hiding beneath (again, more verbena than juniper, which takes on the role of Wally in a mile wide puzzle. It’s there if you really, really want to find it, but it’s going to take some time). Regardless – boy it is tasty booze.
On the nose, it’s akin to opening a packet of dehydrated packet of mango slivers, one that’s been bathing in the sun and gone a little sticky. To taste, the first impression is not of flavour, but of weight and viscosity. It’s thick, enveloping, rich and round. Then the mango booze combination floods the cheeks in all its juicy glory. The finish is one of the underlying gin, where coriander seed and lemon verbena-like citrus combine to add a little nip to conclude it. That is until the mango then makes an encore and gets right up in your grill until you choose to either drink more, or something else altogether. It literally will not go away of its own accord and will endure until you exterminate it with something stronger. Like the fire of ginger beer as a mixer…
The Faith & Son Gin bottles, squat rectangular beasties, are fine as they are, but while Sousa is genial and self effacing in conversation, he’s also well fairly cunning and well aware of the requirements Gin has to thrive these days. Yes, you need to taste good, but you also need to look good. And different.
A bog standard bottle just won’t cut it these days, which is why he’s opted for a beautiful, lesser seen brown glass bottle, complete with dimples, glorious metallic foiling and a strange sense of familiarity about it. There are new ones coming too, which look a little like one of the cartoon beehives that Winnie the Pooh used to sup from, which ties into the Manchester bee thing quite nicely (though possibly accidentally). The bottles aren’t in action yet, but they’re coming in early 2019.
We’re going to quickly dart back to our one-man-band point from a couple of paragraphs ago. While the gins are starting to do well (Sousa recently secured a listing for the Pineapple Gin in M&S, which has done amazing things for other producers), there is a sense that things aren’t moving quite as quickly as they could.
There’s some social media presence, but venture onto the Faith & Sons website and you receive nothing but a holding page. In our opinion, and this might seem a tad harsh but – that just isn’t good enough three years in, especially given the image assets that have been created and the fact that there is a genuine story to tell.
Faith & Sons was one of the first gin distilleries to emerge out of the Manchester area, but it’s been left in the wake of the likes of Manchester Gin et al, and there’s no need for that. It really is an adventurous set of gins coming from an earnest, organic place. It is the very definition of small batch and if people had the opportunity to hear about it, if at least it had a hub, many would love it, champion it and indeed celebrate it.
On a personal note, we’ve been avoiding Faith & Sons for the best part of 18 months. We were asked some two years ago to try a sample of what must have been a trial batch (or perhaps one of the first to be bottled, with an accompanying image of a man testing out ideas on a gas fired still that looked to be installed on carpet in a living room). It was, beyond doubt, one of the worst things we’ve ever tasted, and as we knew it was definitely not the final product, we dared not comment. It was repugnant. Clearly, something had gone wrong or, if it hadn’t and it was indeed the first, the 26 batches between then and now have pushed the gin in a much, much better direction. Putting our early experience in that context, we can’t help but wonder if the seeming lack of nation wide traction is related to others getting their hands on those early samples. If you do so happen to have been one of the early tasters, trust us and try it again. It’s absolutely not the same gin.
The strange contradiction with Faith & Sons is that all the details are honed with this distillery’s products, they look fantastic, yet Sousa seems to have the inverse when it comes to organising the big picture, which seems a little sprawling.
Hopefully, the new bottles are the start of of a new chapter for Faith & Sons in 2019, but it seems unlikely that such an avid tinkerer will be able to stop the wild eyed dreaming… Already, we’re hearing about a new brand emerging from the distillery, with some equally progressive gin liqueur flavours.
If Sousa can assemble a team to start building brand awareness and just consolidate around what he has however, if he just knuckles down on gaining traction rather than launching down tangents (or at least not having to juggle so much at once himself and give them all the time they need), his gins will sit at the top table in this modern era of the weird and wonderful. We hope it happens, but if it doesn’t, we think he’ll be happy anyway.
Perhaps one of our very favourite things about Sousa are his simple desires. He isn’t out to make the world’s biggest Gin. “I just want to follow my dream and enjoy life together with Maria and Magdalena,” he said. We have every faith that’ll he will be doing just that.
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