Greensand Ridge London Dry Gin is the spirit equivalent of the person you want to be. By that we mean one who is good, kind and thoughtful to their very core. If it were a stick of rock, it would say ‘sustainable’ straight down the middle (whereas if we were a stick of rock, there’d be an illegible essay about how hard it is to be nice when you’re trying to get a seat on the Central Line…).
Founded by ex-marketer/IT-guy/life coach Will Edge, Greensand Ridge Distillery is one that places sustainability at the very heart of what it does. In fact, “sustainable” was the first word Edge said to us when we first met him at the Spirit Show in December 2016. Being a cynical bunch, we immediately fired a “sustainable how?” at him and the answer he gave was so genuine, involved and sincere that it became immediately obvious that the green roots are nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with principles.
Edge believes that every business should be run sustainably by default. “I started out by just factoring that into my decision making, but as I’ve been promoting our spirits there’s been so much interest in this approach that it’s become a recognised part of our brand.” This was never part of the plan, though. “I want people to buy our spirits because they taste amazing and look beautiful… it (sustainability) is a differentiator for us now, but hopefully in the near future it won’t be.”
The first step in Edge’s ethical endeavour is the mitigation of food waste. He works with farmers to use up their excess, creating brandies and eaux-de-vies out of crop that would otherwise go to waste, thus paying farmers for what would otherwise be lost revenue. This clearly demonstrates that the Greensand Ridge interpretation of sustainability extends beyond the environment and into the community. The second step is using 100% renewable energy (via Good Energy) to power the distillery, as well as keeping the heads cut from distilling to clean out the fermentation vessels after a steam clean.
Edge spent around 15 years making alcohol, stashing strange macerations and infusions around his house and even serving home made cider at his wedding in 2009. It wasn’t until 2013, though, when he began studying for a Masters in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt, that he decided to take the step from hobbyist to careerist.
It took two years to go from decision to distillery, with Edge working hard in this time to ensure he had the ideal site in place. Greensand Ridge is based in the stables of a Victorian coach house in Shipbourne, Kent. The area is stunning and the views astonishing; endless, rippling hills scatter off into the distance and the close of each day is marked by a huge, orange blaze.
It’s no wonder, with such great surroundings, that Greensand Ridge decided to go down the gin path. “Gin is a natural way to represent the land around us,” said Edge. “When I tell people my gin is like a walk through the Wealden woods and fields I sometimes get an odd look, but then they sample it and the recognition is pretty instant.”
Eight local botanicals form the backbone of Greensand Ridge gin: bay laurel, poppy seeds, oak moss, hawthorn berries, cobnuts, rosehips, honey and gorse, the latter of which is hand foraged by Edge. The rest come from suppliers so as to ensure quality and consistency and to avoid stripping the land of plants that don’t grow in abundance.
The Greensand Ridge gin making process begins when Edge shells the cobnuts, which are cracked by hand and blended into a coarse flour. The honey is run into the house and placed on the Aga, where it slowly warms into a more pliable liquid. The other botanicals are weighed out, and each tasted to see if there are any variances in flavour. The exception here is gorse flower, which Edge infuses straight after picking so it doesn’t spoil.
The still is charged with organic wheat spirit and water and left to rest overnight. At the crack of dawn the next day, it’s warmed into life and the cobnuts, pre-weighed botanicals, honey and gorse flower infused spirit are added into the pot. The still, a 300-litre Arnold Holstein, is capable of producing a small amount more than the 350 bottles made each run, but the delicate nature of the local botanicals means that the tails cut must be made early.
Greensand Ridge Gin to taste…
The nose is delightful. A hint of spice comes through (that’ll be the grains of paradise and cassia bark), but there’s also a fresh, green note running through it and the promise of something sweet, gentle and slightly nutty.
This is a well balanced gin, and incredibly soft for its 40% ABV. Grains of paradise have been used sparingly, while the cardamom and cassia bring a light spice, rather than their typical fire and brimstone approach. Gorse and honey combine to bring a delicate sweetness, and pine – though not present immediately – floods the mouth after the sip, alongside a clean, leafy green taste. Though the cobnuts aren’t immediately evident, they become noticeable with a little coaxing and once identified, clearly play a role in underpinning the other botanicals throughout the journey.
It’s worth adding here that those who are into Conker Gin would probably have a lot of time for Greensand Ridge – both manage to instil a great deal of provenance into each sip and both have a sweet, green, gorse flower heart.
With tonic, grains of paradise and cassia are still present, but they’re a taste rather than a sensation – there is no heat at all, rather a hint of something exotic mixed with the glorious Kent countryside. The bay laurel and cardamom come out a little stronger, too. It’s a sweet G&T, with the honey and hawthorne berries adding considerable sugariness toward the end of the sip, while the orange and lemon take on a marmalade-like taste before soft, piny juniper comes in to steal the finish.
Edge serves his gin with a bay leaf garnish, as it “bridges between the sweet/floral and woody/nutty character of the spirit.” We like the idea and would also recommend it, but from a Gin-obsessive’s perspective, we’d serve with a handful of juniper berries – the fact that juniper comes through so well on the finish means that it wouldn’t take too much coaxing to be present throughout a G&T, and we don’t know if you’ve noticed, but ‘round here we really like juniper…
While you are not yet likely to find Greensand Ridge cluttering up shop shelves too far outside of Kent and Sussex, it’s surely only a matter of time. “I hope 2017 will be my breakout year,” said Edge. “Our ethos and approach have really hit the mark with consumers so far, it’s just a case of using our miniscule marketing budget to great effect to tell that story far and wide.”
That story is well documented – Edge keeps a journal on the Greensand Ridge website in which he explains his passion for distilling, his many reasons for leaving corporate life behind (our favourite: “I want to put my kids to bed at night, even if I do have to go back to the distillery for another three hours after story time.”) and the journey from experimental booze maker to full time distiller.
That storytelling comes through in the branding itself; Greensand Ridge gin comes in a clear glass bottle with a black, green and blue paper label to the front. The colours, stacked against each other, are set up to represent the view from the distillery, and the green – whether an intentional move or not – gives a subtle nod to the distillery’s ethics.
Edge can’t put a date of birth on Greensand Distillery – he began brewing beer before he could drink it, had the distillery as a pipe dream when he was studying at Heriot Watt and was still without any form of consent when he bought the old coach house. The date he’s settled on, for any future anniversary celebrations, is the day he received planning permission – the 7th October 2015: “The day a nebulous set of interests, skills, hopes and experiences kind of wound themselves around a purpose and refused to get off.”
Greensand Ridge is working on variants; Edge currently has his gin resting in five different types of wood to find out which best complements the botanicals within, taking a typically experimental and methodical approach. We – as gin geeks and Greensand Ridge’s newest biggest fans – are particularly excited by this approach. Some of our favourite aged gins of last year, Makar and Martin Miller’s 9 Moons, had their barrels selected in a similar way and the results were truly stunning.
The distillery also runs a Gin Experience, where guests are invited in to learn about botanicals and create their own gins. This hands on approach is a great leap in encouraging brand loyalty – if people are allowed into the distillery they’ll see the blood, sweat and tears that go into producing each batch of Greensand Ridge Gin. It is much easier to part with £35 for a bottle when you see the scale at which it has been produced, the work that goes into promoting sustainability and the genuine love behind it.
By buying the gin you become a part of this story, this dream and this journey. With a strong, growing brand being nurtured around a truly great gin, we recommend you get in early and help it on its way.
For more information about Greensand Ridge Distillery, visit their website: greensanddistillery.com
Say hello on Social Media!
Copyright © Gin Foundry