Purple Ram Gin
We know, we know, it’s not like us to make grand and sweeping generalisations, but if we were to allow ourselves the license here, it might help us to paint a clear picture of Tony Brotherton, co-founder and Master Distiller of Yorkshire Dales Distillery and his team.
Tony is a military man, you see, having served for 18 years as an officer in the Royal Artillery. Those who follow such a career tend to be a somewhat straight-laced bunch. Not boring, no, but much better at towing the line than the rest of us. They’ve got a steadfast nature and follow paths in a more linear fashions than most (yes, we know but we did say we’d be sweeping about this…). The only time Tony has ever been in trouble in his entire life was at school, when he was caught making beer on site… Booze (the science and creation behind it, more than the drinking) has always been a subject of deep fascination for him, so when the opportunity to get involved in a professional capacity came up, he was straight in.
Post school (and pre-Army), Tony undertook a course at the King and Barnes Brewery in Horsham, West Sussex. The fascination turned quickly into a passion which burned quietly over the next couple of decades, though it never found time to become anything more than a hobby. “Brewing and distilling isn’t why I left the Army, but we are doing it because I left the Army,” he explains, adding that his military career, in the end, contributed to the next step. “I was very fortunate to receive financial support for academic studies through the MOD Enhanced Learning Credit Scheme, which provided a significant contribution towards the cost of studying for an MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University.”
The “we”, incidentally, adds up to Tony, his wife Sarah, part time production assistant Kael, sales manager Sue and a customer accounts team made up of Andy and Nina. Since trading began in January 2017, the trio have worked hard to get the Yorkshire Dales Distillery name out into the world, as well as that of their first child, Purple Ram Gin. “We never set up with the aim of producing a particular spirit,” Tony told us. “Our aim was and remains to produce high quality spirits, turning our hand to any product and production method that is in demand.
“Key to our approach is local sourcing and resourcing, alongside the provision of employment and training to young people, veterans, ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed.” Both Kael and Andy are ex-Vets, so all signs are pointing to this being more than just bluff and good intentions; if they are starting as they mean to go on, then it seems that Yorkshire Dales Distillery is going to grow to become a core pillar of the community.
Their first step was to secure the right premises. When your location is a part of your selling point, its important to actually be operating within the area, but with so many restrictions upon distilling, that can be a hard task. Initially the team sought a location just inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, but nothing in the area worked. In the end, they found a former wine warehouse located just outside Catterick Garrison.
The warehouse required very little work to get it ship shape, so before too long Purple Ram Gin was pouring. For the first year, everything was made on a 30-litre Still Dragon still, a technical piece of kit that allows for (relatively) easy reconfiguration, thus allowing greater control over the length of a distillation run. A few months ago, demand for the distillery’s easy sippin’ spirits meant that they had to consider an upgrade, and rather than make a small step that would inevitably end up with another scaling-up session, the team jumped to another Still Dragon, this one ten times the size.
On the smaller still, two runs are performed a day, each producing enough spirit for around eight cases of Purple Ram Gin. The larger still is a full day process, with a very early start and a very late finish culminating in approximately an 80-case batch. It’s a big amount for a brand that’s only been up and running for a year, but given the team’s industrious nature that’s hardly a surprise.
There are currently three gins in the distillery’s line up: Purple Ram Gin, Wild Ram Gin and Desert Ram Gin. The first is a great endeavour of a spirit, with grapefruit peel (dried onsite to ensure consistency), honey, juniper and a great handful of local botanicals in the mix. We are always slightly grumpy when a distillery doesn’t disclose the botanical list, as a big part of the joy for us is discerning which ingredient is landing on our tongue where/when, but we’re probably quite lone figures in that, so we’ll forgive them. That said, we’re not above trying to work it all out for ourselves…
Purple Ram Gin to taste…
A zing of grapefruit certainly meets the nose, with a Starbucks-like cinnamon powder hit lying just beneath the volatile citrus hinting at cassia being a part of the mix too, alongside other roots and more than just a sniff of cardamom. To taste, a huge amount of grapefruit is evident to taste upfront, rounded by other citrus-like blossoms that helps bring in the more perfumed elements to the mix. The sweetness of honey alongside other hedgerow berries underpin the juniper core. It’s well made and smooth for 45% ABV too, and, though a little unremarkable in the busy Gin world, makes for a great work horse spirit in the cabinet. It’s a trusty gin, and can be tailored to suit depending on the choice of garnish in a G&T.
Wild Ram Gin to taste…
Much more intriguing on the nose, with a great sense of distinction, Wild Ram Gin is also more likely to be polarising amongst Gin fans. Sweet, fruity berry like tones appear on the aroma alongside a fresh heather and sense of the outdoors. It’s not fruity as a profile, but blackcurrant-like fruit gives the soft heather a wholesome depth.
To taste, there’s once again more assertiveness in the direction of the flavour profile than with Purple Ram. A more confident, probably more polarising mix once more, where roots and spice, funnily given the light and tangy nose, have taken over proceedings. The gooseberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and heather flowers are short lived to start the journey, and it quickly ventures into tones more reminiscent of burdock root and hawthorn bushes. The vivid depiction of Yorkshire fields and hedgerows remain very much the wider picture overall (rowan, rosehip and root more than anything here), while (we think they use it) vanilla was a crafty addition to prolong the sweetness on what is quite a piney, almost stewed berry finish. We liked it!
Desert Ram Gin to taste…
Much higher in ABV at 50 %, the alcohol is what first flicks the nostrils. Just like a Moroccan tagine, not much rises to announce itself with any particular clarity, rather the ensemble combines to provide a hit of stewed, candied notes, from the more verdant mint like tones, to softer more indulgent apricot-like elements. There’s a touch of musky rose perhaps (which could be the floral nose on cubeb) murmuring amongst the spiced note that lies beneath. A far more complex set of aromas than the other two gins and technically speaking, beautifully integrated.
Juniper is at the core here, while big notes of stone fruit hit first, followed by mint, basil and coriander seed. A drying flourish occurs (maybe angelica) before a round finish.
It’s by far the most accomplished of the three, and the higher proof means it’s definitely one to try in a Negroni.
Quite why the label says strawberry on it is as much a mystery to us as the activities of the SAS during Desert Storm. There’s a round finish, which is, once again for this range surprisingly smooth given the ABV, and given the direction of inspiration hints at North African botanicals we’ll suggest a backdrop of dates or fig – nothing obvious in it’s own right, but definitely something that’s sweet and enduring. Strawberry is only discoverable if one conjures the memory of eating a Kipling Swiss roll and then remembers the ghost of raspberry jam sweetness it left behind as you yearned for more but were left with the just the memory of it, along with a stern warning not to attempt to steal another slice… It’s faint. It might be there, but there are far more evident flavours to be excited about here.
This is a distillery with man power behind it, and each member of the team cares about the products they make. They are on a mission and placing one boot in front of the next, slowly gaining traction. They’ve been through a few re-designs already, with each iteration improving, and as observers it seems that Tony and co have the steely determination and resolute nature they’ll need to get the name and spirits out there, along with enough self awareness to keep trying to improve what they do.
They’ll need that, as well, as they have got a long way to go before they have a fully formed, all-singing-all-dancing brand with killer assets to deploy at every turn. It’s getting there, it’s improving, but no one would be so bold as to say it’s fully metamorphosed out of its early phases yet.
It’s still very early days, yet, and gin aside we’re really keen on the giving aspect of the brand. We love the concept of hiring and helping veterans and ex-cons; both require something positive to focus on once they’re back in the civilian world and there is something entirely rewarding about belonging to a small family brand and seeing the importance of your input to the entire operation.
We really hope this grows with the distillery, and that Purple Ram Gin and all of its siblings continue to give as much as it takes. Botanicals from the land, social enterprise into it.
Copyright © Gin Foundry