The estate on which Ramsbury Brewing & Distilling sits is so vast you can almost see the horizon curve in the distance. The fields twitter and chirp, the waters ripple around the edges and ducks and cows live beautiful, bucolic lives. It’s like an English countryside version of Lion King, but less sad and with more booze. The spent grains used to create the beer (and then the vodka) are circulated back around to the livestock to munch on. The water used for brewing and distillation is funnelled back round to the pond through a series of reed beds providing natural filtration. The ducks quack. The cows moo. The humans eat them all… it’s the circle of life.
The Ramsbury Brewery started up in 2004 with one objective in mind: to turn the high quality barley and wheat grown on the estate into premium beers. The idea to take the beer one step further came pretty soon after, but it wasn’t until eight years of planning and building later, in 2015, that the distillery was born.
As all of the grains are grown onsite, Ramsbury like to postulate that the spirit making process is a year in the making. The fields are ploughed and the wheat is planted. Then, after a late summer harvest, the wheat is stored next to the distillery. When it is ready to be used, it’s is milled into a rough flour, then transferred to Ramsbury’s enormous mash tuns and mixed with warm water. Once the ingredients have been mashed in, yeast is added and the mixture is left to ferment for 3 – 5 days.
After this, the distillation process starts. The mix is put through a beer stripper and turned into a low wine, which comes out at an impressive 76% ABV. After this, the low wine is put through Ramsbury’s gargantuan 46-place rectification stills (honestly, they’re so neck achingly tall that you half expect Jack to come sliding down them carrying some stolen golden eggs), where it comes out at a squeaky clean 96% ABV. All that’s left to do – for the vodka, that is – is pop the spirit through the “small” de-methalising column, before blending with water, filtering and bottling.
It’s proper grain to glass operation, done on the scale where the spirit can be clean. There’s no messing around, no half attempt to make something and then having to carbon filter the life out it to remove the underlying base flavours. This is craft vodka production done properly.
It’s already a huge task too, and we’re not even onto the gin yet. To make Ramsbury Gin, the team (led, when we visited, by a friendly giant of a man named Tibor, who applied absolutely no gentleness when describing the cyclical nature of the farm: “We feed the ducks. We shoot the ducks. We eat the ducks.”) perform two distillation runs for each batch of gin. They add juniper, orris root, cinnamon, liquorice, dried orange peel, dried lemon peel, angelica, coriander and fresh quince (the only locally grown ingredient) to the home-made vodka and leave it to rest, one batch overnight, and one just for an hour. The two macerations are distilled separately and blended together at the end to give a better balance of flavours.
Ramsbury Gin to taste…
Quince aside, the ingredient list is a total classic, so it’s testament to the character of the base spirit and to how much hard work the fruit is putting in that the aroma of the gin is a world away from bog standard. Leafy and green, with a hint of sweet grape flavoured bubblegum sauntering around in the background, Ramsbury Gin manages to tread the line between classic and non-conformist quite carefully.
There’s a certain weight to Ramsbury Gin when it hits the tongue. Rich, woody juniper lends a viscosity and you can almost feel the density of the citrus oils with each sip. It’s earthy and a little dusty, with the roots so present you can almost chew on them and the cinnamon so dry it stings. The quince provides a bright splash of colour and a round fruitiness, preventing the gin from playing it too safe. There’s a great deal of juniper here, too; one that evolves on the tongue, painting it blue like a growing bruise.
This classic stance makes it ripe for a G&T! Perhaps surprisingly, dilution and a quick dose of quinine doesn’t up the fruit ante too much but the quince is distinctly present now and has a little more confidence. The roots are still shouting loud and proud here, with liquorice, orris and angelica a trio worth fighting. The cinnamon heat is all but gone, though the depth it provides is obvious. We almost feel we owe Ramsbury Gin an apology for the serving suggestion, but we can’t help but want to leave this untouched with no garnish! (That said, if you’re after a bit of excitement, something like apple wedges, stone fruit or a sprig of sage, would make good alternatives…)
As far as brand building goes, Ramsbury is taking it step by step. You may not even have heard of them yet, and we were certainly surprised to hear that there was some serious, proper grain to glass gin action seemingly going on out of our earshot (and thank those who brought it to our attention!). The approach, they say, is careful, rather than slow; this is a long term, long time investment – a distillery built to far outlive the recent Gin boom.
That long term thinking is almost certainly what inspires the conservationist attitude going on at the farm. We mentioned the livestock already, but its an important part of the story. Ramsbury consider themselves to be custodians of the land, rather than owners, and as such they care for it as though it were a living, breathing part of the family. The heat used in the brewery and distillery is fed by a biomass boiler, and the wood that feeds that comes from sustainable areas of woodland on the estate. The waste water brought about by distilling is filtered through a reed bed system that treats the water in a sustainable way and creates a great habitat for wildlife to roam free on. The estate has even launched conservation projects with nearby schools to help protect the endangered species that live on the land.
There’s a lot of long term thinking going on and the attitude they have is sustainably cyclical and self contained in nature – something we hope drinkers and distillers alike are inspired by. Ramsbury’s work isn’t as flashy nor as trend driven as other distilleries, and the team are not the type to get involved in playing the endlessly frenetic game of ‘what’s new’ to keep up with the chop and change whim of our generation. What it is as a distillery, and what it make as products is something honest and intended to be a little more timeless; spirits – if you show a little willingness to look into them – will genuinely resonate with your soul.
We feel the Ramsbury brand deserves much more of a push and a lot more fanaticism directed at it, as the distillery really has a lot to offer. The gin is nice (a bit safe, but very nice), the vodka is great, the equipment is fantastically exciting (take a tour if you can, just to crane your neck at the glorious stills) and the passion behind it – in terms of looking after the land that feeds is – is worthy of eternal applause.
We understand the need any brand feels to incubate carefully, but this is something that deserves to be out there for everyone to see and engage with. Ramsbury Gin – go and claim your crown.
For more information about Ramsbury Gin, visit the website: Ramsbury.com
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