Sibling Gin is a vanilla-rich take on the category with a decidedly 21st Century feel. Deliciously weird and wonderful, the gin is unafraid to tread new paths; an attitude that owes a lot to the youthful innocence of its makers: Felix, Clarice, Cicely and Digby Elliott-Berry. The quartet, as you may have deduced, are siblings and all are young enough (and precocious enough) to make you want to pluck your grey hairs just that little bit harder, muttering far from lucid noises about wrinkles and lost years.
The distillery was founded in 2014 when Felix was 22, Clarice 20, Cicely 18 and Digby 15. The Elliott-Berrys grew up in the drinks industry, watching (and eventually helping) their parents, Roland and Stephanie, run Battledown Brewery in Cheltenham. Inspired by their upbringing, the siblings knew that they wanted to run their own alcohol company one day, but didn’t take the decision to make a gin until they were on a family holiday in 2013.
Having watched Roland and Stephanie play around with flavours and botanicals when making their beers, the siblings were keen to create a spirit that required the same amount of ingenuity. With that in mind, gin seemed an obvious choice, as it allowed them to be completely creative.
The turnaround from inception to production was swift – within a year Sibling Gin had launched, a swiftness Felix attributes to the available space at their parents brewery. The most time consuming element of the process was developing the recipe, a task the siblings considered to be of utmost importance from day one.
Their first step was to buy their favourite 20 gins from across the world and to bring over a hundred people in to taste them. The lucky guinea pigs were asked to note their opinions on various flavours, creating a databank from which the Elliott-Berrys would work when crafting their gin. Once they had this information to hand, they built a mini still and set about experimenting with flavours that fit their new-found criteria.
Explaining the process, Felix told us: “some worked and loads didn’t, but slowly and surely we made progress and landed on a set of flavours that were consistently getting rated really highly. At this point we went back to blind tasting and included a couple of highly respected gins from the industry in the mix, deciding that if we were constantly being rated higher than those in blind tasting then we had the right flavours and it was just a case of fine tuning.”
The final botanical line up consists of ten botanicals: juniper, coriander, cardamom, orris, cubeb, liquorice, fresh orange and lemon, sliced blueberries and vanilla pods. Provenance has been placed on a pedestal for some time now, but the Sibling Distillery team are more concerned with the taste of an ingredient, rather than where it grew, so while the blueberries are local, the rest of the botanicals are sourced globally.
By now it should be obvious that this is no weekend project, nor whimsical summer project of an impetuous youth – the work that went into creating the recipe alone is demonstrative of the drive the siblings have. It is testament to their diligent natures that they have made things as hard as possible for themselves by choosing to keep everything internal, making their base alcohol from scratch. Felix explains: “Having grown up with our parents creating beautiful craft ales from scratch we also had the desire to do everything in house and under our control.”
The base alcohol is made from cane sugar, which is heated (to sterilise), chilled and fermented with yeast for around 10 days. The resulting wash is then moved to their pot still, wherein four days are spent stripping the alcohol out. This alcohol is then put into the column still and distilled very slowly over two days, creating a clean vodka. After this process, the team are left with around 180 litres of high-proof neutral spirit to play with.
The vodka goes back into the still for its final transformation into gin. The botanicals are placed directly into a metal basket that sits next to the condenser, through which the alcohol vapours pass, absorbing their oils. Unusually, the basket is replenished during the distillation itself, with a new load being substituted in for every 17.5-litres of gin that is produced. This, Cicely assured us, is to keep the flavours at peak freshness.
Finally, the hearts cut is collected from the still and cut to 42% ABV with triple filtered water, resulting in enough liquid to create between 400 and 450 bottles per batch.
Sibling Gin to taste…
The underlying sugar base is notable to the nose, with an almost rummy undercurrent. The blueberries smell fresh and juicy while the vanilla brings a candy-sweet, almost creamy hint to proceedings. There’s a herbal twang, but it’s very much in the background and impossible to pinpoint to any one thing.
The sugar base also comes through to the tongue. The blueberries and vanilla add to this, bringing an almost saccharine feeling. Juniper isn’t wildly present in the sip, though a vague pine creeps forwards at the end. Overall, it’s very progressive and feels as though it could have come out of the American market, where the craft scene places great emphasis on exploring the genre. Fans of classic, pine-forest-in-your-glass gin might not appreciate it, but those who seek well-made, interesting and complex spirits should embrace it. Critically, there is an underlying spice that helps underpin the gin and allows juniper to remain relevant, if in the backdrop, throughout.
A Gin and Tonic is where Sibling Gin really comes to life. The bitterness from the quinine reacts wonderfully with the spirit’s leading botanicals, bringing an acerbic, fresh and crisp taste to the blueberries, while the carbonation seems to bring new life to the vanilla, adding a viscosity that borders on creamy. The citrus is subtle, but fresh, complimenting the tart blueberries nicely. We’d garnish with something like an edible flower, which wouldn’t detract from any of the harder working flavours, but would bring a touch of fragility that would both calm and complement the bold vanilla.
In terms of shelf presence, the packaging for Sibling Gin is quite sublime; it’s a square bottle, with each side representing one of the Elliott-Berrys. Gold diamond patterns wrap the bottle, with pink and blue making up the other colours (to represent the even boy-girl divide). The logo – a blue, pink and gold diamond surrounding the word Sibling – is neat and modern, complete with four dots above the letters to represent each member of the team.
Though all four siblings are named as owners, while Digby is still underage it is down to the older trio to get all of the hard work done, which means a lot of night shifts to keep up with ever increasing demand and a lot of weekends spent at events and fairs to grow their brand.
This isn’t the only problem their age has thrown up – the Advertising Standard Authority took umbrage at the Elliott-Berrys showing their faces when marketing the spirit, as it countered their rules on people under the age of 25 being used to advertise alcohol. This made it a lot harder for them to tell the Sibling Gin story and – in the short term at least – has cost them the chance to shout about their gin. In the craft age narrative is an important selling point, so too is presenting the makers behind a gin, so the siblings losing the chance to say ‘this is who we are’ has been difficult.
Felix also informs us that it was quite hard, initially, to get people to take them seriously, though is quick to say that it wasn’t all bad – youth brings flexibility and a lack of responsibility, so the siblings are able to give all of their time to the project without worrying about any other commitments. In defence of the wider industry, however, we feel it pertinent to point out that it wasn’t pure cynicism from jaded hacks and weary bartenders. Initially, there were some naive, borderline dismissive statements about experience and ability projected (even if unintentionally) that made the slow adoption from those who’d been entrenched in the industry for years understandable. That said, they have since shown that they are not a flash in the pan operation and have proved themselves, earning their place on many a gin shelf and cabinet alike.
The next step for Sibling Gin is a physical move into new premises, one much larger and more suited to their workload. They want to be able to deliver tours and host events, and also work in an environment that doesn’t reach 40°C in the summer (a reasonable request, we feel). Moving will also increase capacity, meaning that they’ll be able to experiment a bit more. Nothing has been planned yet, but we can’t help but feel the need to point out how well the sugar heart of this gin would suit an Old Tom variant…
This move will also allow Sibling Distillery to work to on their green credentials too. When Cicely dropped by the Gin Foundry office recently she was on candid form, filling us in on their desire to create less waste. She is currently studying an IBD course (in the process filtering relevant information through to her siblings) that has opened up her eyes to the opportunities for creating gin in a more environmentally friendly way, and as one of their most notable USPs is their age, looking to a more sustainable future is an angle that makes a lot of sense.
To fund the move, Sibling Distillery have started a crowd funding campaign, whereby they hope to raise the £35,000 needed to get the new building up and running. Crowd funding wasn’t initially a path the quartet intended to go down, but they were approached by Tesco who offered to run it for them and they began to build their plans around that. In the eleventh hour the supermarket giant got cold feet, deciding that the siblings’ age posed a risk. Tesco pulled out, but by that stage the siblings were so involved in the process that they decided to go ahead and run the campaign on their own. You can read more about it HERE.
With a botanical line up treading a new path and an even-gendered board of young, conscientious people behind it, Sibling Gin is one that reflects its distillery’s ethos perfectly: Don’t be afraid to be different. Good things comes to those who think big, act bold and work hard. We’ll be following their progress and watching keenly as their youthful enthusiasm continues to flourish into the successful business it has already shown glimpses of. Try some for yourself – we’re sure you’ll be impressed.
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