Warner’s Harrington Dry Gin
We first reviewed Warner’s Distillery (At the time Warner Edward’s) in 2014. Our conclusion was simple and, in the most meta way to start any article allow us to quote ourselves here, that they would “continue to build on the booming reputation they so have quickly developed for themselves and become one of the greatest success stories of British craft distilling”.
4 years on and it turns out that we knew what we were talking about. There’s a first for everything we know…
The distillery has evolved and grown into what is, undeniably, one of the most complete craft gin brands in the UK, with both accompanying reputation and sales figures to back it.
Their story is one now so familiar to many a craft distillery that has launched since they did – two friends renovate a space, install a still and embark on a pursuit of epically mad proportions. In this case, It was Sion Edwards and Tom Warner who co-founded Warner Edwards Gin, fitting their distilling home into a 200-year-old converted barn in Harrington, Northamptonshire.
Tom and Sion met on their first day at agricultural college in 1997 and it was during these college years that they realised their shared goal of establishing a company. At the start this was just talk, but when they left their studies – both taking up jobs within the food production industry – their chat became much more serious and plans started to be drawn out… And drawn out it was! The distillery finally opened in December 2012, four years after the initial turn in the road conversations that sealed their commitment to this project.
However, it was not always going to be about gin; their still, ‘Curiosity,’ was very nearly not the significant lady that she has now become. At first, Sion and Tom wanted to create an essential oils business, focusing on lavender. It was only when they came across an obstacle involving the fact that the still would be dry most of the year after the harvest, that they started to think again. It was this unforeseen hiccup that lead them to an interest in distilling vodka, influenced by Sion’s Polish wife. Thinking that they could grow the grain themselves on Sion’s farm and start the distillation from scratch, the idea soon came to a standstill. Making vodka remains difficult today despite a vibrant craft distilling industry that has boomed over the past 10 years and the many established distilleries to take inspiration from and use as case studies. Back then there were very few examples, with even fewer options on the table as to how to go about doing it without massive investment.
Whilst not totally going off the idea, they racked their brains some more and found themselves turning to another favourite drink of theirs, Gin. The Warner’s family are the third generation to reside at Falls Farm, which incorporates the land in which the once historical local Manor House used to stand, and now has a distillery to its name.
At the core of the distillery is the affectionately named Curiosity, an Arnold Holstein still that is the ‘beating heart’ of all of Warner’s operation. The name, incidentally, was derived from a cat’s paw prints found imprinted onto the cement barn floor, a name that they believe is also representative of their curious nature and the interesting and unusual still itself.
One of the key, often overlooked elements to understanding their success nowadays was that what made them so refreshing and endearing is the same reason they are so effective today – the fact that the team and the culture there has always been grounded in a practical, get on and graft attitude.
They take on a seemingly massive ideas today but that’s not new – it was a massive still for a small maker to take on in those days, as well as a slower market. Managing cashflow and finances were the bulk of their day to day for a long time and speaking with us back in 2014 Tom Warner spoke very openly about money being a big hurdle when they began, “We are fairly set craft distillers with a burning, driving passion and are mostly under financed. Money and licensing second, were our biggest obstacles. We spent most of the money getting the wheels turning and we are still not really marketing yet. Managing cash flow is arduous. The more we sell the more we owe. It’s great when you get an order through, but you have to make sure you can hold the duty on that for two months. In the first month we had to do cash flow everyday. You could have the best product in the world and no money to produce it.”
We reminisce as it demonstrates that while an established name today – there were years of steep learning curves, growth pains and a story that is rings true to the many other craft distilleries that have launched in the years since. They were never except from all of that and it’s critical to note it as it makes their commitments to self-sustainability and to the values they espouse today are far more admirable when one considers that actually none of this came easy, and that none of it has become any easier over time. It had to be built.
Today the team has grown and so too the gins they make (you can read all about those in our article: Warner’s Gin Range). It’s also worth noting that Sion Edwards left the business in 2016, a change that years later in 2019, the distillery name now reflects going from Warner Edward’s to Warner’s.
Their flagship Gin, Harrington Dry has also changed. Those who know us here at Gin Foundry will tell you our rage over inconsistent makers never achieving the same flavour twice – that is far from the case here. The original offering was consistent, but in a conscious move to keep in line with a developing category, the distillery chose to evolve and present a slightly bolder profile.
The original was soft on the nose with warm citrus from the orange peel and piney juniper. To taste there was a clear orange, juniper drive, along with a distinct cardamom spice on the finish. While we still rate it as an exceptional gin, we can also understand the move too as the category has become so crowded that there is a need to stand out. Louder flavours are favoured over those with a more simple structure a adjustment is not a bad idea to remain in contention.
Today the botanical mix constitutes of juniper, coriander seed, elderflower, cardamom, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, angelica root, orange peel, lemon peel and a few other undisclosed additions. For you geeks out there – it’s made to a multi-shot process and after resting for a few weeks, is cut to a bottling strength 44% ABV.
What does Warner’s Harrington Dry taste like?
There’s notably less orange and on the nose compared to the original incarnation, replaced here with a far bolder, spicier pepper and green cardamom hit. The orange hit is all but gone from the front of the flavour journey too (reduced to being at best subtle), with juniper rushing in first followed by an aromatic cardamom and warming cinnamon. The finish is long and progresses towards the clear piquancy of cracked black pepper.
It is undeniably a tasty dry gin, clearly bolder and more impactful than the original but the dual hit of orange and cardamom they once had (quite common now but really distinct and different at the time) is something we miss. Add a wedge of orange in a G&T if you are feeling nostalgic, lime if you want the perfect pairing for what’s in the glass.
Warner’s London Dry Gin:
In 2019, the distillery added another dry gin to their range and while both this and their Harrington Dry are “LDN Dry” by technical production methodology and style, this was as we understood it is intended to be a more classic interpretation of the genre and why it got the moniker.
There’s more zip on the nose with lemon peel, coriander seed and elderflower all lifting a spiced undertone. Complex and rewarding, this is a compelling aroma that rewards those who pour it neat and sniff away as once familiar with the top notes, cardamom emerges as the spice, while the piney depth of juniper starts to loom. A spectacularly balanced aroma.
To taste, the cardamom and juniper swoosh in, accompanying a full, almost sweet mouthfeel that’s made lighter by citrus (more lemon than orange but both are there). There’s a eucalypt-like freshness to the finish before the taste of cardamom takes over for long after the final sip. Serve it with an orange peel in a G&T but consider this a new staple in the cabinet as its classic flavours will work well across a variety of cocktails.
Warner’s might look slick now, but it’s easy to forget that it’s a level that’s been years in the making. We remember the day when everyone celebrating that they had reached 28 thousand bottles over the first 18months, today that number is in excess of half a million each year. They’ve grown as a team, but critically they’ve brought in experience where it was needed and things have flourished as a result of the hands that are now involved in the complex web of activities they undertake.
The net result is that they have got a bit of a bigger brand swagger about them today – their set projects are undeniably mega, but they remain reflective of the values they are underpinned by.
A garden at Chelsea Flower Show, billboards dragged by tractors, charity partnerships with RHS and others, a named Fast track 100 company following a big win with HSBC’s Elevator Pitch – Warner’s clearly take on huge marketing activities and pursue big ticket accolades which are all adding to their continued growth.
The reason they do all of them though, and reason they win quite frequently is because fact they are genuinely rooted in truths. Trying to boost sustainable habitats where possible, giving back where they can, being transparent about what they do and having a ball as they do it. They walk the walk and invest heavily in implementing that ethos and about being more than a flavour, a name or a veneer. The campaigns all reinforce that, the awards all validate it.
For example, today they are planting as much as they can in a gradual ramp up to be self sustainable in as many botanicals as is feasible. Lemon Balm, Verbena, and thyme are all already there, but the honey used for their Honey Bee expression, the elderflower used in the range and raspberries and blackberries for their Raspberry gin are all ingredients that will in time be grown there.
One can’t discuss Warner’s success without looking at the run-away story of their Rhubarb Gin, which we’ll maintain a restate for the record is a big part of the reason that Pink Gin as a phenomena in the UK reached the level it has, but that’s insight for a different day. It is true that without that expression, the Warner’s trajectory looks very different and unquestionably less stratospheric, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have been a huge name and a successful craft distiller without it. The other factors are all in addition to having hit (perhaps unknowingly at the time) the launch button on a meteoric release and having the sheer nerve to hang on to the rocket as it kept on ascending. They never banked on it alone, never rested their laurels on its success.
It would have been easy for a distillery to say that the growth they’ve had means they can’t take on the ideals they once implemented as it’s not scalable, it’s too time consuming, too costly. However, their success lies in the fact that they understand, perhaps as former farmers far more so than most, that when you buy something you buy INTO something. A process, an idea, an ideal and that can’t be just stated on the back of a pack, it has to be real and it has to be earned by doubling down, not backing off.
This is why, most of all when you look closely at the distillery you’ll see that actually at the heart of it all, the Warner’s story is one of resilience, tenacity and as they say – that craft is graft.
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