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Collaborative Gin at Tales of the Cocktail

Tales of the Cocktail
Bespoke Tales of the Cocktail
Cousin Vera's Gin
Cameron Four pillars
Chiswick Gin Sipsmith
Chiswick Gin Sipsmith
Chiswick Gin Sipsmith
11/07/2016
Written by Gin Foundry

Tales of the Cocktail – now in its 14th year and a highlight of the calendar year for all those in the trade – ended last Sunday. We were invited to deliver a tasting seminar, where we were joined by journalists and trade figures from the world over to discuss the finer points of Bespoke Gin & Collaborative Distilling (as well as to distribute many samples to illustrate what this area of gin is all about of course!).

Although revealing all in one place would involve creating an interminable essay involving endless amounts of scrolling to read through it all, we thought it was important to shed a light on the various areas we covered and all of the research that went into it. Hopefully, in doing so we will showcase more details about this exciting area of craft distilling for those interested to learn more, while also providing attendees the wider context we touched upon during the seminar.

As the talk covered three key areas, Bespoke Distilling, Collaborative Distilling and Gypsy Distilling, we have split the research into a 3 part mini-series. To see the other articles, click here: PART 1. PART 3.

Part Two: Collaborative Gin

There doesn’t seem to much in the way of historical precedent regarding collaborative ginsmithery. It’s highly probable that it occurred, but we have not managed to uncover any evidence as to any that had been recorded in libraries or archives.

What we are seeing today is mostly uncharted waters and the closest thing we can compare it to, is bootleggers and moonshiners teaming up and sharing distilling practice. However, today’s collaborations aren not clandestine operations occurring in the dark of night, with secret wisdom passed on in hushed tones; they are loudly proclaimed and intentionally attention seeking. Collaborative Gin today is a process whereby both parties are equally involved and have a joint stake in the process and in the gin being created. 50 / 50 partnerships, if you will.

To many, it might seem strange at first but if one cares to look closely, collaborative distilling can be hugely beneficial for all involved. In the last 18 months, collaborations have ranged from inter-distillery crossovers such as Madrid based Santamanía working with Melbourne based Four Pillars to create a new gin and Death’s Door Gin makers traveling to East London Liquor Company to create “Collaboration Gin”. We too have worked to create limited edition batches with various distilleries, where both parties are presented as equal and the route to market has ranged from exclusive retail to specific events.

The reasons for embarking on these projects vary greatly. In the case of Cousin Vera’s Gin (the Santamanía and Four Pillars collaboration), a huge part of the endeavour for those involved was to kickstart a network of distillers who are keen to share ideas and learnings. The gin wasn’t secondary to this wider idea of mutual exchange and interwoven professionals, but it wasn’t really the fundamental goal of the project either. Making a gin was the destination if you will, but this journey was about the bonds made en route, enjoying the camaraderie between distillers and not rushing to complete.

Incidentally, it achieved in creating a lovely gin and Cousin Vera is well worth seeking out. Crucially it also gave both distilleries some ideas for future small batch projects. Through the friendship that was created there, the Four Pillar’s team have since also put Santamania in contact with a handful of Australian importers and with a bit of luck, they may secure Australian distribution in the near future.

Talking of the project and how the wider concept that underpinned it is perceived by those outside the industry, Master Distiller Cameron MacKenzie said “It has proved to be a wonderful point of difference, especially in our distillery door tasting room. Our staff love telling the story of this gin and the gin itself is interesting and (I think) delicious. Our consumers walk away knowing we are a serious distiller who is prepared to collaborate and broaden our horizons”.

Looking in with an independent perspective, it would seem that through working together both distilleries have managed to extract multilayered benefits. Equally, given both have direct routes to market, the batch has almost sold out already, making it a low risk and low effort release to see a return on investment. That’s notwithstanding the PR value both have seen from it either.

Cousin Vera clearly demonstrates that Collaborative Distilling can create opportunities for new gins to enter new markets with a trusted partner too, not just a competitor. Furthermore, it showcases the importance of encouraging more collaborations like it. It can only be a good thing that more distillers cross-proliferate information on how to harness equipment to generate specific flavours, how to improve their processes and refine their techniques. It can only be a good thing for more ideas and a shared passion for carefully crafted gins to be transmitted, evolved and nurtured from one distiller to another.

Another example of a collaborative gin is Chiswick Gin, which launched last month and which we have written about at length separately HERE. In brief, Chiswick Gin is made using West London botanicals and created by two local companies (Sipsmith and ourselves) and sold only through a local on-trade partner.

It includes rhubarb, rosemary and European Oak, which were added to the core Sipsmith Gin botanicals. In this case, the collaboration was as much about the end gin as it was the context in which it was going to be unveiled and presented. The collaboration was deliberately about trying to create a phenomenal gin that most would sample neat as the grand reveal was Junipalooza, where the majority of gin was being consumed neat in specialist tasting glasses. It was intended to act as a focal point at the show so that guests could discover something new and exclusive (which it did extremely well).

End outcome aside, the development process also acted as a way of questioning how to re-imagine provenance in an urban location such as London, a city that has so much historical gin-making precedent and which is loaded with expectations about flavour. It asked what it means to be a London ginsmith today and was intended to be an important reminder that a great way to reengage local advocates with a distillery, is to work with them and include them in the process of making new gins.

Finally, other than sharing ideas and discussing existential fault lines of gin super-geekdom, working together with like minded distillers and having fun doing so, what Chiswick Gin shows is that through collaboration, it is possible to push brand awareness about the values underlying both distilleries. When both parties are aligned, it is clear that the message about what these values are can be projected much further. This is not something new of course, many brands have been doing partnership projects with establishments and individuals outside of the context of drinks for decades (Fashion icons and retailers, photographers and design brands etc…). Just look for handcrafted bags / holders / cabinets and luxury whiskies for easy examples of it in action in the drinks sector.

Although it may seem more unorthodox, collaborative distilling works in the same way. It also looks to create exclusivity and demand for niche products while sharing distillery USP’s with another party. The fact that the other party is also a distiller will not be for everyone that’s for certain – but it may well be effective for some of the smaller ginsmiths to pool together in future.

It’s unclear if collaborative Ginsmithing has a future but it is evident that it can be a force for great gins to be made and for deep rooted friendships that supersede brand, company and even geographical borders to be formed. Even if for the sake of propagating best practice and better craftsmanship with the industry – more of it should be encouraged.

Tales of the Cocktail Gypsy article