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George Brooker – Duck and Crutch

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Written by Gin Foundry

Kensington made Duck & Crutch Gin is packing a punch way above its small time in the market, with the brand gaining traction and an enthusiastic following all over the UK. We’re fans, and anyone who follows their progress will tell you that there’s a genuine charm and humility to the offering that’s quite rare to see expressed with the confidence and panache that they do. We thought we’d catch up with one half of the dynamic duo behind the Gin, George Brooker to learn a little more about them.

Hi George, what were you and your partner Hollie doing before all things Duck & Crutch?

We both worked in Central London. I worked for a project management consultancy – I still have a lot of mates there, so won’t be too rude, but I did not enjoy it at all. Although, it did equip me with some valuable knowledge on how business’ operate. Hollie is a designer which has also been bloody useful, she single-handedly designed the bottle label and created the brand.

And what made you take the plunge and embark into Ginsmithery?

It started in late 2016, possibly triggered by a slightly premature mid-life crisis on my part…aged 24. Hollie and I attended a gin experience afternoon which prompted some frighteningly reckless ‘grass is greener’ type thinking. We both have always had an interest in alcohol, mainly the consumption of it, but afterwards we had a real ‘f*** it, let’s just do it’ moment and bought a garden shed (the distillery) and Bunny (our 5l still) and went from there.

You’ve mentioned that you distil in a shed… and a for those who haven’t seen the images,  it’s a surprisingly small one at that! How did that come about about and why a shed?

Spontaneity and a lack of other options. We didn’t want a distillery in our kitchen, so went with the next best thing. It all sort of happened by accident during our ‘f*** it’ moment and naturally became a large part of our brand. It has its practical issues (no space) but is also very easy to refurbish and change…. or knock down to build a bigger one, which is exactly what we have just finished doing!

With the increase in size it makes us wonder, how are you faring with scaling and with keeping up with demand so far – Will this liberate a few things for you?

It has been a challenge as we are restricted with our batch sizes, which means we are distilling far more regularly than we would like to be… Our new shed will allow us to install a second still, which will be a complete luxury. It has been a ‘backs against the wall’ job keeping up with demand as 2018 was a constant (and steep) learning curve. We are taking a much more measured approach this year.

What’s been the best moment of your distilling journey so far?

Our distilling pedigree is very much a ‘self-taught / trial and error’ approach, so making the first batch of gin that was palatable and that was identifiable to what we were trying to achieve was pretty monumental. Also becoming stocked in Harvey Nichols last summer was huge for us, when such a prestigious name shows confidence in what you are doing, it is overwhelmingly rewarding.

Tea is one of your botanicals – what made you chose that and what does it impart to the gin?

Tea as a botanical is a tricky little devil. We love the florally bitterness it imparts on the finish… It took a long time to get the use of it right, when we were developing the recipe we tried lots of different types of black tea and basically used way too much, which ruined the balance. So we reduced the quantity and found that Darjeeling in particular had this stunning ‘muskiness’ that worked really well without overpowering other characteristics.

You launched a higher proof version just ahead of Christmas last year, what prompted that?

Hollie and I both bloody love Navy-Strength and higher ABV gins – the tasting notes are far more bold and distinct, and you get another level of complexity. In summer last year we put some of our Kensington dry distillate aside to bottle at a higher ABV, basically just to drink ourselves… it blew our head’s off, so needed a bit of tinkering to ‘smoothen’ but we knew it had massive potential as a liquid.

Is it the same recipe at a higher proof or did you dose it differently to reach a different flavour profile?

We had to do a bit of rebalancing with the tea and citrus botanicals, but the character remains generally faithful to our Kensington dry. It has a really long and complex profile, with this warming spice featuring throughout, which is far more subtle in our Kensington dry. We drank menacingly dry Martini’s with our Overproof on new year’s eve, which were outstanding but dangerous. A terrific combination.

We can imagine! Just as Maya is here… The most important Duck & Crutch team member, is clearly Meryl. Has that changed the dynamic of the distillery operations, or just meant local deliveries now involve a walk through the park?

It hugely changed the dynamic when we first got her (she is cute but was an absolute demon). In the first two weeks of picking her up, Hollie was abroad and I badly broke my finger – we went from having a relatively harmonious working environment to carnage and one arm to deal with everything. She now follows me around but in a non-destructive way, and comes on the odd local delivery run (if her tiny legs will allow it).

Certainly adds an additional charm for those ordering in from Kensington to see! There’s a really strong aesthetic to the distillery and to the bottles. Did you always have a clear vision for it from the outset or was that something that grew as you began to distil?

This was all Hollie. She had an idea of what she wanted, which was for it to be bold and striking, and not just a ‘current design trend’. It had to feature Kensington, where the distillery is based. Like everything we have done, the design and brand evolved organically, but we always had high quality and light heartedness as a ‘principle’…. Hollie would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to our printers for being a total pain in the arse – her design OCD occasionally got the better of her.

You recently made it official… Partners in Gin and in life is always a successful match – Congratulations! Is there a “wedding edition” coming out?

We have been flirting with the idea of a ‘lighter’ gin which is more subtly balanced (possibly florally forward) for a while, so this could be an opportunity to give that a crack. It is very much in the ‘concept’ stage at the moment…i.e. we have no real idea what we want to do with it but would love to do it.

And the big day aside, is there a big milestone you are working towards for 2019?

We are planning for another cheeky product release later in the year, we won’t give away too much but is inspired by our recent excursion to India – we got hold of some really interesting botanicals that we will have a play about with. We are also really excited to be joining Junipalooza this year – our first big event. We have attended as spectators for the last few years and it is great, so we can’t wait to dish out some Duck and Crutch.

Duck & Crutch George