Jess Tomlinson – Durham Distillery
Meet Jess, who before joining Durham distillery was a graduate of the MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt, and, just because that wasn’t clearly enough… she also has a Masters Degree in Chemistry! Now almost five years into her gin’smithing career – we caught with her and by caught up, we mean it, this is a person who is the definition of busy!
Hi Jess – What triggered you to take the plunge and start distilling?
Jess Tomlinson: After seeing how the craft spirit scene had flourished in the states, Jon was inspired to take this model to a university town in the UK where he thought it would be a great fit. The next step was to engage with people within the industry with the specific skills and experience and Heriot Watt universities distilling course was the natural choice. After much research and experimentation he decided to take the step to employ a full time distiller, order kit and begin production. This was a really exciting time as it was the region’s first true London Dry Gin.
It’s been a while now, but do you remember the first time you saw your gin on a bar or someone talking about what you had made? How did it feel.
Yes, I was at Newcastle Airport waiting for my flight and a guy asked for it a Durham Gin and tonic at the bar and the barman responded ‘ah very good choice, love that gin’ which was a great feeling and perfect start to my holiday.
We can imagine! If there was just one thing about you want everyone to know about Durham Distillery, but that tends to get overlooked in the rush to focus on the flavours and the products – what would it be?
That we are about our people, our place and our community, we are a small distillery that is growing organically, we hope this will keep us in good stead as the market changes.
What’s the best advice you could give a new distiller?
Try out lots of recipes, just because something isn’t right now doesn’t mean with a little more work and experience it won’t be great in the future. Talk to as many people in the industry, visit as many distilleries as possible.
What flavours or which botanicals do you think define your Durham Gin?
We use ten botanicals in total, of course Juniper lead but the main three celery seed, pink peppercorn and elderflower definitely define the gin, giving a savoury, spicy and slightly floral/sweet profile.
That’s a really unusual combination as a trio too – quite unique. Do you have a preferred garnish, or alternative mixer recommendation for it as a G&T?
We change our garnishes depending on the season, my favourite is our summer serve with strawberries they add a little sweetness and freshness and complement the celery and pink pepper, it was this flavour combination lead to us producing our Strawberry and Pink Pepper Liqueur.
What makes this gin stand out in today’s crowded market?
It has to be the flavour profile, there are a lot of gins out with very similar profiles, our savoury and spicy profile really stands out from the crowd and makes a great classic dry G&T as well as an amazing Red Snapper.
There is a barrel aged variant of Durham Gin in the range – what made you decide to experiment with that genre and why the two cask blend?
I have always really enjoyed whisky and its varied flavour profile. As 50% of flavour comes from the new make spirit and 50% from the maturation and we have a great gin I wonder what the aging process would do to this. I selected two types of cask, first fill Spanish Oloroso and this year Jack Daniels Bourbon to bring different flavours to the table, Orange, dried fruit and Christmas cake from the Sherry and Vanilla, honey and oak from the Bourbon, these marry beautifully with our spicy and savoury gin.
This category is still very new to the market, it was important that when we state ‘aged’ that the ageing process has time to work its magic, the shortest amount of time I would leave maturation is one year, this years batch has been matured for 18 months. This means the spirit literally sits as an aged gin (we know the min ageing for whisky is 3 years) it hasn’t just touched a barrel for a few weeks.
It might sound like a daft comment, but we noticed that you really label the products you make honestly and with some real integrity. A liqueur is a liqueur for you. With that in mind, does it bother you when you see others disregard this and try and mislead drinkers? It must be particularly frustrating given you play by the rules.
We play by the rules because we are an authentic craft distillery, honesty and integrity are extremely important to us. We take our role within the industry seriously and believe that we have a responsibility to our customers to provide them with the education to enable them to make informed decisions. As you have mentioned we are very clear about labelling and transparency in everything we do, for example our liqueurs are made from fresh juices and contain no artificial colours, sweeteners or flavourings.
You’ve got whiskey production underway now, a few other products and a flagship gin – it must be busy day to day in Durham! What’s the most exciting thing you are looking forward to over the next few months ahead?
The next few months are very busy, we are fitting out our new distillery, located in the heart of Durham City. It will feature two brand new whisky stills, were we will be mashing, fermenting and distilling to produce the North East’s first ever whisky, made with barley grown in the county.
Alongside, visitors will also be able to come along and book on to one of our tours seeing an insight in to a working distillery with tasters and a full bar. This will be a great addition to the city and where we hope we are part of new industry in the area.
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