John McCarthy – Adnams
This year, Adnams added another gin to its repertoire: Rising Sun. We chat to Master Distiller John McCarthy about a busy 2016 at the distillery, which also saw it add on a half a million pound expansion.
The recipe for Copper House speaks of a gin that’d be classic in taste, until that is, you reach hibiscus flower. Why did you choose that particular botanical? And what do you think it adds to the gin?
I really liked the floral fruity flavours of Hibiscus, when I came across it on a diving holiday in Egypt. It was just before I was given the task of developing the recipe for a gin and I thought it would work well.
We like the mouth feel it brings and love it in a Dirty Martini or a French 75. How do you think Copper House is best served?
All our gins are distilled from our bespoke range of vodka’s. As we do not filter these, they retain flavour and mouthfeel which carries over to the gin. It’s almost another botanical! Our recommended serve is as a G&T with lots of ice, a good tonic and a big slice of orange zest.
Being named World’s Best Gin in 2013 at the International Wine & Spirits Competition must have served as great validation. Did it have any impact?
Being awarded such a prestigious honour, quite early in our development as a distillery, gave us massive validation and confidence in what we were doing. Its impact was huge in terms of getting us recognised by others and put on the map as a distillery as well as a brewery. I think it put us on a few people’s radars who may have dismissed us. It also had a great impact on sales!
Talking of the brewery… The brewer to distiller story is one we’re seeing crop up more and more and we can see why; both beer and gin wear the craft label well, and both open themselves up to a great deal of experimentation, particularly with flavour. What were the biggest benefits that your brewing history has lentto your gin creation? And for that matter, were there any pitfalls?
The biggest benefit, I would say, is the total control we have over flavour. We produce a specific vodka spirit for all our gins and consider them as an additional botanical. They add a flavour and mouthfeel we couldn’t achieve with Neutral Grain Spirit, and give us a true Grain to Glass USP.
The pitfalls are varied and not inconsiderable; the additional space, cost of production and the expertise required are all something a distiller using NGS won’t have to deal with. Also we can only produce enough Vodka in a single run to provide the spirit for one Gin distillation. This limits our capacity and removes the option for multi-shot distillations.
First Rate Gin is obviously a step away from Copper House in terms of botanicals, but have you ever thought to play with Copper House in terms of creating variants, e.g. a cask aged edition?
First Rate is a more traditional gin, both in style and ABV. We wanted to give people a choice early on. Remember, we hadn’t done this thing before, so were unsure of how it would be received. I have played, on a small scale, with ageing gins. I like to experiment when I get the time, but there are no current plans to produce a new variant of the Copper House Gin.
2016 began with a £500,000 expansion at the distillery. What did this involve?
We had to carry out quite major building works as, being in the middle of a small town, we have limited space. This involved having to build above the cellars below the brewery, which was quite a challenge. By the end of Jan 2016 we had separate Vodka, Gin and Whisky stills all operational.
What inspired the expansion?
During 2014 it was becoming clear we were going to reach capacity by the end of the year, the IWSC Trophies for Copper House Gin in 2013 and Longshore Vodka in 2014 had certainly contributed to the increased demand.
We developed plans to install a further two stills to keep up with growth. Hopefully this will keep us going for a few years until we have to look at it again!
Since then, you’ve expanded your gin family with Rising Sun. Can you tell us a little about that?
Rising Sun was developed to be something completely different to our existing gins. It contains eight botanicals, the primary ones (apart from Juniper) being Lemongrass and Matcha Tea, with smaller amounts of Orange Peel, Ginger, Grains of Paradise, Cubeb Berries and Angelica to add complexity and a subtle spiciness to the gin.
You are quite unique in having both the distillery and the Adnams stores as direct routes to market. Do you trialling new concepts?
Currently we have 13 stores and they’re a great way to get a new product out there. They all have tasting bars, and customers can try before they buy, which is fantastic for them when deciding whether to purchase a relatively high value product.
I would say the stores were very instrumental in us starting the distillery in the first place, as they provide a direct route to customers and allow us to quickly gain feedback on our products.
Are there plans for any more variants in the works?
Having just launched a new gin and vodka and with another whisky about to hit the shelves, I’d like to say no, but, I’ve said things like that before and been wrong, so I’m keeping my head down for a bit!
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