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John McCarthy – Adnams Gin

John McCarthy Adnams Interview
Adnams Still
Adnams Brewery Interview John McCarthy
28/01/2019
Written by Gin Foundry

It’s been over three years since our last interview with one of our favourite British distillers, John McCarthy. Having masterminded Adnams Copper House and Adnams First Rate Gins, McCarthy has been kepr busy developing the distilleries other spirit portfolios as well as growing the gin range that now includes several other expressions.  

Hi John – Where to start, the Gin world has changed entirely since our last recorded conversation and each time we meet there always something new going on at the distillery! Lets, jump straight in, how do you feel Adnams’ has developed as a brand since 2015?

Hi, it certainly has! I would say prior to 2015 we were a distillery making spirits which appealed to us, hoping they would be loved by the gin drinking public as much as we loved them. In the years following and especially more recently, we have changed our approach to try to react to the wishes of the gin drinking masses, while still retaining our identity.

And how about you – do you feel that you are different as a distiller now to what was still relatively early days for you?

I have had to change for the same reason as before. Whereas I once made drinks that I favoured myself, the more recent new products have been developed to please the growing army of gin drinkers and what they are looking for. This has certainly proved itself with our last two launches.

It’s always been a core part of what you do at the distillery, but do you feel that the grain to glass message carries more sway now than it did then – do people notice it?

The grain to glass story is very important to us. It’s something that few distillers are able to do, it required a lot of space and equipment. You basically need a Brewery. I think it means something to some of the public, but is lost on others. We won’t stop doing it!  We have even created a short animation to tell this story which is on our site if anyone wants to watch.

Even for those Gin drinkers that are interested in how Gin is made, and the grain to glass story, it’s difficult to know who else is doing it and how uncommon it is!

What do you feel your base brings to the flavour of your gins?

All our vodka’s are different, and they are the bases for our gins. The Barley vodka has a smooth mouthfeel and perceived sweetness which transfers to our Copper House Gin. Our primarily Wheat, Longshore Vodka, has a more decadent creaminess and is perfect for our First Rate Gin. Then we have Rye Vodka, which spiciness complements the more unusual Rising Sun.

Which is your favourite gin in a Negroni?

For a Negroni, I would go with First Rate. The 13 botanical, higher abv gin, holds its own when mixed with Campari and Vermouth, (Antica Formula if I get a choice). I like it with large cubes of ice, stirred in the glass and garnished with a big piece of orange zest. It’s still my go to gin drink when in a cocktail bar!

And on a similar note, do you think people are more educated about what gin is now, which is why it’s a broader category or are they more confused (which is why it’s a broader category)?

I think there are a lot more well educated gin drinkers out there, and that is thanks to the growing number of gins and gin educators, like Gin Foundry, informing and providing great content. They are interested and search out information about what they are buying and drinking which is great.

There are also a lot more drinkers who are influenced by what they think they should be drinking, what’s ‘cool’, whether they like it or not, and they are responsible for the pink/flavoured /coloured revolution. There are a lot of them, so a market which cannot be ignored although as we know, gin still has to be gin!! I’m guessing they are unlikely to be reading this.

You’ve had a full on schedule for a while, but last year saw the arrival two New gins. Let’s talk quince! What inspired that choice?

Quince was serendipitous. I was asked to produce a fruit flavoured gin , based on our bestselling Copper House Gin as a seasonal for Autumn. Rhubarb was mentioned . The distillery overlooks the garden of Adnams flagship hotel, the Swan. In the garden stands a Quince tree, which happened to be in fruit the day I was asked. It was then a case of balancing the quince fruit flavour with the Gin/Juniper flavour. If only they were all that easy. It has sold really well and I think we will do it again next Autumn.

The subscription club has been keeping you on your toes too. For those who don’t know about it, what’s the pitch and what do they get?

Yes, and we are now changing the format, in a good way. I was developing 3 gins every quarter, 100ml of which was sent to members as an exclusive. People enjoyed trying the different gins but wanted to be able to buy them again if they really liked one, and they wanted to be able to share it more.

So the new format will be 1 gin per quarter, but 700ml, and that gin will released 2/3 months later as a seasonal gin in our stores and online, so members can buy again if they wish. Members will now be getting a first try of new gins and enough volume that they can go back to it and share it if they wish. The club price will remain the same.

You’ve always got something cooking up, what are you working towards in 2019? 

2019 is going to be busy. There will be a spring seasonal gin, which is in the development stages. The four gin club gins. Another gin RTD, to go alongside our Copper House G&T. So quite a lot of gin things going on, and then there’s the Vodka and Whiskies, which is a whole other story.

Adnams-Head-Distiller-John-McCarthy-and-Adnams-Tonic-Water-Oct-2017