Lance Whitehead – Dartmouth Gin
Dartmouth English Gin was new on the scene in 2018, but it’s safe say it landed to lots of applause. Gin fans, Gin geeks and Gin bloggers celebrated this newcomer loudly and broadly; in a world in which Gin has gone slightly mad, this delicious little slice of sanity quickly captures hearts and minds. We caught up with founder Lance Whitehead and got him to give us a super-quick run down…
If there was just one thing about your gin that you would like everyone to know about it, what would it be?
Everyone tells us that Dartmouth English Gin is exceptionally smooth, and this really does seem to set our gin apart from many others.
That it certainly is. What triggered you to take the plunge and start distilling in the first place, and when did Dartmouth English Gin officially launch?
I have loved gin ever since joining the RAF at 18, where it was the drink of choice for many of us, and I have really enjoyed the emergence of Bombay Sapphire and then craft gins in UK. We moved to Devon to establish a vineyard and orchard a few years ago and finally had time and space to set-up a distillery to make classic gin and fruit based spirits with damsons, mirabelles and other fruits grown on the farm.
We launched Dartmouth English Gin in July 2018 as our flagship product, with others to follow during 2019.
How long did it take to create it and did you always have a specific style in mind right from the get go?
We had a very clear idea about the type of gin we wanted to make – classic, smooth and full-flavoured. We had to wait almost a year for the arrival of our Müller Brennereianlagen Still from Germany, so in the meantime we bought a rotary vacuum still with a reflux column and began to experiment, distilling over 60 single botanical spirits in pursuit of just the right combination and balance.
Transferring the result to the Müller still went well and, after some minor adjustments, we were ready to scale-up to commercial production about 2 months later.
That’s quite the journey! What flavours do you think really define the taste of your gin?
Dartmouth English Gin is certainly juniper-led but the vapour-infused Scots Pine brings a fresher effect than juniper alone. Citrus notes from sweet orange, lemon and fresh grapefruit are evident and can be emphasised by the serve. Spice from cubeb berries, grains of paradise and cardamom emerge together with floral hints of rosemary, kaffir lime leaves, lavender and rose petals. Chopped liquorice root adds a delightful, sweet finish.
You’ve pretty much named the botanical bill there, but in fairness they are all clearly playing a role and each is palpable in the flavour journey. Do you have a preferred garnish, or alternative mixer recommendation?
One of the remarkable things about Dartmouth English Gin is that the garnish completely changes the flavour. My favourite is orange for an easy ‘summery’ G&T, while lemon and thyme bring a sharper result. When we were developing our gin, we had two key objectives: To be smooth enough to drink without tonic, and to have enough intensity for the gin to survive the addition of any tonic…! We generally serve with a range of Fever Tree tonics – Indian, Light and Mediterranean, but it is great neat too.
You’ve joined in at a crazy time for craft distilling in the UK; what makes this gin stand out in today’s crowded market?
The market is certainly competitive, with a wide range of truly excellent gins to choose from. Dartmouth English Gin has quickly won people’s hearts for its smooth and complex nature. We are certain that the qualities of our Müller Still have much to do with this. It gives us intricate control throughout the distillation process; the patented aRoMat column captures botanical flavours very effectively and it enables us to produce such a smooth spirit.
What’s the best advice you could give a new distiller and if there has been any, what’s been the mantra you’ve been sticking to over the first few months?
Buy the best possible still you can afford – this will be at the heart of everything you do. Our mantra is ‘pursue excellence and consistency in every aspect’. Branding and marketing are as important as the gin, for sure, but making excellent gin really is paramount for long-term success.
You are ramping up, but you’ve always spoken about long term, steady progress. In the next 18 months, how many bottles do you hope to be making?
We are ahead of our target to produce 5000 bottles in the first 12 months. In 18 months, we hope to be producing 10 000 – 15 000 per annum.
Last but not least, what’s been your favourite highlight of the journey so far?
Discovering that we had won Craft Distillers Classic Craft Gin of the Year 2018 was a truly amazing experience and a great endorsement for us at such an early stage.
Copyright © Gin Foundry