Lukasz Dwornik & Martin Jennings – Pothecary Gin
When Pothecary Gin owners Lukasz Dwornik and Martin Jennings submitted their product to the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2016, they were merely seeking feedback. Instead, they got a Double Gold sticker and a big head start. We caught up with the duo to find out how they found their first year in the Gin business.
For those who don’t know – tell us about you both and what your backgrounds are?
Lukasz Dwornik – Martin has spent the last 30 years in the drinks business, mainly focusing on wine (most recently as a Wine Development Specialist) and I, after finishing my education at the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (Switzerland) have spent over 10 years working as a Senior Hospitality Manager, most recently as General Manager of a luxury hotel in Dorset.
So why gin – what made you want to establish Pothecary Gin?
L.D – There were a number of reasons from my point of view; it’s the spirit of the moment in terms of popularity and hence growth potential, has a relatively simple production process, relatively inexpensive initial setup for recipe experimentation, and – possibly most importantly – still has plenty of scope for improvement or change to the status quo in terms of botanicals used and ultimately the style and flavour of the gin.
How long did it take you to go from concept to reality?
Martin Jennings – Seven months to get license from HMRC, then about three months to develop the recipe and style we wanted and then we were off…. So about 10 months to the first tasting of bottles for consumer reaction.
When did you realise the recipe was done? What was it like?
M.J – After experimenting with dozens and dozens of different botanicals, we realised that using individual distillations gave a really good reflection of the true qualities of all the different botanicals, hence we were able to discard many of them quite quickly as they failed to deliver anything desirable or interesting, or because they simply did not fit with our ideal stylistically.
From the outset we had wanted to create a very unique and different style, and tapping into my wine background it seemed an obvious choice to create something that was aromatic and distinctive, as this was (and still is) the dominant style in terms of consumer preference in wine – New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc being a classic example of this.
We wanted our gin to be suitable for sipping neat or on the rocks, but also to have enough depth of flavour and aroma that it would not get lost in a G&T. Once we had narrowed the field of desirable botanicals to around a dozen the real testing began. From there, we narrowed the field again to eight and then to six different botanical elements, but it was still not quite balanced. With one final adjustment, removing one more botanical, we landed with the five we now have in our gin.
The balance was almost right and the style definitely aromatic and unique, plus we had a smoothness on the palate that was significant and very desirable. A few minor adjustments in ratios later and we were done. The rest as they say, is history.
Where is your distillery based?
M.J – We’re currently in Wick Village, Bournemouth, but we are in the process of attempting to move to Christchurch, about a mile and a half away.
The individual distilation of each botanical is still unusual and lesser seen in the UK, could you tell us a bit about it?
M.J – We employ a process of fractional distillation, distilling each botanical separately and then blending together afterwards, before diluting to finished strength with New Forest Spring Water. This process delivers a much greater clarity of aroma and flavour for all five of the botanicals that we use, and yet still gives us a perfectly balanced blend in the final gin.
You launched with a bang – the double gold in San Fran, then a hugely crowded stand at Junipalooza. What was it like to see Pothecary Gin get up and running and to receive such a positive response?
M.J – To be honest the Double Gold from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition was a massive surprise, not necessarily because we didn’t think the gin was worth it, but because we really hadn’t anticipated getting a medal at all.
What we were actually looking for was for some qualified professional feedback on what we thought was great gin, as we’d only had our friends and colleagues opinions thus far to agree with us, at least in the main part! It was a significant moment for us, for sure, and it began to open doors for us too. It is so important to have a serious and objective professional opinion on your product, and if it happens to be a Double Gold Medal winning opinion, so much the better.
The surprise was all the more significant as at the time we sent the sample bottles to San Francisco we had no label, no cork, and no design for printing on the bottle – we literally had the bottle and contents sealed with a temporary rubber stopper and we had to write the company details on the bottle in permanent marker!
And how have things been since last June – has there been anything that really surprised you now that the gin is out?
M.J – We’re surprised by how difficult it is dealing with some wholesalers, despite having their customers asking for our gin!
With a micro distillery and booming growth, how have you managed to keep up with production?
M.J – Due to the way that we produce our gin we are able to upscale our operation one still at a time, and simply grow into the bigger scale in that way. For instance, we always use the largest still exclusively for Juniper as this is by far the largest element of the blend. If we need to increase production significantly, we’ll simply buy a bigger still for the juniper and start to use the smaller one(s) for the other botanicals.
Of course the main barrier to upscaling is space, and that is why we have had to move to larger premises nearby. When you have to store thousands of bottles, labels, corks, water, alcohol, shipping boxes, and of course botanicals, not to mention the room required for the actual stills and associated equipment, you need space!
Many people look at you and your story and see a part of their dreams reflected too, in that you are such a small entrepreneurial operation and have managed to break into the market with a great product. What advice would you give others looking to start their own distilleries?
L.D – Make sure you have deep pockets, tenacity, and a serious level of patience!
Sounds about right to us… What’s the aspiration for Pothecary Gin in 2017?
L.D – Bigger, better, faster, stronger, and more products – watch this space!
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