Peter Sim – Raven Spirits
Hi Peter, let’s delve straight in and reminisce about the start of your journey… What triggered you to take the plunge and start distilling?
A brother’s holiday to Islay triggered our journey. Callum and I went to visit all of the Islay distilleries. While at the Bruichladdich distillery, we joined one of the first Gin tours for their Botanist Gin. During that visit the still, named ‘Ugly Betty’, had been emptied after a production run and the wonderful aroma from the spent botanicals caught our attention. Later that evening, over a ‘few’ malt whiskies, we talked into the wee small hours about what taste profile and characteristics we’d create if making a gin ourselves. Coincidentally, we both proposed the same style and characteristics for it! The next morning Callum posed the question of actually making the gin we had discussed, and we took the plunge.
That escalated quickly! If there was one thing about you want everyone to know about your gin, what would it be?
It would be the taste profile of HRAFN GIN. Particularly the almost ‘whisky-like characteristics’ of the very smooth spirit with a depth of flavour and a longer finish, that lingers. To achieve this takes great care and effort; and it gives a London Dry profile which is extremely satisfying and more resonant than may be expected of a gin.
You were both very quick to know what you wanted and which direction to embark on, but how long did it take to create your Gin and did launch the distillery?
From inception to launch took just over one year. The recipe development and processes took shape quicker than I’d anticipated, as we’d already done a lot of ‘theoretical distilling’ in our heads over a three month period; and it was on the fourth test distillation that we perfected the recipe. We’re fortunate with the distillery in that we work in partnership with our good friends at the Deeside Brewery & Distillery.
Flavours aside for a second – Why HRAFN – where did the inspiration for that as an identity and where does the raven connection come from?
Callum has always been interested in Norse mythology, the Vikings and their gods. During our visit to the Bruichladdich distillery, a raven perched nearby, which Callum took as a kind of good omen. HRAFN (pronounced Ra-Vn) means Raven in Old Norse and we took inspiration from the two ravens of Norse god, Odin, named Huginn and Muninn, which translate as ‘Thought and Memory’. We adopted this name for our gin. So, not only do you have two brothers, with some Norse DNA in them, but also two mythical Norse ravens!
You called it a classic style of gin, but what flavours or which botanicals do you think define your flagship gin?
The defining botanicals, besides juniper, is fresh mandarin peel and cubeb pepper: the classic London Dry profile of juniper, citrus and spice, but with a twist. Our distilling process is also important to the flavour profile and finish as it gives a separation but linear connection of these flavours to give our distinctive ‘taste journey’.
One of the things that fascinates us about the start up process is how things evolve. Can you remember the intention behind what you wanted to make when you began and whether you’ve reflected that or if it evolved into something else along the way?
The intention was always to create a premium quality gin with a deep flavour profile and a long length of finish, versatile enough to be taken neat, say over ice; as a classic G&T; or giving a great backbone to your favourite cocktail. That being the goal, the recipe had to be developed in partnership with the distilling process and the result has successfully achieved this.
Speaking of the process, how big is a batch for you and how often are you distilling now?
We’ve a 500 litre still and we’re now distilling in double runs. We don’t distil as numbered batches; this can suggest there could be differences between them. We’re focussed on consistency of HRAFN to ensure we distil the best gin, in both the quality and taste, that we can. When we started our journey, we knew that consistency would be one of our fundamental quality control requirements.
There’s a lot to learn when you begin distilling and often a lot that quality control is honed by talking to others, or just taking inspiration from them at a distance. Who’s another distiller you admire and why?
I really admire the gin distillers in Orkney. They make some superb gins that are classic yet have an edge and personality. Maybe it’s the isolation and the time they take to perfect the taste and balance?
Perhaps. Where do you see the Gin category going in the next 18 months?
Clearly, the gin industry is made up of many markets – from entry level through to classic gins – and each have different challenges and aspirations. I see flavour experimentation continuing and brands beginning to establish house styles and offering expressions based on those styles. I also see more focus on quality and less on geographical provenance.
Having been through the learning curve yourself, what’s the best advice you could give a new distiller?
The best answer I can give to this question, ironically, is one that we were given by you guys. Back at the start of our journey, we attended the Gin Foundry’s ‘Setting Up a Distillery’ course. Olivier told us ‘There is no need for another gin, but there is always an opportunity for a good gin”. Jumping on the wagon to just make money is NOT a good reason. You need to be passionate about gin and have a perspective that moves the category forward.
Thanks for chatting with us Peter, we’ll see you at Junipalooza.
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