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Sean Harrison – Plymouth Gin

Sean Harrison holding a nosing glass of gin
Sean Harrison holding a bottle of plymouth gin
Sean Harrison
Written by Gin Foundry

To get a better idea of life behind the scenes and the people who are at the heart of our favourite spirits – we decided to launch a Meet the Maker micro series. Here, we catch up with Sean Harrison, Master Distiller of Plymouth Gin.

Gin Foundry – Hi Sean, thanks for agreeing to take part in our Meet the Maker series – How long have you been distilling and what made you choose it as a career?

Sean Harrison I started working for Plymouth Gin in November 1994. I didn’t know the job existed when growing up – it’s not something a career adviser would put at the top of their list! I had just left the Royal Navy and was looking for a job in Plymouth. The role of Assistant Manager was advertised in the local paper and I thought I would take a punt. And the rest, as they say, is history!

What’s your favourite part of making gin?

My favourite part of making gin is selecting the botanicals. Each year has its own trials and tribulations because we’re working with natural ingredients that are harvested each year – mastering botanicals that have remained the same since 1793 is the key to Plymouth Gin.

Talking to all the other distillers, we’re getting a sense that it will vary a lot but… What’s a typical day in the distillery like?

Like most jobs there is no such thing as a typical day in the office. This week is a case in point: on Monday I arrived back from New Orleans after a week of promoting Plymouth Gin in the US, today I am putting 10 tonnes of sloe berries into containers ready for the addition of Plymouth Gin and tomorrow I will be showing around a new partner agency who will be working on our website.

It’s amazing to hear just how much travel there is for you all. When it comes to making Plymouth, how often are you firing up the stills and how long does a batch take?

One of the beauties of gin is it is made to order, so we only run our still when we need it. We generally make 75 batches of Plymouth Gin each year. Our still, an original dating from the Victorian era, takes all day to run – we turn the steam on at 07.30 and the still run is complete by 16.00.

Plymouth is one of the oldest gins in the world and stood the test of time. From a flavour perspective, what do you think makes your gin stand out?

With Plymouth we’ve been extremely lucky. When the recipe was originally put together the creators didn’t really know how good the gin they had produced was. As production methods improved and new cocktails were invented, it became clear that Plymouth is one the most user friendly gins out there. Plymouth Gin is characterised by its complex flavours and smooth texture: the gin has an earthy end note, a natural sweetness on the palate and is not juniper dominant.

We’ve seen a huge explosion in the gin scene over recent years – In your opinion, which gins do you feel have really pushed the category forward ?

There have been a few noteworthy gins in recent years, each one offering something different to the category, but I am not going to say who they are! Plymouth Gin, in particular, is working to educate consumers on the world of gin and has recently launched an exhibition, in conjunction with Plymouth’s Museum, that allows visitors to explore the history of the brand through beautifully designed displays and historic artefacts. In 2013, Beefeater launched Burrough’s Reserve, a small-batch, category-changing ultra-premium gin rested in Jean de Lillet oak casks. Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve was created to be sipped neat, providing a new gin drinking experience for those looking to branch away from conventional G&Ts.

Fair enough, a good plug your own then! Moving on to a less brand specific but hot topic at the moment, do you think there should be clearly defined guidelines as to what constitutes a “craft” gin?

In the gin world ‘craft’ is a misleading word. If craft means hand selected botanicals that are naturally sourced, weighed out and loaded into the still by hand, whose valves are in turn opened and closed by hand, with the middle cut by nose then Plymouth Gin and Beefeater should be considered as craft gins. Size is not important in craft: it is all about ethos. In fact the larger the still the easier it is to keep flavours more consistent, so sometimes size does matter!

Indeed, it’s why it’s so hard to define. Gin is in a very different place today, compared to when you began. Do you think the category will contract a little over the next few years?

There will always be an ebb and flow to the market place. At the moment it is great to be in the gin category as the demand is booming, especially in the cocktail scene.

And lastly, what’s your favourite way to drink your gin?

I have couple of favourite serves: the French 75 and a classic Martini.

Thanks Sean, It was good to catch up and have a little more insight behind such a characterful gin so rich in heritage. For those looking to visit – you can book a tour of the distillery guided by Sean HERE.