What did you do before setting up Chew Valley Distillery?
I am an aircraft engineer by trade and worked for 15 years at Airbus manufacturing and equipping wings for a military aircraft.
What made you decide to create your gin/distillery, and what's the inspiration behind your gin?
My Dad owns a restaurant (The Lazy Lobster) nearby I grew up in the Chew Valley area and he stocked the bar with over 70 different gins from around the world. He had the idea to create a House Gin and asked me if I wanted to get involved as I was familiar with the process of distillation and I was looking for a new challenge.
After touring a few local distilleries and applying for licences I began very small scale tests in my Dad’s restaurant on days when it was closed. With instant feedback from customers, it didn’t take long to create what would be the House Gin. This House Gin was almost an instant hit and when customers wanted to buy bottles to take home, we knew we had to take it a bit more seriously, so we got in touch with a family friend who helped design the labels and branding before officially launching as a company on 14th February 2020.
What is your distillery like?
The distillery is tiny and was once the living room of a cottage, but more recently it was my Step-mum’s hair salon. During the first lockdown of 2020 she decided to join my Dad full time at the restaurant so the building was too good an opportunity to let go. Luckily for me my Dad is a builder by trade and as the Restaurant was closed he started work turning the Salon into a fully operational distillery. We have managed to cram in a 150L Pot Still, two 30L split top alembic stills and two test stills to date. All of this is alongside a cocktail bar and bottle shop.
What is your distillation process?
From the very beginning we have favoured Vapour Infusion when creating our range of gins. This process we feel works well with our more delicate botanicals and citrus peels due to the lower temperatures involved. We also steep our botanicals for 24 hours prior to distillation when producing our London Dry and Navy Strength Gins. Our core Botanicals are very traditional as before anything else we wanted to create a true classic gin to build from.
What can gin lovers expect and experience if they visit the distillery for a tasting?
Due to its size our venue is very intimate. You are surrounded by our stills, botanicals and distillation equipment. The décor is industrial and all totally bespoke. From the coat hooks to the glass holders to the bar top itself, everything has been crafted by my Dad to the highest possible quality. There isn’t an inch that isn’t photogenic. Due to our Tiny Team (there are 2 of us) every visitor is given undivided attention. We love what we do and feel our enthusiasm and love for the industry is our biggest attribute.
What have been the biggest challenges and achievements so far?
My biggest challenge was finding the right time to make this a full-time job. Although I launched the business in February 2020, I was still working full time up until December 2020, dedicating every evening and weekend to growing the business. With the pandemic raging and no real idea what a normal year looked like I had to make a decision on whether to go all in or slow the business down as I just couldn’t continue to do it all. This was made harder as I had a very good and secure job that had treated me and my family extremely well. Having 2 young girls and not wanting to continue missing out on everything I decided to go for it and I opened to the public in December 2020. We managed to get a few days of business before the next lockdown hit, but by continuing to deliver to doors locally and by post nationwide, I managed to get through what I hope to be the toughest times we will have.
It was a HUGE decision to make but one I knew had to be taken. I would have regretted not giving this mad journey 100% and as the new year started we began to start getting some much needed exposure, especially with our achievements in The Gin Guide Awards 2021 which saw our London Dry and Navy Strength being named as Winners in their categories, plus we were named New Distillery of the Year 2021 too!
How would you describe your gin in 3 words?
Craft, Traditional, Elegant.
What's your favourite way to drink your gins?
Which gins would you always have on your gin shelf (other than your own of course!)?
I’ve always got something local on the shelf. From the more well known Psychopomp to the up and coming Steeplechase. But something I always have has to be 137 Distillery's Lumber’s Bartholomew Gin.
What's next for you and Chew Valley Distillery - any exciting plans?
Our Plan must be to get through the next 12 months. It’s not as exciting as I would have hoped just a few months ago but before we can grow we have to prove we are a sustainable business. We have won multiple awards this year (New Distillery of the Year 2021 in The Gin Guide Awards being the highlight) but this means nothing if we can’t gain exposure and reach people. We have land and a plan to be a multi spirit distillery in the near future, but without sales from the general public and trade we can’t continue to grow.
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Review: Our tasting notes and review of Chew Valley Gin.
Buy: Order direct from Chew Valley Distillery.
Visit: See Chew Valley Distillery for yourself.