What did you do before creating Chilgrove Gin & how did you get into gin?
I was a merchant banker working in Sydney, Australia and my wife Celia was (and still is) a GP. Our decision to start making our own gin was borne out of many years of experience as consumers and a desire to bring something completely new to the world of gin. We were amazed to find that nobody had ever gone back to the origins of gin as a grape-based spirit and tried utilising this production method in the UK. Perhaps also to cut down our grocery bill…
How did Chilgrove Spirits get started?
Chilgrove Spirits was founded by my Celia and I. We launched our first product ‘Chilgrove Dry Gin’ three years ago, followed by ‘Chilgrove Vodka’ about a year later and most recently our ground-breaking ‘Chilgrove Bluewater Edition Gin’ which is our first ‘Ultra-Premium’ spirit (and which picked up Gold at the World Spirits Competition!).
Celia was born and raised in Holland and so had a deep knowledge of the actual history behind gin. It was this that inspired us to combine the original Dutch production methods together with traditional English flavours to create something that had never been done before.
How did you get from the idea to the finished product?
Our starting point was what we like to call ‘desktop-research’, i.e. sampling hundreds of different gins from around the world in order to compile a short-list of the botanicals we would need to make our perfect gin.
After that it was a lot of trial and error. Small scale lab distillations with countless different permutations and combinations of botanicals until we found what we were searching for. Finding the right raw ingredients took the most time. We needed the right grapes to make a seriously-smooth base spirit. The right natural mineral water. The right Sussex Juniper…the list goes on!
Can you tell us about the distillation process?
First we combine a neutral base spirit made from grapes which is at an eye-watering 97% abv together with natural mineral water from the South Downs. To this we then add all of our botanicals, there are eleven in total including hand-foraged Sussex juniper, citrus peels, wild water mint, savory and grains of paradise. All of this is then left in a traditional pot still to macerate overnight.
Come the morning the distillation process begins. The still is heated to remove from the botanicals the essential oils which give the flavouring to the spirit. The lower quality early part of the run and end of the run are removed. Only the middle cut is used to ensure the highest possible quality gin; this is then run off at about 80-85% abv. As Chilgrove is a ‘London Dry Gin’ only further neutral alcohol and water can be added after distillation which we do to bring it to our bottling strength of 44% abv.
How would you describe Chilgrove Gin in 3 words?
Smooth, Balanced, Complex
What makes Chilgrove Gin different & why should gin lovers should get their hands on some?
Chilgrove are the very first, and currently the only, gins ever produced in the UK to use a 100% grape-alcohol as its starting point. Many new gins rely on an increased number of ingredients to present complexity and character, but our own approach is entirely different. We stripped away the need for prominent, unusual botanicals which has been the current trend. Instead, we went back to first principles, looked at the very heart of gin and sourced a grape neutral spirit which is altogether finer to work with. Whilst this presents a greater challenge to the Master Distiller, the result is a more refined, elegant style of gin with sophisticated, approachable, modern flavours. The botanicals act differently in the grape spirit as opposed to a standard cereal base, and the benefits are in the delivery and mouthfeel of the gin. Chilgrove Gin is seriously smooth with a perfect length.
What's your favourite way to drink Chilgrove Gin?
Cold and neat! I think Alessandro Palazzi’s Dukes’ Martini is as close as you can get to the perfect gin cocktail.
What gins would you always have on your gin shelf (other than Chilgrove of course!)?
Difficult question! We have close to 200 different gins on the shelves lining Chilgrove HQ. There are some really interesting gins coming out of Australia at the moment, innovation with botanicals that make sense in a gin (rather than the weirdest sounding thing you can find to make a point) is what gets us excited about a new gin.
What's next for Chilgrove - any exciting plans?
We have recently launchedour ‘Chilgrove Bramble Edition Gin’ which, as the name suggests, is made with Blackberries.
As with all our unique spirits, the story of our Bramble Edition Gin starts not with Blackberries but with grapes. We combine 100% grape-alcohol with Sussex natural mineral water, from our friends at South Downs Water, along with twelve carefully balanced botanicals including blackberry. The resulting London Dry Gin is then macerated with stunning whole English blackberries for a full lunar cycle to fully capture the essence of this Gloriously English fruit. The result is a seriously-smooth ruby-red gin just bursting with fruit.
The Gin Guide's Tasting Notes and Review of Chilgrove Gin