What did you do before creating taking on Elemental Cornish Gin?
I (Nicki) worked in the travel industry for 8 years in Sales, Management and then Operations. I fell into the travel industry after a background in conservation led me into ecotourism and I ended up working for an excellent bespoke tour operator where I focussed on Asia and later Africa, before turning to the booze industry!
I (Joe) work in Project Management (still do) which lends itself surprisingly well to running a distillery, although trying to balance the two (plus a toddler!) is definitely a challenge. The hope was that I would be able to step back from the ‘day job’ and we would run the business together. Unfortunately, the last year and the impact that Covid has had on the business has delayed those plans and only added to the juggling act – lots of late-night bottling and labelling. Lockdown hasn’t been a dull affair.
What made you decide to buy The Cornish Gin Distillery?
Joe did a course in business acquisition and stumbled across the distillery while looking for other opportunities. He jokingly asked me one day when I was pondering the meaning of life if I would like to run a gin distillery in Cornwall - and being the gin-lover that I am obviously I said ‘hell yes’. We have always known that we would end up in this part of the world and had been looking for our next adventure, so after much soul searching, many sleepless nights and of course countless Elemental G&T’s; here we are!
What's the history of the distillery?
Our recipe was developed by Elemental’s founder and a self-taught master distiller, Jon Meyer back in 2013. He and his wife, Jilly, wanted to create a premium quality, hand-crafted Cornish Gin back when there were significantly fewer gins on the market. Elemental was one of the first gins to be distilled and bottled in Cornwall for over 300 years and it took months of alcohol alchemy to perfect the recipe, which for a long time was a closely guarded family secret. Jon and Jilly wanted to create a classic gin that paid tribute to the amazing place in which it is made and was best enjoyed in good company.
Since taking over the distillery in early 2020 the most important things to us have been to ensure that we continue the tradition of creating the hand-crafted, small-batch, premium gin that people know and love, whilst breathing some new life into the distillery and the brand – continuing to pay homage to Cornwall and the elements that surround us and help craft our delicious gin. We love where we live, we are an outdoors family and there isn’t anything better than a drink around the fire with friends after a day at the beach – so the second part wasn’t too difficult!
Can you tell us more about distillery set-up?
The distillery is a little building/big shed at the bottom of the garden – very literally. A walk to work consists of wellies and views overlooking the rolling Cornish Countryside up towards the North Coast. Access is tricky and in winter we have a farmer friend who helps bring our larger deliveries, including pallets of bottles down through the fields so we don’t end up getting our pallet truck bogged down! The distillery is definitely on the small side and we have plans to extend but at the moment we’re happy making do with our cosy little gin shed.
What is your distillation process?
Elemental Gin is crafted using traditional distillation methods, and at only around 90 bottles per batch we have ample opportunity to ensure each one is filled with the depth and character that we want in our gin - when we say small batch we really do mean it. The process begins by steeping our botanicals in warm organic grain spirit and locally sourced Cornish spring water from Bodmin Moor. Left overnight to release their vibrant flavours and delicate oils, we then strain the liquid before firing up Tenna (fire), Norvys (earth), Awel (wind) and Dowr (water), our four 40-litre traditional copper stills and the alchemy begins.
The botanicals we use are:
We heat our stills gradually, seal them with dough and step back to let the magic happen. As the vapour winds its way through the copper still and cools, we separate the heads and tails to ensure only the smoothest, purest heart of the distillate makes it into our gin. These are pivotal moments in the creation of Elemental, a skilful blend of art and science that takes great practice and patience to master – and was certainly one of the hardest things for us to nail as new owners! Our ‘one-shot’ distillation method means that other than the addition of more Cornish spring water to bring it down to 42% ABV, our gin comes out of the still exactly as it goes in the bottle. These traditional methods take longer and require patience, but for our characteristic smoothness, we know it’s worth the wait.
What have been the biggest challenges and achievements so far?
Taking over the distillery right before a global pandemic and national shut down has to be up there with some of the best Murphy’s Laws around. Most of the plans we had suddenly needed to take a back seat and it has generally been a battle to keep our heads above water – the same as many small businesses. However, it did give us time to focus on the new branding which we knew was going to be so key in giving Elemental the kickstart it needed - so every cloud...!
Jon’s son Jeremy, who had been making the gin with him for the past four years as Jon started to step away from the business, stayed around for most of 2021 to help us navigate this new territory. This ensured that we had a really smooth handover of the real labour of love that it is to craft Elemental Cornish Gin. Oh – and also, we are super proud to have achieved Gold Awards for both our Classic Dry and our Apple Gin in the 2020 Taste of the West Awards. An award which Elemental Gin won in its first full year of production back in 2014 so we are really proud and can truly say that Elemental is the same great gin it has always been!
How would you describe Elemental Gin in 3 words?
Classic, Smooth and Citrusy.
What's your favourite way to drink your gin?
Nicki – Classic G&T all the way with a slice of orange peel. Or maybe a sprig of lemon thyme. The Apple with Elderflower Gin I would drink neat over ice with maybe a dash of good quality cloudy apple juice. The Raspberry Gin – well this one is dangerous and with some sunshine, loads of ice, a good quality tonic (or sweet mixer if you have a sweet tooth) and loads of oranges and raspberries it just disappears – no idea where, it’s there one minute and the next… you are halfway down the bottle!
Joe – Honestly? Whisky (under-the-table kick from Nicki). OK ok, our gin is awesome and for me it’s with a Sea Buck Tonic from Cornwall.
What gins would you always have on your gin shelf?
What's next for you and Elemental Gin - any exciting plans?
We are on a mission to reduce any negative impact that we have on the environment and are looking deep into every area of production and distribution, so that we can make better and more sustainable choices. Our eco ambitions are grand, from refill pouches to becoming carbon neutral and one day we would like to open our doors to the public as a sustainable eco-distillery visitor centre. But for now, I think we need to concentrate on ensuring Elemental continues to grow and get the attention it deserves – and then maybe moving somewhere we don’t need a tractor’s help to bring us the bottles!
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