What did you do before establishing Basalt Distillery?
James and I met when we were studying Chemical Engineering at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. In May 2020, I graduated with a 1st class master’s degree in Chemical Engineering with Oil and Gas Technology, and then went on to work at Caithness General Hospital to help during the Covid-19 pandemic until we were ready to launch our first product, Giants Basalt Rock Gin. In May 2021, James graduated with a 1st class master’s degree in Chemical Engineering with Energy Engineering, and a Diploma in Industrial Training. He also worked as a Process Control Engineer for Wyman Gordon, where he managed the quality control of aerospace parts.
What made you decide to launch your own distillery?
Opening a distillery was always something that we wanted to do, so when lockdown hit, we thought it was the perfect time to start. As lockdown lasted longer than anticipated, we kept putting our plans together until we reached the point that we were ready to commit to it full-time.
What is the inspiration behind your Giants Basalt Rock Gin?
The Giant’s Causeway was a huge inspiration for us. Basalt rock forms the Giant’s Causeway as well as the land that our distillery is built on. The unique characteristics and porous nature of this volcanic rock creates a natural filtration process that filters the water that we draw from our 600ft borehole and use to create Giants Basalt Rock Gin. The inspiration that the North Coast of Northern Ireland has had on our product is represented by the iconic hexagonal shape of our bottle, as it reflects the stones of the Giant’s Causeway.
We created Giants Basalt Rock Gin using a precise recipe of botanicals, designed to capture the spirit of our volcanic coastal geology – the epitome of controlled chaos. This includes Kombu Royale which gives a salty forward flavour followed by hints of mint, and sea buckthorn with a sour forward flavour and a slight fruity sweetness supporting flavour.
Can you tell us more about your distillery and still?
Basalt Distillery is located just 5 minutes from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. We represent a departure from traditional craft distilling with an emphasis on the latest sustainable processes, cutting-edge distilling technology and an unrivalled focus on precision. We focus on the science of recipe development and the engineering of precision-distilled spirits. We have veered away from the traditional copper stills, opting for a stainless-steel square still, called iStill. The iStill eliminates the inconsistencies that occur when using traditional copper stills. It also helps deal with issues such as fluctuations in air pressure and temperature, as well as cooling. It means that our products can be exactly replicated every single time we distil.
Can you tell us more about the distillation process and botanicals?
We meticulously measure every microsecond, milligram, and millilitre for maximum quality. We combine 13 different botanicals to create Giants Basalt Rock Gin. Some of our key botanicals have been inspired by the coastal regions of Northern Ireland including Kombu Royale and sea buckthorn. Another key botanical is from further afield - tailed peppers, or piper cubeba - which brings peppery spices and a slight bitterness.
All of these botanicals contribute to the complex, bold, three-dimensional flavour profile that’s carried by our high 50.1% ABV and brings on heat and a kick. We really wanted to created a unique gin with powerful flavours and a higher percentage allows a greater transfer of flavour compounds into the finished liquid. Once distillation is complete, Giants Basalt Rock Gin is diluted using basalt-filtered water drawn from our 600ft borehole before it is left to rest for five weeks. This allows the complex flavour compounds to mellow, producing a balanced three-dimensional gin.
Can gin lovers visit your distillery for tours or gin making experiences?
Currently, Basalt Distillery is not open to visitors, however we do offer our 'Distil with Giants' Experience. Guests are given the opportunity to distil their own gin at the Causeway Hotel, by the world-renowned UNESCO Heritage Site, The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. It’s an interactive, hands-on experience that gives guests an in-depth introduction to the art and precision of distilling using iStill technology.
A guided gin tasting experience helps guests to select their perfect botanical bill before using their very own iStill Nano to create their gin. Each iStill is controlled on its designated iPad, where guests can dial in their chosen head, hearts, and tails cut points to create their desired flavour profile. Additionally, guests will discover the history, production and botanicals behind Basalt Distillery's flagship product, Giants Basalt Rock Gin, as they are guided through the neat tasting experience. Finally, guests will fill, wax, and seal their own bottle before completing with their own personalised label.
What have been the biggest challenges and achievements so far?
We started plans for Giants Basalt Rock Gin at the age of 22, with a vision to redefine Irish Premium Spirits. We wanted to go against the grain of the gin industry and create something that was truly authentic; something that could proudly represent Northern Ireland. We set out to create a brand world that looked, felt, tasted, and acted differently to existing brands on the market. This didn’t come without its risks and its challenges.
Now 25, we have been launched for 6 months and have distribution deals for Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, France, and Sweden, with exciting opportunities to export to other countries in the pipeline. The brand is only just getting started, and we can’t wait to share all the exciting projects that we have lined up.
How would you describe Giants Basalt Rock Gin in 3 words?
Smooth. Complex. Timeless.
What's your favourite way to drink your gin?
We love a Giants Basalt Rock Gin Martini! Our gin provides classic juniper notes, with an added peppery spice structure and hints of citrus that presents complexity and depth to a Martini. The elevated 50.1% ABV enriches the gin with a depth of flavour and richness that is remarkably smooth and blends in perfect harmony with a dry vermouth.
Which other gins would you always have on your gin shelf?
Monkey 47 Gin – it’s a classic! We love the complex flavours and how the flavour seems to change depending on your environment. We also love Pickering’s Navy Strength Gin from Summerhall Distillery, and Tobermory Gin from the Isle of Mull.
What's next for you and Basalt Distillery - any exciting plans?
Having just launched in July 2022, we’re excited to have the time this year to grow with our distributor, Anzac Spirits, in Northern Ireland and Classic Drinks throughout the south, as well as building on our current client relationships. We’re also really looking forward to growing into international markets this year. We’ll be spending some time in France this year to expand with our French distributor, BBC Spirits, which will start with showcasing Giants Basalt Rock Gin at VINEXPO in Paris this February. We’re also heading out to Mumbai and New Delhi with the distributor, Vault Fine Spirits, for the Vault Home Bar Festival in February, and to Sweden for Stockholm Gin Fest in July with our distributor Liath Drinks.
With sustainability at the forefront of everything we do, we have some very exciting plans for our year of 'Sustainable Luxury'. It’s too soon to give specific details – but we look forward to launching these projects soon!
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