What did you do before creating your distillery and gins?
Before setting up The Henley Distillery I had run several distilleries around the country as Head/Master Distiller before running a spirits consultancy business helping distilleries, brands and companies. Alan (my father and business partner) was an artist/designer and has created all of our branding and label design.
What made you decide to create your gin/distillery, and what's the inspiration behind your gin?
Ever since I started distilling I knew that I had found my passion. With that, my end goal was always a distillery of my own in my home town of Henley-on-Thames. It gives me the freedom I have always craved to create the spirits I want without ever having to compromise on flavour or quality. Our first Gin, Henley Classic Dry, was the culmination of 5 years work. Whilst running other distilleries I was always on the lookout for unique botanicals and flavours so had compiled a list ready for when I had a distillery of my own. I knew that everyone judges you by your original/London Dry so I wanted to make sure ours was the best Gin I had ever made.
What is the meaning and story behind your brand name?
Our brand is based on our home town. I grew up in and around Henley and we actually registered the company names and domain names 5 years before our eventual launch!
Can you tell us more about your distillery and your stills?
We are a truly hand-crafted distillery from start to finish, from the spirits we produce to the equipment we use. Wherever possible we try and build what we need ourselves. If that isn’t possible we find people who can hand craft what we need. The bottling room, shop counter, work benches and entire Gin Experience room has been built from scratch by Alan. We started with 2 but now have 4 stills that are Hand-made in Portugal. They are 300L open-flame heated Copper Pot Stills and are named after my 4 Grandparents, Pauline, Mac, Daisy and Tony! Although they are the oldest, most traditional style of still this is not why we use them. I believe that if you know how to run them they produce a far more characterful, flavourful spirit than their modern day counterparts, whilst still maintaining the smooth sipping quality of a premium spirit.
Can you tell us more about your distillation process?
We produce what is known as ‘Single-shot’ or ‘Sipping Gin’. This means that we never add any additional alcohol to increase our batch sizes after distillation which guarantees nothing but the smoothest Gin! Along with this we heat our stills over open-flames as this gives us as distillers the ultimate control over the heat being applied to the still at any one time (think gas hob at home!). And we ‘slow distil’ our Gin for 12 hours to attain the smoothest quality (this is also why we don’t have any stills larger than 300L).
When it comes to botanicals we leave no stone unturned for finding the best quality. With our Classic Dry the standout botanicals of the 11 that make up the recipe are Lime Leaves, Lemongrass, Tonka Bean, Szechuan Pepper and Green Pepper. This gives what we call a ‘contemporary twist’ to the classic elements in a London Dry of Citrus, Spice and Aromatics.
What can visitors experience if they visit the distillery for a tour or Gin School?
We offer 2 different experiences at The Henley Distillery. First off our tour and tasting which lasts an hour and includes trying all 6 of our Gins and Rums (plus any limited editions we may have available), a double G&T, talk on our story and full tour of the distillery. All for just £15!
Our full Gin Experience gives you the opportunity to Distil your very own bespoke Gin with our guidance. It lasts 3 ½ hours and includes all of the tour and tasting plus a history talk on gin, Cocktails, another double G&T and your distilling experience which ends with a full 70cl bottle of Gin of your own to take home. Definitely not one to be the designated driver on!
What is your ambition for your distillery and brand in the years to come?
Our ambition is two-fold. Naturally we want to grow the distillery and the brand to have as many people enjoying the spirits we produce as possible, however we are not willing to compromise how we make our spirits to attain this. As we grow our methods of production with remain the same, and as we increase capacity we will do so by growing via multiplication rather than changing how we do things. (Ie. More 300L stills rather than a new 1000L still). This is all about maintaining the quality of the spirits but also goes through to our bottling line. Every single bottle is hand bottled, labelled and even numbered and signed by the person labelling it, this is the essence of who we are and our commitment to our craft. The dream distillery that I envision in 5-10 years’ time is 3 or 4 bottle lines still fully hand crafted, being an employer and giving back to the local economy rather than automating our processes!
What are your favourite ways to drink your gins?
Due to their smooth quality I absolutely love having our Gin as a Martini or a strong 50/50 G&T on an evening, sipping away. However on a lovely summer day (the few that we get each year) you can’t beat a classic G&T, Double Gin with 200ml tonic and no garnish necessary!
Desert Island Gins: Which 3 gins would you take with you and why?
I am going to cheat on this question somewhat as what I haven’t mentioned so far is that as well as making our own brands we produce over 100 different spirits and liqueurs for other brands as a contract distillery! It is incredibly difficult to narrow it down to just 3 but I would go with:
What's next for you and Henley Distillery - any exciting plans?
We always have exciting plans round the corner! It has been a fantastic first 2 years for us but we are overflowing with ideas of what we want to do next! Keep your eyes peeled next year for more limited editions, seasonal editions and some special events being held at the distillery!
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