What did you do before creating Highclere Castle Gin?
Before co-founding Highclere Castle Gin I built my first distillery in 2009 in Connecticut, USA. My family history in distilling goes back to the mid 1800s. We had a successful whiskey distillery here in New England. My family was rather busy throughout New England during prohibition, but I’ll leave that story for another time! I revived the distillery brand as Onyx Spirits Company, producing an award-winning New England style whiskey called Secret Stash and Onyx Moonshine, an unaged whiskey produced from corn on very rich farm land in the Connecticut River Valley.
What is the inspiration behind Highclere Castle Gin and what made you decide to create it?
With my ancestors originally coming from Somerset I’ve always wanted to get back to England in a meaningful way as I’ve been visiting for over 25 years. It draws me. There are so many brands that are created in marketing board rooms or have artificial stories connected to them. I was inspired to create a spirit that had an intense amount of pedigree, history, and heritage.
For me, Highclere Castle represents not only the highest of quality, hospitality, and of hard work, but a preservation of a crucial part of English heritage. We have liquified the true spirit of Highclere Castle, along with its botanicals and estate-grown oats to offer something truly and deeply real. It’s a game changing gin. Lord & Lady Carnarvon work incredibly hard to keep the estate going and that is a big part of the mutual inspiration to release a glorious gin that will still be here in 100 years, just like Highclere Castle.
Can you tell us more about the distillery?
Distilled above an ancient underground water source, Highclere Castle Gin is distilled at the Langley Distillery in Birmingham. It is England’s oldest gin distillery, with one of the oldest working copper gin stills dating back to the 1800's. I’ve toured so many distilleries in the UK over the years and found Langley had the mentality for perfection and craft that we required.
Can you tell us more about the botanicals?
The recipe was meticulously developed over two years, experimenting with botanicals grown on the Highclere estate. Our careful selection of botanicals in the recipe contain essential oils; it is the extraction of these oils in the presence of alcohol that gives Highclere Castle Gin its uniquely smooth flavour.
We have selected lavender from the walled Monks Garden behind the castle; it was planted by the Bishops of Winchester in the 9th century. Our citrus comes from the Victorian-era orangery behind the castle and is carefully managed by Lord & Lady Carnarvon and their amazing team of gardeners.
One distinguishing ingredient is our use of oats, post distillation in the botanical blend. Highclere is known from growing very high quality oats for thoroughbred race horses. Lord Carnarvon had the brilliant idea to include the oats in the blend – resulting in the creamiest smoothest finish that I’ve ever tasted in a gin.
Can you tell us more about distillation process?
To begin the distillation process, the botanicals are carefully weighed out and added to the still, along with a charge of our English wheat-based spirit. The still lid is then shut, and the steam jacket is switched on to allow the gentle warming of the still. This warming process allows the botanicals to begin releasing their oils for distillation and this process of maceration continues overnight.
The following morning, the stills are heated to a higher temperature, making the charge boil. The boiling process begins to turn the liquid into vapour which rises to the swan neck and water-cooled condenser, turning the vapour back into liquid. The distillation is separated out into three parts; heads, hearts and tails. It is only the heart section that is used in the Highclere Castle Gin-making process; this liquid holds the most subtle and refined of the aromas and flavours given off during the distillation.
The resulting high proof gin is blended with water to precisely 43.5% alcohol. We discovered this exact proof lent itself to the maximum expression and dimension of flavour.
Can you visit Highclere Castle and enjoy your gin there?
Highclere Castle is open to the public at certain times of the year. The castle also hosts incredible events, in some cases raising funds for great charities. Guests are welcome to roam the gardens and can see where the botanicals come from and of course tour the castle. Highclere Castle Gin cocktails are available from a lovely hand crafted gin bar that has been constructed near the tea room, and it is also available by the bottle in the gift shop. Anyone looking to visit the castle can visit: http://www.highclerecastle.co.uk
What have been the biggest challenges so far?
We launched Highclere Castle Gin 6 months before COVID. The team spent several months prior seeding the markets in the USA and in the UK securing great partnerships with many restaurants, retailers and we had just built a strong relationship with Viking Cruises. When COVID hit, we witnessed all our customers suffering. The cruise ships were docked. The hospitality industry was hit hard.
As a new brand we had to help where we could and then pivot quickly to stay relevant in the market. The pandemic forced our team to be creative to find ways to stay in front of our consumers. We launched a virtual happy hour on social media from Highclere Castle where thousands of people joined in. We celebrated together from our homes and enjoyed cocktails together virtually. People weren’t going out, they were ordering everything online. So we launched an e-commerce platform that now delivers to homes in the UK, throughout the US and within the EU. These months gave us the opportunity and time with our customers establishing deeper partnerships that reflect our brand. While it was the biggest challenge I’ve faced in business and in my life, in some ways it allowed us to grow and expand.
What have been the biggest achievements so far?
The biggest achievement to date is how viable Highclere Castle Gin is in the market. The brand is available throughout the UK, 30 US markets, 7 EU countries, Dubai Duty Free and we just landed in China. We have 4,500 partnership accounts that include very prestigious locations such as Annabel’s London, The Goring Hotel, The Stafford Hotel and many more around the world. The brand has won over 100 international spirit awards since our launch in 2019 and we expect to become the most awarded gin in the world. For a new brand, Highclere Castle Gin is making a name for itself!
How would you describe Highclere Castle Gin in 3 words?
Sophisticated, authentic, decadent.
What's your favourite way to drink Highclere Castle Gin?
To be honest, it’s the first gin I’ve been able to enjoy straight on the rocks. Coming from a whiskey background, I really wanted to ensure we could enjoy Highclere Castle Gin the way we enjoy whiskey – neat or on the rocks. Somehow, we pulled it off! Although I recently had it in a French 75 and couldn’t believe how much I like that cocktail.
What gins would you always have on your gin shelf (other than your own of course!)?
Nolet Reserve has fascinated me lately. It’s slightly golden colour is elegant. They use Verbena and Saffron which I find creative and surprising as they’re two flavours I enjoy.
What's next for Highclere Castle Gin - any exciting plans?
After the successful launch of our limited-edition Highclere Castle Barrel Aged Gin, we are exploring 3 line extensions for this year. A 50ml mini for hotel partners and potential airline partners that have approached us. We are also in development for a flavored gin SKU that embodies Highclere’s summer fruit gardens. Lastly, the company is working on an alcohol-free Highclere Castle Gin to service our mocktail customers.
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