What did you do before creating your distillery?
Before I built the distillery, I started and tended 2 bars, which in turn led to launching a record label and a festival. Before that I was an engineer. I still run the festival which works hand in hand with the distillery.
What made you decide to create your distillery, and what's the inspiration behind Old Well Gin?
Through a unique set of circumstances, I found myself making my own Amaro in 2013. Back then it was about fighting back against the man, in this case a businessman who bought up our local schnapps brand and doubled the prices overnight. I just decided to go for it and make my own and came up with a recipe that included bitter orange (the common bond of all our products), liquorice, cloves, caraway, rhubarb and the crowd at our bar ate it up. That’s where I first got the bug and dug into my family’s distilling history. Sometime thereafter I realized I had found my calling and quickly set a trail for Louisville, Kentucky to learn the tricks of the trade from bourbon distillers.
Can you tell us more about the distillery and your stills?
My cabin sized distillery is a converted well-house that used to provide water to my village before the fall of the wall when all this was still East Germany. We are about an hour north of Berlin and the distillery sits in my backyard and I set about converting it into my laboratory around 2016. It was a slow process that involved a great deal of support from my neighbours who are all in the building trades. Inside it is driven by 2 Holstein stills, one 50 litre electric heated and the other 150 litre wood fired. Behind it I have a botanical garden and an apple orchard I just planted last October.
Can you tell us more about the distillation process and botanicals?
I steep my botanicals for 36 hours, lightly heating and agitating in between. Once that’s ready I load my vapor basket and slowly bring up the temperature. Once I make my heads cut, I dial it back and let the first half of the hearts run trickle in patiently, trying to get the most out of those Juniper berries I so carefully harvested. The process is completely unautomated and by hand. That human touch is important to make each of our batches special. Other botanicals I use include bitter orange, lemon peel, roots of angelica, orris, lavender, hibiscus, and a just a hint of cardamom.
Between October and January I harvest all my juniper in nearby forests, sorting and selecting the right berries (from lots and lots of spiders), then washing them and setting them out to dry.
What can visitors experience if they visit the distillery?
I have a small guest flat that I rent out on weekends in the summer, and my guests have the option to do a 3 hour gin workshop in the distillery where I go through the history of the distillery, a brief grain to bottle overview, and an overview of the development of gin. Then I help the guests create their own botanical bill and we do a small run on the little Holstein. They get a bottle to take home included, and if they are so inclined, welcome to purchase more. Other than that, the area is beautiful, the land of 1,000 lakes, and the distillery is literally surrounded by horses, cows, geese, and my big beautiful white dog.
What have been the biggest challenges and achievements?
Easy. Just the past year, curating and organizing the 2021 Synästhesie Festival in Berlin, pulling it off in a way that was as normal as possible for our audience, all this with great uncertainty of if it would even happen and making it by the skin of our teeth under increasingly challenging corona regulations. To make things really exciting I decided to handmake every bottle of gin used at the festival, from picking the juniper in the forest, setting the botanical bill, distilling and finishing the gin, to bottling and labelling it. Having been there from the forest to the festival, watching people enjoying the gin was perhaps one of the the most rewarding feelings ever.
How would you describe your Old Well Gin in 3 words?
Bright, citrus, balanced.
What's your favourite way to drink your gin?
With 4 parts to 3 parts Antica Formula and freshly pressed mint.
Which gins would you always have on your gin shelf (other than your own of course!)?
Monkey 47 Gin. And realistically I usually have a bottle of Bombay Sapphire up there too.
What's next for you and your distillery - any exciting plans?
Next is growing my apple plantation, expanding my botanical garden and trying to be as sustainable as we can by switching to solar power at the distillery. Working on new recipes and cocktails with bartenders from Berlin. Planning the next festival in November 2022.
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