What did you do before creating your PitWheel Distillery and your gins?
Before setting up PitWheel Distillery, I was a time-served printer for all of 37 years, printing various items from wallpaper to newspapers to currency. I had worked in factories my entire working life and was threatened with redundancy in 2019, so I had to make a decision as to what I was going to do with my time as it was inevitable that at some point I would be made redundant. A lot of deliberations with the family, whilst enjoying a nice few glasses of gin, made the decision pretty easy – it was something different, new and would put Wingate, County Durham on the map.
What made you decide to create your distillery, and what's the inspiration behind your gin?
I have always dabbled in home brewing and winemaking over the years. I enjoyed the production and the science behind it, and as the wife and I always enjoy the odd G&T I did a bit of research on the distilling process and attended a course in commercial distilling which set me on the path to where I am today. So my retirement (or semi-retirement more like!) involves my ‘hobby’ on a part-time basis along with something that I enjoy, and I have the passion and belief in my products.
Can you tell us more about your distillery?
Our distillery is located within our home in the form of a garage conversion. It is relatively compact, however it fits the ‘micro-distillery’ aspect perfectly. The main garage conversion hosts the Rectification Room and is where the magic happens. We then have a large packing room directly above which allows storage of all materials in order to suitably package and dispatch our products to both trade and consumer.
What sort of still do you use?
Our still ‘Fred-rick’ is named in memory of my late father who we sadly lost in 2020 around the time of the business launch – he was a miner, and with the branding being heavily focused on the mining heritage it was a perfect fit! ‘Fred-rick’ has a total capacity of 100L and is constructed of stainless steel and copper modular components to be used as a pot or column in reflux mode. This allows for high % distillation as and when it is required.
Can you tell us more about your distillation process and botanicals?
Our process involves maceration of the botanicals and vapour infusion which produces a clean, crisp and smooth finish to all of our gins. Furthermore, all of our gins are produced using reverse osmosis filtered water in the still and cutting back. The botanicals are of the highest quality, all natural without any artificial additives, and where possible we source/forage locally to reduce our carbon footprint and bring a more personalised aspect to our products.
What have been the biggest challenges and achievements to date?
Our biggest challenge was trying to get our brand recognised. It iss difficult battling with the bigger and more established brands, particularly at a time when people are watching every penny. We have often thought ‘have we bitten off more than we can chew’, however, in the next breath we get customers coming to us asking ‘Oh, is this the gin from Wingate, its lovely, my friend has some’ and then they make a purchase. It is at this point we actually appreciate that the hard work is paying off and word is spreading.
What has been your favourite story during your time running PitWheel Distillery?
Our best story was when a gentleman approached us at a local food market - he was T-Total due to health issues, however, he loved the branding due to being an ex-miner himself. He returned the following week and presented us with a piece of coal in a small hessian bag advising us that it was ‘coal for luck’. The piece of coal in the bag was some of the last mined coal from Ellington Colliery in Northumberland and to this day, we take this gift with us to all of our events hoping that it will keep us lucky in business.
What's your favourite way to drink your gin?
Our favourite way to drink our gin is in company with good friends and family – perfectly paired with ice, Fever-Tree tonic and garnish as required.
Which gins would you always have on your gin shelf (other than your own of course!) ?
We love to try other locally based gins, however, if we had to choose we would probably go for The Lakes Pink Grapefruit Gin – it is a flavour that we don’t do ourselves and offers a refreshing fruity flavour. Our cabinet is full, however, Hepple Gin is always a go to as well – it has a unique finish to it.
What's next for you and PitWheel Gin - any exciting plans?
We are still relatively new to the gin world and with COVID and the increasing hardships faced with the current cost of living crisis, we are just going to dig deep and continue to build our brand over the next 12 months or so, getting out and about to events and markets.
We would also like to see an increase in our bespoke gin tasting events and this is where our focus will be – highlighting our personalised Ginfusion (create your own) events to both private and commercial customers.
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