What did you do before establishing Taplin & Mageean Distillery?
My background is in the hotel industry, and I co-own the Stone House Hotel in Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales. We run a number of events at the hotel for the benefit of visitors and guests, and one such a couple of years ago was about Gin. Presenting was a gentleman called Barry Mageean who had made somewhat of a reputation for himself as a young up-and-coming distiller at Mason’s Gin. I was immediately drawn to his expertise and, long story short, it was from this meeting that we began to discuss the opportunity of opening our own distillery, with a focus on top-end quality, which would fit well with a number of globally respected artisan food and drink brands that reside in the Yorkshire Dales
What's the inspiration behind your gins?
The creation of Taplin & Mageean was a combination of passion about top quality produce and a frustration that a gin did not exist that represented the Yorkshire Dales, one of the most beautiful and evocative areas in the United Kingdom. Frequently I was being asked to recommend gins at the hotel from an increasingly well-informed and interested community of gin enthusiasts. Increasingly, I was recommending gins that I considered OK, but not great, and I was determined through Taplin & Mageean to be able to create gins that were of peerless quality, but which also had at their heart the Yorkshire Dales, combining flavours that reflected this amazing place.
We hear that you had a rather unique launch event!?
Our distillery is situated at Leyburn railway station and in December 2018, Taplin & Mageean made international headlines because it ran a gin masterclass event before being granted a legal premises license. The gin was set to launch and all the tickets for the launch event had been sold, but the license hadn't arrived. However, we spotted a loophole in the licensing laws which permitted gin to be served without a licence on a moving train or an aeroplane. So the launch event took place on a train running on the heritage line that runs through Leyburn railway station right next to the distillery. The license turned up a week later!
Can you tell us more about the distillery?
Wensleydale is in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, and the Taplin & Mageean distillery is in the heart of Wensleydale. Uniquely, our distillery occupies 200-year old buildings on the platform of Leyburn railway station, still used as a heritage line for visitors to luxuriate in the splendour of the Yorkshire Dales.
Our distillery is embedded in the landscape. It is grafted from a place that was once a storage facility for cargo being delivered into the Dales, and where trains were mended before continuing their journeys across the county. We think that it is appropriate that our methods of distillation — using steel and copper — resonate with the building’s industrial heritage, and we have breathed life back into this historic piece of Yorkshire.
Can you tell us more about the distillation process?
Our distillation and bottling process all takes place under one roof in our distillery and uses handmade alembic copper stills. The copper stills may be inefficient in many ways when it comes to maximising profit but we use them for a reason — they cling onto every flavour molecule.
Each distillation takes two days from soaking the first botanicals to extracting the final product. The botanicals are soaked for different durations to ensure each note is tasted at the correct volume, and the distillation itself take 12 hours. Ours is single shot gin, and only pure Dales water is added after the distillation process to cut it down to our bottling strength. There are no additives, and we don’t use extra raw alcohol.
Trials of our recipes take place in an alembic copper pot named “Ruby”, and once the recipe is finalised, distillation scales up to our 100L copper still (Wendy) and our 300L copper still (Jenny).
Can you tell us more about the botanicals you use?
Each of our 4 gins is made with a recipe that allows the taste to evolve when sipped, with the different botanicals used presenting on the taste buds at different times. Each also uses the best grain neutral spirit, the best botanicals, and optimal soak times so that flavours can be layered. We feel that the best gins — like good stories — have a beginning, a middle, and an end, each combining to create a unique taste journey that in the case of Taplin and Mageean encapsulates the essence of the Yorkshire Dales.
During the trial process for all our gins, we start by plotting an intensity vs time graph for each botanical. This allows the overall sequence of flavours to be orchestrated before inception. Our distiller then meticulously trials different botanical combinations to work towards the target creation.
What can gin lovers expect and experience if they visit the distillery?
As a nod to our unconventional launch event, Taplin and Mageean now run regular gin masterclasses aboard the very same train running through Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales. Each tour event includes a tour of the distillery, a presentation about the Taplin and Mageean gins, and a return trip aboard the Wensleydale Heritage railway from Leyburn to Redmire. Included in the ticket price are two complimentary gins at the distillery, and two complimentary gins on the train. Visitors can, of course, buy more!
What have been the biggest challenges so far?
I guess the challenge is to reach the discerning customers who can identify and appreciate the efforts that we go to in order to provide gins of exceptional quality. We are humbled by the fact that when a customer does find us they stick with us and make repeated orders, but we strive daily to expand our profile to reach more and more.
What have been the biggest achievements so far?
Our biggest achievement to date was that Taplin and Mageean’s Signature Edition gin was awarded the silver medal in the gin tasting category of the 2019 San Francisco Spirit Awards, which is unprecedented for a new artisan gin maker up against much larger and more experienced distillers. For most distilleries, receiving an award like this is the pinnacle after years of trying, for Taplin and Mageean it came after just 5 months and we feel this endorses our claim to be an ultra-premium gin maker with an obsessive focus on top-end taste and quality.
How would you describe your gin in 3 words?
High-quality. Bold. Honest.
Which gins would you always have on your gin shelf (other than your own of course!)?
I am extremely taken with some craft gins made in a small distillery on the Wirral called Tappers Gin Distillery. If you try their Brightside gin you will not be disappointed.
What's next for Taplin & Mageean - any exciting plans?
Yes, indeed. We never let the grass grow here. We have a series of new gin recipes that are under development and we will be launching these over the ensuing months. In addition, you will see that we are called Taplin & Mageean Spirit Company, and we are about to make an announcement about a new product launch that is not gin, but we think is pretty ground-breaking in the spirit niche we are launching into. I can't say too much about this right now, but The Gin Guide will be the first to know when I can!