To start things off I am really excited to introduce a brand new exhibitor to Newick Food Fair.
Earlier this week I caught up with Claire Kentish Barnes, owner and distiller of North Chailey’s very own new Artisan Gin – Generation 11 and of course the first question I had to ask was why "Generation 11"?
Where does the name Generation 11 come from?
My husband Ed’s family are 11th Generation relatives to Queen Mary, who married William of Orange. William of Orange is reportedly responsible for bringing Gin over from Holland in the 17th Century – we love the fact that our family history is linked to Gin!
Did you know this before going into the Gin business and did this help your decision?
No, not for definite. I had wanted to make Gin for a long time, but it wasn’t until June 2016 that I finally took the plunge and gave up my banking job in London. I would have made gin anyway but felt, if the family stories were true, that this gave a lovely credence to our story. I spent weeks and weeks researching the family tree and confirming the myths behind the stories, but, can now happily say it's true! Also, Ed is a Master Brewer and brings a great deal of experience from the drinks industry.
Did you know what was involved in setting up a distillery?
We had an idea due to Ed’s experience in the industry – but it’s been a long and in-depth journey to get it set up and approved by HMRC. We are almost there, but it has been 18 months of hard work, trial and error. Lots of time on marketing, HMRC and recipe testing.
Is it expensive to set up?
Yes! Our second still was a serious investment, along with all the other equipment and getting the distilling room fit for purpose.
What has been your biggest learning curve?
How much longer it takes when you don’t have a team behind you! From organising plumbing, through studying and understanding the HMRC licencing which is a mine-field. We had the Still here a whole month before we could turn her on! Another problem was the marketing – the original logo was too similar to another company’s product. However, the new logo is, I think, much better!
Your still is quite a beautiful bit of design. Does it have a name?
Originally Mary - obviously, but I don’t think it suits her. It has to be a girl’s name, but as you can see she’s a bit of a beast. I might run a competition to name her!
How long does it take to make a batch?
It takes about a week. We start by putting the botanicals in overnight with the 96% proof alcohol and then top up with our own well water. Then the next day we turn the Still on and it heats it up very gently. After about 3 hours we start seeing the spirit come off, we make the botanical cuts which give us the flavour profile of our Gin, and then we dilute it slowly down to bottling strength over a few days.
What’s your favourite part of the process?
Watching people try our gin and saying “Wow” (hopefully!). Oh, and tasting – of course! (Note from editor –my reaction was “Wow” – loved the touch of cardamom and lemon).
How much testing did you have to do, and did you do blind testing?
Lots! We went up to London to a “Make Your Own Gin day”. That was great fun. We have probably made 100 versions to get to today's recipe. we even tried gorse from Chailey Common. Our current recipe is Recipe 11, Version 13! I have a huge gin collection at home so I can keep comparing against our own product!
Would you say your gin is a craft gin – and if so how do you define Craft?
Ooh, that’s a good question. I do consider it craft but many larger companies use craft. There’s no definite definition other than relatively small batch (under 1000 bottles a batch). Our still produces about 200 bottles a run. Craft to us means using high-quality ingredients and having a huge passion for the ingredients and the process – we say our Gin is Handcrafted as we do everything from the production to the bottling ourselves in a converted outbuilding.
When will your gin be on the market?
We hope to launch in April, and one of our first outings will be at Newick Food Fair.
And finally what’s your favourite Gin cocktail?
OOhh – I love a martini if I’m feeling grown up and sophisticated but good old G&T is always a favourite! But cocktails blended with seasonal fruits are always exciting…
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Photographs: Sullivan George
Interview: Alex Harrison
What are the botanicals in your gin and where do they come from.
We use 8 botanicals. Juniper of course, then Angelica Root, English Coriander and fresh Lemon Peel. We then use Lavender, Black peppercorn, Green Cardamom and Orris root. Where possible we use local ingredients. For instance, the coriander is actually grown down the road in Ringmer and the Lavender is currently from Kent, but I hope to grow our own in the future so that we have a greater supply in the summer. Getting the balance of each botanical is very important to the end result.