Monday, 23 September 2019

Award-winning gin made with Nettlebed fir needles

Award-winning gin made with Nettlebed fir needles

A GIN invented by a woman who grew up in Shiplake has won an accolade on the second anniversary of its launch.

Twisting Spirits Douglas Fir Distilled Gin, which is made using Douglas fir needles harvested from the Nettlebed Estate, received three stars at this year’s Great Taste Food and Drink Awards.

It was among just 208 out of 12,772 entries to score this highly following a blind taste test by a judging panel.

The drink is distilled by Mary Bateman, 41, and her husband Richard, 43, who gave up their long-standing IT careers to launch the business from their garage in South Stoke in the summer of 2017.

They had been toying with the idea for some time and bought the necessary equipment a year earlier before teaching themselves how to manufacture and flavour gin using guides on the internet.

The couple experimented with different flavours which friends and family would taste-test before they settled on Douglas fir, Earl Grey tea and Kaffir lime and lemongrass.

They initially had a single still to produce gin from a simple grain-based spirit and this could produce a batch of more than 30 70cl bottles in about two days. Soon after launching they doubled their output by purchasing a second still.

Their Douglas fir variety was the first of its kind in Britain and although rivals have since launched similar products, most opt to add the flavouring afterwards whereas the couple incorporate it from the outset.

They personally harvest and chop up the needles from a plot on the estate, which is owned by the Fleming family. They use branches up to 3ft long which have a mixture of fresh and older growth.

Mrs Bateman, whose parents Chris and Ann Shankland set up Town and Country Tyres in Newtown Road, Henley, and still live in the area, attended St Helen and St Katharine School in Abingdon, then studied geology at the University of Southampton.

She held various managerial roles in the IT industry before launching an independent consultancy with her husband, whom she married four years ago.

The couple first considered launching a microbrewery but felt this was a crowded market and would involve too much manual labour for Mr Bateman, who has a back complaint.

They learned that distilleries could be run from home so they obtained a licence to sell alcohol from South Oxfordshire District Council and registered with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, which imposes duty on spirits.

Mrs Bateman said: “Richard is very resourceful so he was able to do the necessary conversion work and begin distilling while I could use my creativity to work out what the finished product should taste like.

“It was largely trial-and-error but we make a good partnership and we got it nailed down. There’s not a lot of information out there and we must have tried about 50 different botanicals before finding something we were happy with. It was very well-received from the start, which was very pleasing and also a bit of a relief.

“We were personally very happy with the finished product but we knew we were relative beginners and weren’t sure what other people would think.

“However, people quickly started coming to us to buy it, including a number of Michelin-starred restaurants like L’Ortolan in Shinfield, so we knew we were doing something right.”

The couple, who have just moved to Gloucestershire, are enjoying their new life.

Mrs Bateman said: “It’s a whole new industry for us and we’re so pleased that our first product did so well. This is a more friendly and collaborative world than IT, which can be quite formal and cut-throat.

“We meet a greater variety of people, from distributors to pub and restaurant owners, and we’ve been contacted by several other distillers who want to learn more about what we do. One even said they found us inspirational, which was very touching.”

The couple are looking to further expand their capacity but will continue to produce and package each batch by hand. They hope to launch a new flavour next year.

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