2. Gingenuity - The hard graft that follows
After the idea comes hard graft and perseverance...
A challenge has never daunted me, I lost count growing up of the number of times I would be told ‘you can’t possibly do that’; cue pause for thought, smile on face, proceed until guilty party proved wrong. There’s a lot to do getting from an idea to creating a product and offering it to a consumer, but this is a world in which I thrive – lists, planning and a lot of detective work.
My gin journey was inspired by another distiller, Rupert at Conker Gin. I’d watched his journey from the start, and he was very generous with advice when I first started my planning.
I knew I wanted to create a hand-crafted premium gin, of this I was sure. I love cooking; I love combining ingredients, I’m a pinch of this and a handful of that sort of person, accurate measurements don’t play a part in my kitchen. However, I knew that creating a premium gin needs three important elements: ingredients, equipment, and method. I set to, procuring botanicals, cramming every article, book and blog I could find.
Oh and then the still arrived. I can’t describe the excitement of holding this little gem of handcrafted copper – and I vividly recall the fear that I might blow the house up!
In March 2017 the snow came, it came like it hadn’t for years and I thought ‘there’s no time like the present, it’s time to make my first gin’. I was worried about distilling over direct flame, so I hiked over to Home Bargains and bought a portable hob. We still use it now for testing! My husband was in Belgium and it was even colder there, so there was nothing left but to fire this baby. I can remember the moment intensely: the aromas rising, the sound of coriander crackling away, the temperature of my little copper still rising, and then the first drops. I couldn’t believe it, I actually distilled my own gin and it smelt like gin!
Seemingly endless experiments followed. I recently read a biography of Josiah Wedgewood and understand the hundreds of experiments that lead to his creation of Jasperware. Wedgewood is quite an inspiration – he pioneered so many aspects of retail that we take for granted, such as direct-to-customer sales by mail, money-back guarantees, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free and illustrated catalogues; I bet you didn’t know that! Wedgewood was also self-made. Like him I was meticulous in my observations, gleaning what I could from other manufacturers and making minute adjustments to my recipes.
You can get a bit more insight into how I created our four classic gins here.
Armed with my wooden box containing four gins, I reached out to a few friends in the food and drink business in Ludlow to see what they thought. I remember nervously pouring my wares to Simon from the French Pantry, Matt, Chris and Cedric from the Church Inn and finally John (JV) of John Villar Wines. From that point it was countdown to D-Day, the launch in six months’ time at Ludlow Food Festival.
From the outset I wanted to create premium gins that you could drink neat; distilled spirits should be creations of beauty, something to savour. Gin has come a long way since the days of the artist William Hogarth’s depictions of decadent, vice-ridden Gin Lane.
Accidentally meeting JV outside another of Ludlow’s institutions, Bodenham’s outfitter’s, led to more than a gin tasting. Ultimately John offered us refuge; we had little time and a long road to travel, we needed a temporary home, and generously as ever, he offered us just that: a business space. The challenge of setting up a commercial distillery was about to begin, an incredible busy summer lay ahead, and all at the same time as working full-time at the church. You remember how I said I liked a challenge!
The generosity of friends during those months is humbling; so many people helped me on my way. Gin tasting continued as I perfected what has now become an award-winning range. However, there were only three children in our family at that point – the fourth was a favour for a friend! An architect colleague helped complete a project I was struggling to fulfil on top of creating the distillery; as a thank you I offered Sean a bottle of his own bespoke gin. ‘Choose some botanicals,’ I said flippantly; the rest is history, our fourth child joined the family.
So much to do, and so little time to do it; the journey to create the brand as we know it was also simmering away, with just five months to go before launch date. Every premium gin needs a beautiful bottle and label – you can find out more about this bit of the magic and the source of the Wardington’s brand here.
Sometimes when people hear musicians play, they say, ‘you’re so talented’. In the words of one our colleagues at the distillery, making gin is like an iceberg, people only see what’s above the surface, they don’t realise what goes on behind the scenes to make it a reality. It’s the same for musicians; I’d say that what goes into a performance is 2% talent and 98% blood, sweat and tears. If you’d like to hear me play, you can see some films here: piano and organ.