December's Craft Gin Club Gin of the Month is Sibling Gin, produced by the Elliot-Berry siblings from Cheltenham. Here is an extract from our feature interview with them from December's edition of GINNED! Magazine, which goes out to all our members as part of their Gin of the Month box.
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With all of them under 25 years of age, Felix, Clarice, Cicely and Digby Elliot-Berry from Cheltenham are not only award-winning distillers, but also the youngest distillers in the world. They grew up in a family atmosphere soaked in that bubbly complement to spirits, beer, brewed by Mr. and Mrs. Elliot-Berry at the Battledown Brewery, a microbrewery that specialises in a line of premium ales that it provides for “local public houses, hotels, restaurants and shops.”
Felix, the oldest of the four at just 23, has worked in the brewery since its inception 11 years ago. “I started my first job washing the beer barrels on Saturday and Sunday mornings at the age of 12,” recounts the eldest brother. He got to know the inner workings of the brewing industry along with the restaurant and bar scene, as have his two sisters, Clarice and Cicely, 22 and 20 respectively. At 16, their younger brother Digby helps out with events and production, but is not yet full time as he’s still in school.
Having made the decision that they wanted to work together to create something different within the drinks world, opening a distillery just made sense for the siblings. Three days after her 18th birthday, Cicely earned her personal licence and they were off, launching the Sibling Distillery in June 2013. From product conception to distillation, sales and marketing to finance, the siblings have since developed a business that even the most weathered of business partners twice their age would struggle to achieve.
ADOPTING GIN INTO THE FAMILY
Unlike most distillers who purchase their base alcohol, the Elliot-Berrys make their gin entirely from scratch - known in the industry as a “grain to glass” approach. Fortunately for the siblings, the first steps of making the alcohol base are the same steps to making beer, a process that they all mastered from a very young age.
Sibling Gin begins life in the Battledown Brewery’s mash tuns and fermenting tanks. After the grain ferments, the resulting 50% ABV neutral spirit is transformed into vodka at the distillery, a vodka which is carbon filtered for maximum purity and distilled once again, this time with the gin botanicals.
This may all sound pretty straightforward but is substantially different from how most other distillers operate. If your base alcohol comes prepared, you can turn around a gin in a matter of hours if you wanted to. While today’s UK craft distillers take much more time to make their gin, with most runs lasting between 12 and 48 hours before the liquid is ready for bottling, in Sibling’s case, the process takes nearly three weeks!
“From the start we were of the opinion that if you want to make a premium gin you need to start from the beginning,” explains Felix. “We felt that to achieve the end result we were looking for that we could only trust ourselves to do it.”
Team Elliot-Berry pay particular attention to the vodka step, a step that includes two distillations with the accompanying carbon filtering which lends itself to the final product’s mouthfeel and engenders the soft notes of Sibling’s botanicals, which the vodka absorbs during its third distillation and which the team needs to watch carefully due to their relative fragility.
We switch over our botanicals with every 17 litres of distillation. This keeps the flavours fresh and gives them our trademark freshness and the lightness,” Felix reveals. To maintain a soft flavour, oranges and lemons are freshly grated, blueberries hand-chopped and vanilla beans added to the botanical mixture, which was developed with the advice of top cocktail makers.
Sibling Gin comes off the still at 96% ABV and is brought down to bottling strength with a special water from Cheltenham, which beings as rain at the top of nearby Cleeve Hill, trickling from a small lake at the top of the hill down a thin stream before it goes underground where the sediment of the clay-like Fuller’s Earth provides a natural filtration system, resulting in one of the purest water sources in the world.
In testament to the quality the brothers and sisters strove to produce, their gin is one of only three British gins to be awarded the coveted 3-stars at the Great Taste Awards and is now considered one of the Top 100 Food and Drinks products in the country.
LEAVE THEM KIDS ALONE
The siblings feel that their youth has helped them tremendously in developing their gin. “Call it a bit of naivety, but since we got into this with no preconceived notions of how a gin should taste, we could start with a blank slate.”
And so they did, constantly testing their exploratory batches made on a mini-still they built with their father to figure out what tastes people enjoyed. Through those tests, they learned that most enjoy the subtler and fruitier tones - not necessarily the sharper juniper-led notes - which is how they came up with the idea to add vanilla and blueberries, making it a very untraditional London Dry.
The untraditional gin’s untraditional distillers have received a fair amount of scepticism, due mostly to their age. But the family quartet takes this scepticism and puts a positive spin on it. “We know that because of the scrutiny we receive we need to be completely committed to quality all the time. One small slip up could permanently damage our reputation,” Felix comments.
One watchful eye that they could not escape from was the Advertising Standards Authority. In October of this year, the agency ruled that because they were under 25 years of age, the Siblings could not use images of or communicate any information about themselves on their website or at any events at which they present their wares.
Despite this setback, the team is trying to turn it into a positive just like it has with their age, according to Felix who said, “Now that we’re ‘invisible distillers’, we’ll have to come up with new and fun ways to promote our gin. It’s frustrating to think that with Digby only 16 we won’t be able to show a picture of the four of us together for nine years, but we’ll rise above.”
If the taste of their first masterpiece is any benchmark by which to gauge their future, then we’re certain that the Elliot-Berry siblings will do far more than rise above. Having already notched accolades in their entrepreneurial belts, world’s youngest distillers have a long and delicious future ahead of them with Sibling Gin.