Below is an excerpt from GINNED! Magazine about Warner Edwards Harrington Dry. Every month, Craft Gin Club members receive a bottle of amazing small-batch gins accompanied by GINNED! Magazine which is full of features about the gin, the distillery and loads of fascinating features.
If life is a journey, many of us spend it seeking out our favourite things, the pleasures that make life enjoyable and those that we will cherish for years to come. As a Craft Gin Club Member, you are on a tasty trip to find your favourite gin. Is it floral or herbaceous, European or American, dry or flavoured? Whatever your favourite may turn out to be, your gin journey has begun in the comfort of your home with friends and family.
If you were to elaborate your gin journey, looking for new friends to include in your alcohol adventures, fate would likely take you to the Northamptonshire town of Kettering. As you exited the train station, two lively fellows, Tom Warner and Sion Edwards, would be there to pick you up and to tell you tales of the area as they drove you over country roads towards their home in the quaint village of Harrington, a few miles from Kettering. “Harrington? What does that have to do with my gin journey?”, you may be asking. But fret not! For these chatty chaps are actually Master Distillers, jovial gin giants jaunting through rolling green fields past hay bales and hedgerows before landing you at their farm and distillery.
It is here where your gin journey really begins, where you can continue your quest for your favourite. And, lucky you, your journey has begun with the UK’s Favourite Gin.
FROM SCHOOL TO STILL
On your trip from the train station, Tom and Sion surely told you about their friendship dating back to their school days at Harper Adams University. How do a couple of farmer pals from agricultural school end up as gin distillers? By drinking lots of gin together, of course! On a night out with their wives - a night on which they may have had one or two too many - Tom and Sion discussed launching a business together. As they shook off the night’s revelries the next day, they realized that their conversation wasn’t just gin-fueled dreams. They actually wanted to do it.
The next step: figuring out exactly what business they should get into.
They began exploring ideas in what they knew best - agriculture - entertaining the possibility of launching their own fruit-of-the-land business or making electricity from the methane produced by growing and burning high-energy crops. They even looked at internet businesses and toyed with producing essential oils.
It was this last, ultimately-rejected idea that brought them to gin. To make essential oils, the producer must distill floral crops. Tom and Sion could have done so with local crops. The disadvantage of such a business is that crops are seasonal. What does one do with the essential oil still when crops aren’t in season? Make booze!
The two student friends first considered vodka and looked to Sion’s wife’s home country, Poland, for inspiration. One product that hails from Poland is Spirytus, a 95% ABV spirit that locals mix with a variety of ingredients to make homemade liqueurs. Then it hit them: why make what is essentially a type of flavoured vodka from Eastern Europe when they could make the world’s best “flavoured vodka” and the quintessential English spirit, gin?
Gin was not only a brilliant idea, but brilliantly timed as well. As Tom and Sion began to devise their plan over the course of 2011 the spirit was beginning to make a strong comeback in the UK and small distilleries like the one they planned to open were leading the charge. With this realisation and while still in their former jobs, they began tests to determine what style gin Warner Edwards would distill.
A connection at a flavour company supplied the budding gintrepreneurs with a variety of essences for testing. For each test, they mixed twelve flavour combinations, four of which they chose to keep. From those four they would make twelve additional variations, pare them down to four, and so on. After five months of weekend work whittling down their specimens, Tom and Sion landed on the taste they sought to produce. Now it was simply a question of reproducing the same flavour from a still with proper botanicals instead of flavourings - not an easy task!
But after throwing in to the still what they thought to be the correct percentages of botanicals and crossing their fingers, the now-Master Distillers’ first product tasted one hundred times better than their flavour testers! Happy with the results, they bottled their first batch of Warner Edwards Harrington Dry.
HIT ME WITH YOUR ONE-SHOT
For WE’s distillation, known as the “one-shot” method, Tom and Sion throw a measured bowl of botanicals into their 500-litre still filled with equal portions of neutral spirit and water. The distillation process begins immediately, not allowing the botanicals to macerate in the 50/50 mixture, but rather allowing the essences of the herbs and spices to bind well and evaporate with the ethanol. Ten hours later, as the steamed spirit condenses, its floral result pours out of the still at close to 90% ABV to be cut with water from the spring on Tom’s family farm to bring the gin to its bottling strength of 44% ABV.
The advantage of the one-shot method, according to the Warner Edwards distilling duo, is the final product is smoother and richer flavoured. The disadvantage is the limited volume they can produce.
Most gins today find themselves in a bottle only after a two-shot distillation, if not more. Through a two-shot distillation, the distiller adds enough botanicals to intensify the flavour of the first spirit that spills from the stills. The intensity diminishes only after the distiller adds more neutral spirit, arriving at the flavour profile for which the recipe calls. The still’s production capacity essentially doubles through the two-shot method, making it a more efficient process than that used by Warner Edwards.
But Tom and Sion are more concerned with the quality of the spirit they seek to produce rather than the volume. That’s not to say that two-shot gins are of lesser quality. It simply means that Warner Edwards Harrington Dry wouldn’t taste like Warner Edwards Harrington Dry if the two upped production. Tom compares the two methods as similar to that of freshly squeezed orange versus orange squash - you can arrive at similar flavours but the squash taste will not be as “deep” as the pure orange juice. The addition of ethanol to the first distilled spirit means that the gin’s botanicals don’t get the chance to bind as well with that extra alcohol as they do in the pot, resulting in a flavour that Warner Edwards finds less “deep”.
ONE-SHOT TO WINNING
Even though it differs from the large majority of gins that pour out of stills all over the world, Warner Edwards’ weather vane pointed them in the right direction when it came to the one-shot approach. Apart from being elected the UK’s Favourite Gin by fans at the beginning of 2015, in the distillery’s first year, 2013, WE Harrington Dry took home the Silver Medal at both the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC), arguably the two most important spirits competitions worldwide. As fine wine ages with time, it seems that WE gin does as well. In 2014, Warner Edwards won the Double Gold Medal for their category in SF and the Silver Outstanding at the IWSC, both the highest awarded medals for their style of gin that.
Even their brand extensions have won awards. With the Harrington Dry becoming popular, Tom and Sion began expanding their line which today includes an Elderflower Gin, a Sloe Gin and their Victoria Rhubarb (see “Gins”). The Elderflower won a 2014 IWSC Bronze medal for flavoured gins.
With successes like these in such a short time period, it appears that the UK’s Favourite Gin could one day become the world’s favourite gin!