Below is an excerpt from the June 2015 edition of GINNED! Magazine about Chilgrove Dry Gin. Every month, Craft Gin Club members receive a bottle of amazing small-batch gins accompanied by GINNED! Magazine which is full of information about the gin, the distillery and loads of fascinating features.
At the Last Supper, the night before he met his fate towards the end of the Passion, Jesus Christ toasted the fruit of the vine with the people he loved. The cup was passed, the wine was shared and the fruit of the vine itself was fated to become an integral part of the Christian celebration.
Two thousand years on and two thousand miles away, the fruit finds its fate at the center of a different celebration, a celebration in the tiny West Sussex hamlet of Chilgrove, a celebration between people in love that share a common passion: a celebration of gin. For in this hamlet live Christopher Beaumont-Hutchings and his wife Celia, the couple behind the Craft Gin Club’s June 2015 Gin of the Month, Chilgrove Dry Gin, a spirit spawned from their passion, a spirit that shares in the fate of the fruit, a spirit that is a Gin of the Vine.
FROM DOWN UNDER TO THE SOUTH DOWNS
If fate were perfect, Celia and Christopher would have met in Bristol during their student years - they both attended the city’s university at the same time. But as fate prefers to tease us with its twists, the gin-lovers fell in love in a place quite the opposite of Bristol: Sydney, Australia. A geologist by diploma and financier by trade, Christopher moved to Sydney to follow his merchant banking career he started in the City after uni while Celia, a medical doctor, found herself passing through Sydney via Perth where she had been living at the time they met. As not long after Celia moved back to the UK, the two began their romance on opposite ends of the globe with Christopher making the long journey back home once every few months.
On one of those journeys, they popped into the White Horse Pub in Chilgrove - recently named the UK’s best pub in this year’s GQ Magazine British Food & Drink Awards - for a couple of G&Ts. Conversation quickly turned to their shared passion for gin. By the end of their chat in the White Horse, Christopher and Celia had planted the seeds of the vine that has since blossomed into Chilgrove Dry Gin.
With Christopher still in Sydney full-time, the South Downs Duke and Duchess of juniper collaborated remotely on the business plan before Celia, free of commitments in the UK, joined Christopher in Sydney where they turned their dream into a business plan. After six months of crunching numbers, determining the best production strategies and studying the rapidly growing craft spirits movements, Christopher decided it was time for a break from banking and the couple returned to the UK to put their gin fantasies into action.
In their preparation, Christopher and Celia quickly realised that there is much more to a spirits brand than just a business plan, particularly for craft spirits: the story behind the gin as well as its unique selling point can make or break a new brand. For Chilgrove, the story almost wrote itself.
Celia comes from a family of mixed nationalities: her father is English whereas her mother is Dutch. Coincidentally, gin shares a similar history as it arrived in England as jenever during the days of William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution from Holland, a very direct association with Chilgrove. What’s not as direct an association yet one that makes complete sense is Christopher’s background. During his geology studies at university, Christopher spent a lot of time familiarising himself with the field of climatology which as it turns out is also closely linked to the history of gin and the grapes that when distilled form Chilgrove’s base spirit.
If it hadn’t been for a period that climatologists call the Little Ice Age beginning around the turn of the 14th Century and lasting for some 550 years, gin and jenever as we know them today - made with grain distillates - may not have come to exist. The Little Ice Age was characterised by colder climes in Northern Europe, climes that affected the area’s agriculture. Whereas vineyards were abundant in the Low Countries prior to the historical cooling due to a period of warmer weather referred to as the Medieval Warm Period which lasted the three hundred years to 1250, the fragility of grape vines meant they could not survive the onset of colder weather. Simultaneously, distillers in the region where the Netherlands and Belgium lie today switched from creating distillates from wines to spirits made from grains.
In their research, Christopher and Celia found evidence that the history of jenever followed this climatological pattern - the first distilled juniper spirits started with grape-based distillates and thus, the history of gin begins with grapes as well. Realising that this was a little known fact and that no other distillers in the UK were making gins with grape spirits, the soon-to-be-married couple had found their unique selling proposition.
But how does one go about making a gin from grapes in the UK if it has never been done before? A difficult question that the pair found had a difficult answer.
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