From the hand-crafted porcelain bottle to the stunning spirit inside, June 2019’s Gin of the Month is a celebration of British craft from start to finish. Discover how two classic British crafts – pottery and gin distilling – came together with the scent of summer to make one spectacular gin.
Nelson’s Gluggle Jug Gin, our June 2019 Gin of the Month, has been handcrafted in Staffordshire and bottled in classic British porcelain, hand-fired by iconic Wade Pottery.
Neil Harrison is the man behind this beautiful gin, which Craft Gin Club members will be the first to taste. He says: “I wanted to make a true summer gin, but also encapsulate Nelson’s smooth, clean taste. I think what I’ve come up with is a perfect moment of summer.”
A journey into the world of flavour
Like many distillers, Neil Harrison didn’t come to the world of spirits as his first career, or even his second – in fact, it wasn’t even something he considered. When Neil came to distilling it was via another dream entirely: that of being a chef.
Through his studies and successful work as a chef, Neil immersed himself in the world of bars and restaurants. It was a helpful education, but the real value of his time at culinary school was in the pure exploration of flavours: how they blended, how they changed and the sheer volume of amazing ingredients out in the world.
“My experience as a chef has given me an in-depth knowledge of flavour profiles,” says Neil. But his new interest and education was throwing an unflattering light on one of his other great loves: gin.
He continues: “I have always been a gin lover but felt the flavours could be more innovative.”
From the kitchen to the bathtub!
Rather than sit on the side lines or give up his search for the perfect gin, Neil took an unusual step: he started distilling his own bathtub gins!
It turned out that Neil was a natural talent – and, after a fair bit of practice making his unusually flavoured bathtub gins, he was ready to get more serious about his distilling. He needed to find a still.
He says, “The only way to make craft gins, in my opinion, is with a still. I spent lots of time at other people’s gin schools honing my craft and developing the unique flavours that would go on to become Nelson’s Gin.”
Gradually, Neil’s goalposts shifted. From learning his way around a still to exploring the nuances of flavour, he began to work with a different purpose: to craft his own perfect gin.
If at first you don’t succeed…
“After 49 attempts I think I achieved that goal!” he laughs. He had the recipe; he just needed a name.
Neil was drawn to the idea of Britishness; of craft; of the men and women whose work in cottage industries through the industrial age brought Britain onto the world stage. He thought of Admiral Nelson, and the pride he’d felt standing in Trafalgar Square, looking up at the column standing in his honour.
But mostly, when Neil thought about the characteristics that made him proud to be British, he thought of his grandfather.
“My grandfather was called Nelson Harrison,” says Neil, “and the brand was created in his honour.”
With a gin, a name and a brand, Neil couldn’t keep pottering around on other people’s stills. He needed to strike out on his own and bring his taste of British craft to the world.
“In 2015 I took the plunge and invested in what I consider to be the best quality still on the market,” he says. “I wanted to take my craft to the next level.”
After the still came the distillery, and what a sight it is to behold.
Penchant for Pottery
When Neil thought about where he wanted to build his distillery – where both he and the gin brand he had spent nearly a decade developing would call home – he knew that he wanted to settle in Staffordshire. Not only was it his home district, but it had so much more to recommend it as the home of a fantastic British gin.
A city built quite literally on clay, Stoke-on-Trent dominated the manufacturing of British pottery for hundreds of years. From Wedgewood to Emma Bridgewater to Wade, many of the most recognisable names in British pottery started in Stoke, taking full advantage of the county’s natural resources: a huge selection of clays, alongside the lead and salt needed to glaze pottery.
From local potters digging the clay straight from the side of the road (hence the term pothole!), the 18th century saw the pottery industry in Stoke blossom into an international juggernaut. From huge infrastructure investment – the Trent-Mersey canal was built, in large part, because Joseph Wedgewood wanted a way to ship his pottery safely – to a blossoming of local skills and ‘cottage industries’, where individual craftspeople created work for big brands out of their own homes, the pottery industry brought unique skills and a global reputation for excellence to Staffordshire.
While the heyday of British pottery in Stoke is now at an ebb, producers like Wade and Wedgewood continue to make use of local skills and the natural resources of Staffordshire to keep this slice of British craft alive another day.
Neil, so inspired by the rich history of craftsmanship in Staffordshire, decided to build his distillery on the county’s border with Derbyshire. Like the pottery magnates of the 18th century, he found inspiration in the bountiful natural resources of the county.
“Staffordshire is renowned for its quality of water,” says Neil, “and our site was the first distillery to open in the county, making use of this great natural water supply.”
But Neil didn’t set up shop in Staffordshire to take and give nothing in return. The Nelson’s Gin distillery has serious green credentials, producing its own energy and water on-site. Far from the pothole diggers of times past, Neil wants to make sure that he protects and preserves the beautiful county he’s always called home.
Neil is also making good use of the local skills, developed over centuries, in the art of pottery making. The porcelain bottle you’ve unwrapped in this month’s Gin of the Month box is hand-fired at Wade Ceramics, where the knowledge and skills needed to create beautiful pieces of pottery have been nurtured and passed down for generations.
“We started working with Wade two years ago,” says Neil of the bespoke bottles that house his gins. “It’s based on a traditional gin bottle design. We’ve loved being connected with the area’s strong local identity and great community spirit in this way.”
Neil has also set up his own gin school, where he hosts day-long workshops for gin enthusiasts. As a man who learned the art of distillation in gin schools, Neil knows how to run a cracking experience, and takes great pride in shepherding gin lovers through the selection of a botanical blend and the distillation process.
A Journey from Tradition to Future Innovation
From his distillery in Staffordshire, Neil and his team have also continued to produce new flavours alongside their original blend. In fact, their Rhubarb and Custard Gin took home a silver at the World Gin Awards just last year – “A proud moment for the whole team,” says Neil.
Ever consumed with culinary curiosity, Neil is always working on new expressions to release.
“I’m constantly trying different botanicals and distillation methods to bring innovative and exciting new flavour combinations to our discerning Nelson’s customers,” he says. But one characteristic runs right through Neil’s gins.
As he says, “Every Nelson’s Gin is very smooth, so can be savoured on its own.”
The same is true of the spectacular gin you’ve unwrapped this month, which you’ll be the first in the world to try: Gluggle Jug Gin.
A Staffordshire Legend
When the founders of Craft Gin Club, Jon and John, first heard about Nelson’s Gin, they were thrilled. After all, Jon was born and raised in Stoke – as was Sarah Willingham, former BBC Dragon and Craft Gin Club’s first major investor.
With so much in common, it only made sense that Craft Gin Club and Nelson’s would work together to create a ginny tribute to Staffordshire – hence the Gluggle Jug Gin in your June Gin of the Month box!
This ultra-smooth gin is inspired by the Gluggle Jug, a classic bit of British homeware. Part water jug and part art piece, these fish-shaped water pitchers have been made in Staffordshire since the late 19th century, and for the last two decades by Wade Pottery, the same historic outfit that provides Nelson’s Gin with their beautiful bottles. With their fantastic design and playful ‘gluggling’ sound as liquid is poured, these jugs are both charming and beautiful – and a cracking way to serve a gin punch!
“The Gluggle Jug is known around the world as a Staffordshire icon,” says Neil, “and I hope Nelson’s will follow!”
Inspired by the brilliance of British summer and the artistry of the Gluggle Jug, Neil experimented with bright, botanical tastes to make a spirit that would see gin lovers through long summer evenings. His quest took him from the hedgerows of Britain to spices of the Far East and beyond. In the end, he settled on the sunny taste of citrus.
As he explains: “The botanicals I used are mainly citrus giving it a clean taste, and then I smoothed out with others to give a smooth mouth feel and finish. But to protect our secret recipe, I’ve kept some a secret!”
With a few different iterations of Gluggle Jug Gin to choose from, Neil decided to draft in a few outside opinions – from none other than Craft Gin Club’s John, Jon and Sarah!
“It was great to see a real master at work,” says Jon, who spent a day with John and Sarah at the Nelson’s Gin School. “Neil explained each of his different botanical blends, letting us taste each one and give our opinions – and we even got a chance to make some gin on our own stills, under careful supervision, of course!”
Neil smiles: “After several batches we chose a winner, which I refined to make Gluggle Jug Gin.”
The polished gin is the liquid in your bottle. Months in the making, bottled in custom-made Wade pottery, it’s a taste of summertime with the added allure of British craft.
Cracking in any number of cocktails and brilliant in a G&T, its characteristic Nelson’s smoothness makes it a winner on its own, as well. In fact, Neil’s favourite way to drink this summery gin is straight over ice, with a wedge of lime.
Simply put, the bottle you’ve unwrapped this month is the best of Britain, with a twist of summer sun.
As Neil says: “The British craft movement has helped to support and develop a growing community of connoisseurs who appreciate the quality and passion that goes into the production of craft gins. I hope your members’ first sip will show them what craft gin is all about: smooth, different and special.”
What Is a Gluggle Jug?
Prince Charles has them at home and now they’ve inspired a gin… but what in the world is a Gluggle Jug?
These fish-shaped jugs were intended initially as water jugs, but they also happen to make excellent vessels for serving batch cocktails (check out our Cocktail of the Month recipe on page 9 if you’re looking for inspiration!). The trademark ‘gluggle’ sound they make as they pour surprises and delights, whilst their classically British aesthetic is downright beautiful.
Originally designed back in the 19th century, Wade Pottery has been making these lovely jugs for 20 years, selling this piece of British craft as far as Australia and Iceland.
A (Brief!) History of Pottery in Stoke
3,000 B.C.E. Neolithic Britons begin making pottery in Stoke.
43 to 410 C.E. Romans bring their advanced pottery techniques to the British Isles.
17th Century British pottery comes of age, bolstered by Staffordshire’s natural resources, including clay and lead and salt, which are used for glazing.
18th Century Pottery titans Josiah Wedgewood and Josiah Spode begin crafting in Staffordshire. Tea becomes a ubiquitous social ritual, boosting demand for pottery.
1720 Josiah Wedgewood adds flint powder to local clay, creating creamware.
1777 The Trent-Mersey Canal, built to give potters a way of transporting their goods with fewer breakages, is used for the first time.
1794 Josiah Spode II brings British bone china to the UK market by mixing clay, stone and ground bone.
20th Century Studio pottery becomes the fashion, focusing on individual artists rather than large producers.
1980s Emma Bridgewater opens her factory in Staffordshire, bringing Stoke-on-Trent back to the forefront of British modern pottery.