Jamie Baxter: Spirits of Adventure
Jamie Baxter is the guy who set up the Chase Distillery and built the City of London Distillery, he is now working on a new distillery and in a series of articles he will be giving BarLifeUK an insight into what an undertaking like this involves.
I’ve developed a few distilleries in my time, but each has been different and invariably good fun. Towards the end of last year, I joined three others to build a distillery business with the aim of producing great tasting products.
Since then 45 West Distillers has been working around the clock building our new distillery, situated on a rural farm in the picturesque village of Nanpantan, Leicestershire, where we will be producing a range of gins, flavoured vodkas, absinthe and other spirits. This distillery will also act as a showcase for our other business, Exigo Brewing & Distilling that provides consultancy and installation of breweries and distilleries for people looking to build their own.
The range of our experience, skill and expertise means we can deliver full turnkey solutions from concept right through to completion, including recipe development, training and licensing. At the moment we have several projects on the go and I love the diversity these bring.
Our first still is being fabricated by Holstein in Germany. It is a custom made design that will not only produce fantastic products, but gives us the flexibility to make gins in a myriad of ways.
This was important for the showcasing element of our business, but it also allows me to create gins and flavoured vodkas using different methodologies as well as a wide range of interesting recipes. Holstein have 27 skilled, artisan coppersmiths working for them and the option to visit their site and see our still being made was too good an opportunity to miss.
The visit also enabled us to view the internal workings of the equipment and to fine tune some of the design ideas to better suit the products that we are going to make. I can also attest to there being some mighty fine schnapps made in the region, which when combined with warm sunshine and superb views of the snow covered Alps, meant a wet and very windy return to Leicester came as a bit of a shock.
There is another aspect to mention and that is the licensing requirements. It is obviously illegal in UK to put alcohol through any still without having the appropriate licences in place. The process is long and convoluted, but if you approach it in the right way, the individual officers tend to be supportive and helpful.
Of course all they are doing is gathering information and making recommendations, the actual decisions are made elsewhere so as to reduce the chances of people being unduly swayed in some way. With our licences in place it is all systems go.
In addition we are setting up a development facility at the distillery that will be available for our clients to use to develop their products while we build their full scale plant. This will greatly speed up the time it takes to get their products to market. Each of the ten mini stills that will be in place must be licensed in exactly the same way as the full scale equipment.
Of course there is other equipment to source too; boiler, water treatment plant, bottling line, tanks, compressor and all the other bits and pieces required to complete the distillery are on order. The next phase of development on the building works, services and installation are now well underway.
Botanicals and Branding
Whilst all this has been progressing, we have been working on the product and branding. It all fell into place while walking through Burleigh Wood, which is adjacent to the distillery and part of the ancient Charnwood Forest. This beautiful nature reserve not only gave us our first brand name, Burleighs Gin, but also inspired the recipe.
As well as the usual botanicals, our gin is infused with dandelion and burdock root, elderberries, silver birch and orris root, all of which were growing in the wood.
Recipe development is one of my favourite parts of the whole process. Gin is an incredibly cosmopolitan product with botanicals drawn from all over the world. This jars slightly with my simplistic view that what grows together, goes well together when eaten, but all these very English ingredients have married up nicely with the more far flung ones.
I’m really, really pleased with these gins, and the fact that we are also launching a Distiller’s Cut version means that I now have a gin tailor made for the style of cocktail that I enjoy most – yet another perk of my fantastic job.
Now moving on to the part of this process that is way outside my comfort zone. I have always been a collaborative person, more comfortable when working with other people who bring additional skills to the process, and certainly everything I have mentioned here has been achieved by working very closely with my colleagues. However, when it comes to branding I am more than happy to let those in the know get on with it.
The old cliché holds true in that I know what I like when I see it, but struggle to do it myself. Thankfully my colleagues here are good at that part too. It will have taken just 6 months from when we first met to when we commence production. That’s pretty quick, and we have talked about the branding and design almost every day. All will be revealed soon.
Part two coming soon…..