As a young distillery owner here is what I learnt in one week visiting some of the world's biggest gin distillers in London
And if you don’t know me I’m Amy Shaw a co-owner of HM Gin, a gin distillery based in Plenty, Victoria.
Learn more about HM Gin.
One week to visit distilleries in and around London is definitely not enough time. Our trip was actually pretty spur of the moment. As the news of our HM Rare Dry Gin winning Australia’s best London Dry Gin at the World Gin Awards sunk in, we decided to pack our bags and head over for the Awards night. We thought we might as well visit some distilleries whilst we were there, never did I imagine how impactful these visits could be to me as a young distillery owner.
Prior to, and since, starting HM Gin I have been lucky enough to visit a number of distilleries. But perhaps it was the English air because I came home electrified with a new enthusiasm for distilling and everything we’re doing at HM Gin.
I wanted to share what I learnt and give you an inside look into some of the world’s best distillery’s. I also hope this could inspire you to join me and so many other incredible people in this thriving industry.
Here is what I learnt as a young distillery owner
1. It doesn't matter how big you are, quality trumps all else
I guess I always imagined large distilleries such as Bombay Sapphire, who distil over 60 million bottles of a gin each year, would solely be focused on pumping out bottles. I assumed that they just didn’t have enough time with their volume and perhaps had the mentality of hey if this one doesn’t taste right who cares, there are 59,999,999 bottles that should be ok. How wrong I was!
It was amazing to learn from their Brand Ambassador Callum how detailed the quality control process is for each and every batch of gin especially considering the thousands of litres they distil each and every single day. It’s not tested and tasted by one person. In addition to lots of laboratory testing they also follow a rule of 20 trained testers tasting each batch before release. In addition to the quality control at the distillery, it is reviewed again at their bottling facility in Scotland. Anne Brock, their head distillery and an Icon of the gin industry, will also not eat anything in the mornings to ensure her palette is clean for tasting of gin as needed throughout the day.
2. Distillers don't sleep (well maybe just a little)
I found it so fascinating to learn the distillation schedules medium to large distilleries run to meet their demand. Most run a 24 by 5 or a 24 by 7 schedule. And if you’re unsure what that means it means their distillation processes are running 24 hours straight 5 days a week or 24hours, 7 days a week. As a small distillery that’s crazy to think and inspires me to work harder so that one day HM Gin will also need to operate 24 by 7 to meet our customer demand. Give us time.
Photo on the right is one of many stills in production at Bombay Sapphire Distillery.
3. Everyone starts somewhere, dream big!
As a small distillery that started and continues to operate out of my family’s property, you sometimes feel that it’s almost impossible that one day you will be as big as a Beefeater or Bombay Sapphire but just like us they started somewhere. Their founders were determined with a clear vision on what they wanted to achieve, it took time and they worked hard. Visiting these distillers inspired me even more to grow and build the HM Gin brand as I know we have a clear vision with great tasting products.
Photo on the right shows three of Beefeater’s stills in production at Beefeater Distillery. Right in the corner is actually their first ever still how cool!
4. How lucky I am to be an industry that is so supportive
Gav and I are just two small craft distillers from Australia. We were blown away with the generosity Sipsmith Distillery and Bombay Sapphire showed us. At Sipsmith we were lucky enough to spend a couple of hours one on one with their distiller Fran. Fran is an absolute legend and his enthusiasm for distilling is electric. It was great to share our different ways of distilling and how we both approach flavour experimentation. We also got to taste some of their unique gins from their Sipsmith Gin club, of course they were delicious.
Equally at Bombay Sapphire after enjoying their distillery tour with Anna, Callum their brand ambassador (another legend) took us behind the scenes into the distillery which isn’t part of the standard public tour. He walked us through their laboratories and quality control process and how they prepare their botanicals. It was amazing to see their giant stills in action. After that we spent some time with Callum tasting their range and he mixed up some speciality cocktails. Sadly for Gav he was driving but I fully enjoyed them all.
As I said at the start we are just two craft distillers from Australia. We were blown away with how generous everyone was with their time. I look forward to giving back to other distillers in the future just like they did for us.
As you can tell, with just six days in London, we jammed in a lot. I hope this gives you a greater insight into the distilling industry and maybe sparks something in you to explore the industry in more detail.
I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or are curious to learn more. Email me at [email protected]
Photo of Gav and I with Fran, head distiller at Sipsmith Distillery.