Nottingham bosses it when it comes to brewing hoppy beverages, but until recently, we were sorely lacking in the distilling department. Step in Wayne Asher and his ginny venture Redsmith Distillery, the first distillery in the city for 150 years. We grilled him on his now European award-winning product, and what makes the perfect cocktail...
You’ve come to gin making relatively recently – what were you doing before?
My background is in engineering and metalwork. I worked in the aerospace industry as a machinist, and also in the engineering department, but for the last fifteen years or so I’ve had a plumbing and heating business. I’m a creative person at heart, so I wanted to be involved in creating something people actually liked and wanted, as opposed to being viewed as a necessary evil. I thought, “Well, people like drinking, don’t they?” So I began thinking along the lines of alcohol.
What made you settle on gin?
After seeing what [London distillery] Sipsmith had been doing, I thought that’s what I’d like to be involved in. I understood a little bit about how it worked, and with that in mind, I became a member of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. I went to their training courses, took exams, and immersed myself in the art of gin distilling and cocktail culture. Eventually I worked out the design for our production still, Jenny, making most of the parts myself. Once we had the still, it was time to design the gin, which took another year. It’s been quite a time-consuming business.
How would you describe the finished product?
I wanted to make a London dry gin in the classic style and take it back to what I think gin should be like. I wasn’t going to put any outlandish botanicals in there. There’s a whole world of botanical ingredients, we just had to start experimenting, really. We knew we wanted lots of juniper and everything else came as a matter of trial and error. It was the ninth distillation that was best.
Can you tell us what goes into it, or is that top secret?
There’s lots of juniper in there, coriander, orange and angelica root, but it is a bit of a secret. I don’t suppose anyone could replicate it – I’ve built the still myself, it’s completely unique. The finished spirit is a product of the still, so I think you could put the same botanical lineup in a different still and you wouldn’t get the same outcome.
Is it less about the ingredients and more about the distilling process itself?
I’ve found the still pretty much runs herself, and in the batches I’ve produced so far we’ve had very good consistency. You just have to know where to take the ‘cuts’. There’s basically three cuts we take: the first is called the headshot, which we discard, that comes off at about 88% ABV and it’s absolutely loaded with botanicals; then comes the ‘hearts’, which is the bit we save, and the bulk of the distillation; then we get the ‘tails’ at the end, which have the lower volatiles in there and is heavily laden with coriander.
We recently had a shortage of juniper berries – do these supply issues affect your production?
It’s not affected me, but securing a supply of good quality juniper and other botanicals is always a concern as they are the predominant flavour. Ours come from Eastern Europe.
Has it been different moving into Sneinton Market from your old plant in Ruddington?
We were in an old barn that wasn’t really suitable or visitor-friendly. This is a smaller place but it’s better. It’s so small that it’ll never really be a visitor attraction, but if anyone wanted to come and visit, they could. We have a lot of customers in town and Hockley, particularly at Boilermaker, so it’s good to be close to them.
Is it correct that you’re the only distillery in Nottingham, and the first here for 150 years?
There was a distillery in Ruddington that closed in around 1860. The building is still there – on Distillery Street, would you believe – and that’s the only one I could see any history of in Nottinghamshire. There probably were others, but at this moment in time, mine’s the only one in Nottingham.
Why has it been so long?
HMRC only made it legal for distilleries to operate on a small scale in 2009, and that was brought about by the Sipsmith venture. Everybody doing what I’m doing owes a lot to Sipsmith – they led the way for small-scale distilleries.
When people think of gin, they think of London and Plymouth, not the Midlands…
There’s a few in Yorkshire, there’s Burleigh’s in Leicestershire and Two Birds in Market Harborough. I call mine Redsmith London gin, which just means the style of gin, but I’ve been under pressure to call it Nottingham dry gin. I think that would help the product in Nottingham, but I want to have a broader appeal. In the future I might make a Nottingham dry gin.
Can you tell us about the award you won recently?
The Craft Distilling Expo is an annual event and showcase for small craft distilleries, whether they’re making gin, absinthe, whisky or whatever. There’s a Gin of the Year competition and I thought I’d chance it and enter. We ended up winning Classic Gin of the Year 2016 out of about fifty gins from all over Europe. It did a lot for sales – they probably doubled after winning that. It certainly gave the whole operation a degree of credibility, and proved that what we were making was good.
Gin seems to have made a comeback recently – why do you think it’s so popular now?
It’s become so diverse, and there are lots of people making their own unique product. There’s also an interest in the manufacturing side of it – lots of distilleries are opening their doors for people to come and see what’s happening. There used to be four or five well established and very good brands on the market that people were used to – Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Beefeater. Now there are hundreds. Most gin is probably consumed with tonic, but there’s a whole world of cocktails out there, too.
Have you seen any crazy cocktails made with Redsmith?
A gentleman called David T Smith, who writes on cocktails and gins, designed a cocktail for us called The Sheriff. It’s quite a simple cocktail, just a measure of our gin with Stone’s ginger wine, stirred slowly, similar to a martini but a little bit sweeter and less challenging. It looks very nice, with a pleasant green hue to it.
What’s the ultimate way to drink your gin?
It all depends what mood I’m in. I’m partial to a dry Martini, and I think our gin works fantastically in one. When I was developing the recipe, I wanted it to work across the board and be versatile. Also, this doesn’t appeal to many people, but I make a wild garlic Gibson (a dry Martini garnished with a silverskin onion). Instead of using the pickled onion, I like to use pickled wild garlic which adds a subtle savoury flavour. I collect some wild garlic around May time, pickle it and make little balls. I really like it, but whenever I’ve tweeted about the Wild Garlic Gibson, I don’t think anyone’s fancied it.