The Distiller's Story
For those interested, this page contains a short(ish) overview from the distiller and founders about our personal gin journey. For a more general about us, please click below, otherwise read on.
Almost two years to the day Mary and I sold, and hand delivered our first bottle of gin to a local bar – The Keep in Wallingford (a must visit if you are in the area). It was a strange day with so many different emotions flowing. Handing over the first ever production bottle to our first ever customer was indeed a very special, if not nerve-wracking occasion for us. So many questions running through our minds; What if people don’t like it? How will it sell? What will the gin savvy people of Wallingford think to our unusually bold bright gin expressions? We were about to find out.
At that moment two ladies walked to the bar and asked for a Gin and Tonic and asked what the manager would recommend. To this Rob said, ‘Try this, it’s just arrived and brand new – Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass gin’. With two gorgeous looking G&T’s expertly served, the ladies went and sat by the window and started sipping away. Five minutes or so later we wrapped up our conversation with the Rob and headed towards the door to leave. At this point the ladies leapt up and stopped us in our tracks. ‘Did you make this gin?’ one said, presumably having overheard our conversation at the bar. Mary and I were almost shaking at this point. ‘Yes’, I replied with possibly a slight hint of apprehension to my tone. ‘That was the best Gin and tonic I’ve ever had’ she said, ‘where can I buy a bottle?’
That was the best feeling in the world! It really did make all the hard work, blood, sweat, tears and expense that had gone into Twisting Spirits to that point worthwhile, and gave us a huge boost for the challenges ahead. Thank you, ladies, Rob and Sam at the Keep, and thank you to everyone that has supported us on our journey so far, you’re the best!
The Distiller’s Story
I think it was getting married that brought this about, or at least was a big factor in getting the ball rolling. Although we’ve been together for many years, Mary and I formally tied the knot in 2015. Milestones like that in your life do prompt you to take a step back, take stock, and focus on plans for our future together. We concluded that a change was needed in our lives and that we should pry ourselves out from our IT roles and make a move into something more exciting, hands on, creative and boozy, as impossible as that sounded at the time. But what to do? I’d been making home brew beer for quite a few years and got pretty good at it too. It seemed as though that would be the logical way forward and so we started brewing.
Experimenting with new bold flavours and styles and testing on friends and family was great fun (I’ve probably never been so popular). Designing pump clips that would stand out was challenging in a sea of bright designs, but we did come up with a few contenders. But then the reality set in. Whilst cleaning up after a test brew and lifting just a small amount of spent grain, a long dormant back injury resurfaced and left me almost unable to move. I was laid out for over two weeks, unable to do anything at all. It was then I realised that perhaps brewing and the associated heavy labour was not the best idea.
‘Gin! What about Gin? We both love Gin, perhaps we could learn how to make Gin?’
And that was it. Gin was to be it, of course. We saw a great opportunity to take some of those cues from craft beer, like the big, bold flavour profiles we’d been working on, bright modern packaging and transparency of ingredients. From what we could see this had never been done before and therefore represented an exciting challenge for us to get our teeth into. We wanted to make gins that were genuinely different than others in terms of flavour profiles and quality, and we did that because we believed that our potential customers were ready for something exciting and unusual.
‘Now if only we knew how to make gin’
Then the experimentation began. After buying pretty much every book on Gin and researching what ingredients are used, processes and legalities we ordered our first lot of ingredients and many bottles of cheap vodka. The ingredients were so alien to us; Sarsaparilla, Orris root, Tonka Beans. Not the sort of stuff you generally have in your kitchen cupboards. We started macerating each botanical in a small amount of vodka in its own little sealed glass jar then taste testing, note taking and repeating. Next came the blending where we experimented mixing a small amount of each botanical/vodka liquid with others to see how the taste developed until we got a good basic understanding of what worked and what didn’t.
Work began fitting out our garage in Oxfordshire as a functional micro distillery that would meet all the necessary standards required for food production. After receiving all approvals from the council and HMRC we invested in a small rotary evaporator. Our vision was that we would 100% cold distil our gins. This would make our gins different than most other distillers as cold distilling maintains the freshness of botanicals without cooking or transforming their taste profile. Further experimentation followed with all sorts of ingredients being distilled through our new evaporator from Christmas Pudding to Celeriac. Some ingredients worked, some not so much, but we did settle on Earl Grey Tea and Douglas-Fir as being good candidates. Meanwhile development of our main gin continued, and this would eventually become our Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass Gin.
After some time it became apparent that hot distilling some of the botanicals would present a bolder expression of those traditional Gin notes, such as Juniper. It was at that point we decided to hot and cold distil our gins, whereby some botanicals are distilled in a copper alembic still whilst others would receive the cold distil treatment. We would then ‘twist’ these distillates together to form the finished product. After a lot of Googling we bought our first five litre alembic still from Portugal and waited for it to be delivered. So, we take the ingredients we want to hot distil run through the new copper still simple, I thought. Not quite. Time after time – cloudy gin. The clock was ticking to our soft launch and here we were with rough cloudy gin. It was so bad that at one point we joked about rebranding to ‘The Cloudy Gin Company’! Eventually we managed a clear smooth gin after tweaking the quantities of botanicals, the process and a whole bunch of other bits.
We then bought a thirty litre still which to my horror also produced a cloudy gin on the first few runs. The tweaking continued right up to just before the launch event to replicate the smooth clear gin we achieved on the five litre unit. In the end it worked and Twisting Spirits was born. We’ve continued to tweak our recipe and processes incrementally to further enhance the quality of our gins, listening to customer feedback but without losing sight of the original objectives. Our Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass gin won a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in our first year whilst we were still in our garage. The following year in 2019 our Douglas-Fir gin went on to win three gold stars at the Great Taste Awards. Both achievements we are incredibly proud of.
One year later we relocated home and the distillery to Gloucestershire. Now based in Tewkesbury near the Cotswolds we have a small unit which provides extra space over our old garage but is rapidly filling up.
‘I love the packaging’ is normally the first thing people say when we present our gins. I think sometimes a big well financed operation is assumed to be behind the brand, but to this day, Twisting Spirits is still Mary and I. We hot distil our ‘base gin’ single shot, by hand, in our two copper alembic stills. We’ve upgraded our rotary evaporator recently and continue to cold distil everything in house. We fill, label and batch number each bottle personally, completing the batch, which are expressed in 5, 20 and 70cl bottles. Our batches are tiny and yield approximately 65 x 70cl bottles each. We hope to invest in a larger copper still early next year with a view to increase batch size and free up more time for product development. There are some exciting ideas on the horizon so watch this space..
It’s been a tough journey so far, but immensely challenging, fun and personally rewarding. Believe me, we are nowhere near drawing a pension, hopefully that will come in time, but in the meantime, we hope you’ll enjoy our gins as much as we enjoyed making them, and thank you all for your support and encouragement.
Richard & Mary Bateman.
My love of cooking has helped us to develop our gin range with our Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass coming from my slight obsession with making the perfect Thai Green Curry paste. Daily jobs range from bottle labelling, marketing, box assembly and of course distillery assistant to Richard. I am really proud to be part of Twisting Spirits and can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.
Co Founder and Distiller
Self taught distiller, lover of fish & chips and real ale, I like a good movie and my cats. I am the other half of Twisting Spirits, alongside my wife Mary. From Yorkshire roots I spent the last 17 years in Oxfordshire working in IT circles before launching Twisting Spirits. and relocating to Gloucestershire in 2018. I get up to most things from distilling, through to product development, sales and TS web site development.