The idea

My distillery business was grown out of an overenthusiastic hobby, love of the natural world and being brought up in a natural fruit region. In 2014, I was working as a conservation photojournalist on the Chinese/Burmese border – after five weeks I returned home to find I’d missed all of the spring flowers blossoming and the start of the growing season. I also missed my partner, Hannah. It was a pivotal moment in which I decided that I wanted to spend more time with her. I had already been distilling a bit for six or seven years and the idea to actually start up a distillery business at home formed.’


‘Europe has an amazing history of fruit distilling, but nobody has distilled most of the fruits we have in the UK before. I looked at places that were doing it really well – like Austria, Germany and Northern Italy. I travelled to taste these spirits, gaining a knowledge base through translating and teaching myself technical manuals and research papers. One such classic manual in Austrian is Technologie der Obstbrennerei, and there has been a lot of work done by a German lecturer in viticulture and pomology, Professor Manfred Gössinger, who we correspond with.’


‘Money-wise, it was terrifying. I put all my savings in, borrowed a bit from my parents, and I think I had £8 left available in my overdraft when we started. Hannah had to pay the last month’s rent. Luckily, with the help of the award we won for our Garden Swift gin, within seven months of launch we were exporting to seven countries.’

The team

‘There are four of us, and Pip the dog. I do all the distillations, while Hannah is the distillery manager. We have a good friend called Jill who helps us out when it comes to all of the processing, bottling and labelling, and then my dad (who doesn’t get paid) keeps the whole team whipped into shape.’


‘We get all of our fruit from a small group of local farmers. The fruit is delivered on the day it’s ripe, which is logistically hard, but necessary. Using our raspberry eau de vie as an example, the fruit is picked within 12 hours of arriving – we stand in the garden and work every berry by hand, removing all the negative elements (leaves, stalks). Then they’re put in fermenters – we don’t add anything, just let the wild yeast do its job. Depending on the fruit, this can take between two and 12 weeks. I then triple-distill it in my two purpose-built stills in my greenhouse. Maturation happens in stainless-steel barrels (in the garage) for one to four years. Then, we bottle it, label by hand and ship it out to our distributors.’


‘For eaux de vie, there’s no recipe as such: it’s one attempt each year to capture the essence of that fruit at its peak. It took me about 10 years of working with distilling fruit before I was happy – refining every step from variety, the moment of harvest, preparing each type of fruit for fermentation, working with wild yeasts and distillation. In distilling, we’re looking to keep all of the elements that express the elegance and vitality of the fruit but rejecting the negative aspects of the spirit, which are amplified in distillation. Everything is then judged on nose and palate alone.’

Getting the word out

‘We’ve been lucky to have had a great reception from sommeliers. For products like these, you have to hand-sell them most of the time – a huge amount of my time is spent talking to restaurants and, of course, in the last year, also online. We work with a good wine distributor, Les Caves de Pyrene, which introduces us to sommeliers, but more and more we’re finding that people are coming to us – social media has broken down a lot of barriers. We talk to people, share samples and do the education ourselves. We have taken out a few adverts in the past, but sharing what we do with people directly works best.’


‘We’re lucky that we have families filled with skills. I’m a photographer, Hannah’s dad Andrew does the letterpress printing and my brother runs a graphic design company. We package the liquid in UV-proof bottles from an Italian distributor called Vetreria Etrusca. It took me months to track them down – and a lot of rejected samples. We also use natural cork stoppers. The labels are filled in by hand using a #5.5 nib pen, and we hand-apply every label.’ 


‘Pricing is incredibly hard, especially when working in a field where most products out there are still agricultural in quality. We started at around two-thirds of what our eaux de vies are priced at now, which is between £55 and £120. We had to adjust our prices because I decided to factor in paying myself – something a lot of people don’t do. I think it’s important to value your own work and the products we are making are by their nature expensive, but they do offer great value. We’re never going to be millionaires off this.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 40, April/May 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

You might like these, too