How did you find your way into the world of spirit production?
I entered the industry about 18 months ago, but I started studying viticulture and enology a couple of years before starting the project and I instantly fell in love with the alchemy of it all. I found it fascinating how you can influence the taste of spirits through choices you make with the botanicals and distillation process in the same way as you can influence wine through the choice of root stock, the grape varietal, the yeast you use…everything etc. I just love the whole complexity of it.
My first love was wine, whereas Tim’s has always been spirits and whisky. When we moved the Netherlands, we realized there was something more we could do from a distilling angle because it was much more accessible! We were in area with a rich history of Jenever, which meant that we had access to very high quality suppliers and our local council supported us with licencing requirements. We set ourselves up as a distillery because we wanted to be hands-on with every step of the process and we wanted to be able to branch out. Unlike whisky, gin is a spirit that doesn’t need to be aged, so that is why gin came first.
Can you tell us a bit more about the story behind the Driftwood Distillery?
Our goal really was about creating experiences and creating conversation, which is been mainly inspired by what my husband and I have done in our lives. You know, the best kind of holidays and most memorable evenings we’ve had have been around vineyards or distilleries and putting the world to right with friends and a glass of something nice.
So, we took a little bit of that concept and that’s how we came up with our characters, or our ‘gin ambassadors’. All of the 4 characters really have a story to tell, either about the local area we live in, the country we find ourselves in, a personal experience or our observations on the world.
Can you explain a bit more about the Driftwood Distillery brand ambassadors and what makes them so special in your opinion?
Gin is just a clear liquid in a bottle and as a consumer you are drawn by your senses (eyes, ears and nose), all we can use are people’s eyes to draw them to our gin. The bottle has to stand out, so we chose anime and cartoon characters to become gin ambassadors, not only to try and draw people in, but because whilst our stories have a serious message we try not to be too serious with them! After you have opened the bottle and smelt the gin, of course then all the other traditional senses come into play. Building our gin ambassadors up has been as much fun as experimenting with the still and creating the gin that is inside the bottles.
So, if you look at the 4 different gin brands that we have, each has a different character and each takes a little bit of history or idea that is in the news today and invites the drinker to ask a question about the world that they live in. Donkey Jack gin celebrates heroes and those in our lives who are strong for us. It asks the question of why some people do stand up and become the good Samaritan and why some people cannot, even if they know it’s the right thing to do. We need all those types of people in our lives. Chow Hound gin celebrates innovation and perseverance, but asks us whether we are prepared to change to make a more sustainable life. It tells the story of humanitarian mission run at the end of WWII and the way that the Netherlands has turned its position around now to being a global leader in agricultural technology and training. JVS gin celebrates the country you live in or the society that you are part of. It asks the question of whether you are proud of where you come from. Would you stand up for it? Rose Finch gin looks at the concept of freedom and asks whether we are really as free as we think. Can we make a free-will decision about where we live, how we work, the choices we make, or are we guided and influenced too much? Interesting concepts to debate with a gin in your hand!
What do you most enjoy about working as a distiller in the drinks business?
For me, it’s been the whole package. We started this project from scratch. It has been a rewarding and challenging journey not without heart-in-the-mouth moments, but overall great fun. I love the variety of the work and the fact the one minute I am up to my elbows in botanicals, getting the still to work or bottling and the next I am being creative with the design and marketing side of things. The joy has really been putting our brains to so many different facets and problem solving at every single turn.
What do you think was one of the biggest surprises or lessons you learnt along the way?
Crafting the recipes took a lot of effort, time, experimentation as you would expect. We had to tweak all the aspects of the gin in order to really understand our influence over the process and decide what type of gin we wanted to make.
We knew that we wanted to make a craft gin because we are just above hobby-level, but we wanted it to be of the highest quality that it could. So, we had to understand when to take the cut in the distillation and whether we would do a one-shot distillation for instance or start blending different distillation runs.
Making those choices and experimenting to find the right result took a lot of time and we made a lot of mistakes, but that was all part of the journey. As a result, we settled on producing a one-shot gin, which for us is best approach as we think it gives a better blended gin than if we distil each of the botanicals and then try and blend it afterwards. In our opinion, this method – together with a narrow cut of the run – is what gives our gin its unique taste and allows the botanicals to really bond and blend together.
I have also really enjoyed building a network in the local community. We moved to the Netherlands from the UK three and a half years ago and until we started the business, we still felt as though we were tourists in our local town. Starting the business has meant that we met so many different people, from the council, to the local business groups and tourist information bodies. Its been a real eye-opener to see all the care and attention that goes into maintaining and developing a local, thriving community. I can’t speak highly enough of the welcome and openness that we were shown. If you think that the Netherlands is just about Amsterdam, you would be wrong. Come and see Leiden, Katwijk and Noordwijk, the beaches, the bulbs and the amazing restaurants around the area. You won’t be disappointed!
What interesting trends/themes are going on in the world of distillery?
I don’t see a downturn in the gin trend any time soon in the Netherlands. Consumers are growing increasingly interested in the stories behind gin producers, but they are also becoming choosier in terms of what they drink and the varieties available. I think gone are the days of being loyal to one gin brand. I also think that the alcohol-free spirits are becoming quite interesting as people are becoming more and more interested in health and well-being. Finally, sustainability and locally produced products always pique interest, so when you combine those three factors it means that we have to become more innovative in the way we get out into the market and have to have a high quality product to sell. Luckily I think that we do!
We are currently pushing ahead with the renovation of our distillery, so that we can open it up to the tourists that visit up and down the Dutch coastline. That’s really where we are hoping to start to build more of a local fan base and tell the story of the gin and the area we are in. We are based in the historical airfield of Valkenburg near Katwijk, which is where the Soldat Van Oranje is being shown. That is the most popular, longest running Dutch musical with over 2.5 million visitors to date. Our distillery is right opposite the theatre and offers a great opportunity for pre- or post theatre gin cocktails or gin and tonics!
However, we want to offer more than just a bar to socialise at. With our still we can offer “distil in a day” with the concept being to invite small groups of people in a team building type of exercise to design and make their own gin and gin brand. We have all the small batch equipment, so I hope people would find that interesting and fun. We would also do gin blending and gin tasting for those who don’t want to spend a whole day with us! And, of course, we can combine that with a tour around so people can see how we make our gin and give them an opportunity to buy directly from us.
There is so much happening right now with our Distillery and we have so many ideas, its an exciting time. Eventually, we will move on to creating other spirits like whisky and rum, but this probably won’t be for another couple of years. We need to really strengthen our foundations with the 4 gin brands first, so watch this space – we already have permission to be able to age the whisky in the bunkers around the area, so it will really be a special tipple!
Find out more information about Driftwood Distillery here | www.driftwooddistillery.nl