How did you find your way into the world of gin distilling?

Gin has been a big part of my career dating back to 1998 when I started working with Plymouth Gin which is made in England’s oldest working distillery. While I was there, I was given the opportunity to acquire a lot of gin knowledge learning everything from the history of this fine spirit to how to tell the difference between good and bad juniper. Gin has been a big part of my career path every step of the way since then.

How did you and your 8th generation master distiller cross paths?

In England the gin community is close. Charles was a well-known distiller with an amazing family background in gin and I had done my best to make a name for myself as a gin educator over the years. We had met a few times at various gin events and had even done a couple of talks together at some trade shows. I knew of his gin making talents and so when I was ready to start developing Fords Gin, he was the first person I called.

Can you tell us a bit about the story behind Fords Gin – how and why was the company founded?

Fords Gin was created to be a versatile all-around cocktail gin that could be a ‘go to’ gin for bartenders making the classic gin cocktails we have all grown to love during this second golden age of the cocktail. The journey started with a bartender friend of mine and I drawing chef-like flavor maps that showed gin botanicals paired with key flavors and ingredients found in classic cocktails. We then started developing our recipe from there. We wanted to pair our knowledge as bartenders with the knowledge of an accomplished gin distillery and make something that would complement classic cocktails and mix well since gin is more commonly enjoyed in mixed drinks than it is sipped on its own (although I personally like drinking gin neat).

Tell us more about the Fords Gin brand – what your vision for the brand and your product was when it started?

The vision for Fords was to make a great mixing gin for professional bartenders to use behind their bars, and then hopefully they would introduce it to home cocktail enthusiasts. Gin is a fun spirit and has always been the quintessential cocktail spirit. Our goal was to make a gin that lived up to that reputation.

Fords Gin has a distinct flavor profile, tell us what this profile is and how it came about?

Fords Gin is made using an abundance of Italian juniper. Juniper is the core ingredient of gin that gives it its most unique characteristic and it is also the ingredient that its name is derived from. Our recipe is then balanced out with a lot of citrus to brighten it up, including grapefruit from Turkey, lemon from Spain and bitter oranges from Haiti and Morocco. For us, citrus was important as it’s vital for drinks such as a well-made Martini and the gin and tonic. We also use jasmine flower, which is a delicate flavor that pairs well with honey drinks such as the prohibition era the Bee’s Knees.

The Bee’s Knees

  • 2oz/50ml Fords Gin
  • 75oz/20ml Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 75oz/20ml honey Syrup

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tell us about the process of how you distill your gin and obtain its distinct flavor profile?

Fords Gin is made using nine botanical ingredients in total (juniper, coriander, lemon, grapefruit, bitter orange, cassia, angelica, orris and jasmine flowers). These ingredients are placed into a small hand-made still and steeped for 15 hours with our base spirit. This helps extract maximum flavor from the fresh ingredients before we distill everything together to turn the botanicals and spirit into Fords Gin. Making gin is quite a simple and quick process. The art of making gin is similar to cooking, it comes down to how well you picked your ingredients and how well you followed the recipe.

In your opinion, what makes your gin special?

All great gins have a way of extracting the natural flavors from the real ingredients they use and there are hundreds of ingredients that gin distillers can use. I think our process of cooking the essential oils from our nine botanicals to transfer them to the gin and have the percentage of each “just right” is what sets Fords Gin apart in a very flavor diverse spirit category with lots of variation and different styles.

What do you most enjoy about working in the distillery business?

The ability to be creative! A distillery is the equivalent for a spirit nerd like me of a chef having a great kitchen to cook in. You can go into the distillery and experiment making and creating different spirits and when you come up with something great you can bottle it and bring it to people to enjoy. And just like when a chef may see someone’s face light up when they are enjoying one of dishes they have prepared, so do I get great pleasure when I see someone order and enjoy a Fords Gin cocktail.

What do you think was one of the biggest surprises or lessons you learned along the way?

Gin’s sudden meteoric rise shortly before we launched Fords Gin took me by surprise. I thought we were going to be one of a small handful of new gins when we decided to do this. However, by the time we were ready to launch there were hundreds of entrepreneurs all ready to hit the market with their exciting new gin projects and so we entered into a very crowded market place which made finding a route to market very difficult. With that said, this interest in gin led to a gin boom and it would appear that are enough people who like gin for us all to survive alongside each other. As a gin lover, it is great to see so much innovation in a category and so many inspiring entrepreneurs giving it a shot.

What interesting trends/themes are going on in the world of gin distilling?

The never-ending experimentation with new ingredients will always keep gin interesting and provides constant fuel for innovation and new flavor profiles in gin. I think that is part of what continues to help gin remain an exciting category. I have also seen gin makers experiment with new styles of distillation. There is a great new gin called Hepple that has been using vacuum distillation, which is a method that brings out fruitier characteristics from the botanicals, and we recently launched a limited edition called Fords Gin Officers’ Reserve that has been rested three weeks in Sherry Casks that adds an extra dimension of flavor to our gin. There is really a lot of places to go within the gin category and I think we’re only just scratching the surface of the kinds of innovation we can explore.

Favorite cocktail to make with Fords Gin?

My hands-down favorite way to enjoy Fords Gin is in a classic gin martini, stirred with dry vermouth and a dash of orange bitters with a lemon twist garnish. It’s simply the best way to taste the gin. I also love Fords & Tonic in the summer and recently I have been enjoying Fords Gin in an old Prohibition-era classic cocktail called the Southside.

Southside Cocktail

  • 2 parts Fords Gin
  • 1 part fresh lime juice
  • ¾ oz simple syrup
  • small handful of mint leaves.

Shake ingredients with ice and fine strain into a cocktail coupe.

Martini

  • 3 parts Fords Gin
  • 1 part dry vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe, garnish with a large lemon peel twist.

What’s lies in the brand’s future?

We recently launched Fords Gin Officers’ Reserve which was a limited-edition over-proof gin rested in sherry casks and it marked the first in a series of new gins we have dubbed “journeys in gin.” We are already working on our next limited release for this series with many more limited-edition versions of Fords Gin to hopefully be created in the future. As they say, watch this space (or follow me on Instagram where I post occasional updates on the innovations we are experimenting with).

 

Keep up with the Fords Gin via their website or Instagram handle @simonfordsgin.