Mother's Ruin: Twisting Spirits
It most likely won’t come as any news to you, as a discerning reader of Oxfordshire’s finest lifestyle magazine, that the last decade has seen an unprecedented explosion of artisanal gin distilleries, popping up all over the country and producing spectacular botanical elixirs. So, welcome to ‘Mother’s Ruin’, our monthly feature celebrating one particular gin operation which we think deserves greater attention. This month, Jack Rayner spoke to Richard Bateman of Chilterns-based Twisting Spirits.
Hi Richard, how and why did you set up a distillery?
My wife and business partner Mary and I are both from IT backgrounds, and we became increasingly disenchanted with the industry. We got married a couple of years ago and decided that it was time for a new start. I'd been doing quite a lot of homebrewing, and we initially thought we might make the move into opening a microbrewery. Unfortunately, a back problem meant that all the lifting involved really wouldn't work out. We began thinking of an alternative, and our love of spirits drove us to gin. We took some of the inspiration and ideas that we had around beer and applied them to the world of gin – for instance, the bright colouring of our labels and the bold flavours that we put into our gins.
What's special about your distillation process?
We have a two-stage process. Gin is typically made in a copper pot still or is hot-distilled by some other means. That process heats the botanicals to an extent where the lighter botanicals – flowers, peppercorns or kaffir lime leaves – they actually get cooked as part of that process. What that means is that the lighter notes in the resulting gin that you collect are quite difficult to determine. We have a dual-stage process: we do use hot distillation for the deeper tones of the gin such as juniper berries, but we also use a lower temperature vacuum-distilled process. For instance, for our Earl Grey gin we'll make the majority of the spirit in our copper pot still, but then cold-distil the tea leaves which we buy locally from Wallingford. Because that process has such a lower temperature, we're able to preserve the citrusy notes of the bergamot and the earthy notes of the tea itself. We mix that into the base gin, and we think that gives us the best of both worlds.
How did you settle on the varieties that you currently produce?
Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass was our first gin; that was the end product of most of our recipe development. When we perfected our distillation process, we decided to start experimenting with other flavours as well. We then made our Earl Grey gin, but the Douglas-Fir is a bit of a strange one – Mary is a bit of a foodie and she was reading something about using Douglas-Fir for smoking. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment, so we located some trees in Nettlebed. We experimented with different trees and different needles, then found that the flavours work really well with gin. We did experiment with celeriac as well, which did produce a nice taste, but unfortunately the celeriac itself soaked up all the alcohol, so you'd only end up with around 50ml of finished product from a litre of alcohol! That one wasn't financially viable, but it did produce an interesting flavour. We do plan to release more – hopefully another will be available by the summer.
How would you most recommend serving Twisting Spirits gin?
It does depend on personal taste, of course, but because our gins have quite a bold pop of flavour, we advise avoiding flavoured tonics. I very much like Fever-Tree light and Mediterranean tonics, particularly with our Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass and Earl Grey gins. The Douglas-Fir gin goes very well with the new Schweppes range of tonics, particularly the light variety, because it has grapefruit in it which perfectly complements the gin. From a garnish perspective for the Earl Grey gin, keep it simple with a slice of lemon. For Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass, Asian ingredients are great - chilli works very well, as does a slice of fresh ginger. With Douglas-Fir gin, pink grapefruit is what we recommend.