Sky Wave Gin was launched in October 2018 from its base in the village of Bucknell near Bicester, after a trip to gin school kick-started a business which has expanded exponentially since, and this year entered into an exclusive partnership with Merchant’s Heart, Spirit Enhancer. A genuine artisan spirit, each Sky Wave still run produces just 120 bottles at a time, the process controlled by hand not machinery, so the ‘hearts’ – the flavoursome part of the run which makes it into the bottle – is cut by taste. The week after Sky Wave was named World’s Best Contemporary Gin at this year’s World Gin Awards, we spoke to distiller Rachel Hicks, who co-founded the company with Andrew Parsons. Following a “lovely but mad-busy” weekend distilling, the self-described Oxfordshire girl told us what the accolade means, before taking us back to gin school.
Congratulations on your World Gin Award – what kind of event is it?
It’s quite glitzy. There’s a three-course sit-down dinner (with drinks beforehand) and then the awards ceremony. It’s very slick, very interesting. We were on the same table as Adnams and we had Lidl next door who picked up a good couple of awards because their gin is great. There were lots of people from all different walks of industry. The drinks buyer from Waitrose was highly commended, there were many gin distillers, we met Edinburgh Gin and Johnny Neill from Whitley Neill – a good mix of people.
And what does the award mean to you?
Everything. We only started 18 months ago and when you are a new gin in a very overcrowded market, there is a tendency for people to say, ‘oh, you’re just another gin.’ Now we can stand up and say, ‘you know how we always told you our gin was really lovely? Well look, it’s been recognised.’ It gives us a platform from which to launch expansion plans and grow the business. It’s a real boost.
It’s also not your first award.
No, we’ve picked up a Double Gold Medal at the Chinese Wine and Spirits Awards, a Gold Medal at the Women’s Wine & Spirits Awards, and various local awards as well.
What happened 18 months ago to propel you into the gin-trading world?
We finally got all our licenses. You need 11 licenses in place before you can start making and selling gin. There’s a sit-down exam at your local council offices, an interview with HMRC, various surprise visits from trading standards and environmental health, and random phone calls from the fire brigade, from the police, all checking you’ve got everything in order. It took us six months to get all of that and to get our recipe in place – we decided we wanted to know more about gin and find our perfect gin so we took ourselves off to gin school.
That sounds amazing.
It was. We learned how to make gin properly and stumbled across a good recipe that everybody loved and the master distiller at the place loved. Then we got excited, bought a still online before we’d even got home, and spent six months perfecting the recipe – much to the delight of our friends who were testers.
Why do you make your gin in very small batches?
Because we are an artisan gin and want to oversee every step of the production. This is the size we’re happy to make, 120-150 bottles a day means we can really make sure it’s distilled gently and slowly to create the delicious taste.
Oxfordshire informs that taste, doesn’t it?
Yes. I was born and bred here and we wanted some of Oxfordshire in the gin. So, one of our botanicals is foraged blackberries, literally from the hedgerows around Oxfordshire – picking high, never low, that’s where the dogs are – then we freeze them so we can use them throughout the year. We also use Blenheim Palace spring water to cut the gin. Then we have the more exotic spices to reflect the world in which we’ve travelled and had our adventures.
Do you have a particular favourite Sky Wave product?
I’m afraid I am completely in love with our Signature London Dry. Maybe it’s like your first child that you can never actually admit is your favourite… but it is. It was lovingly crafted, as are all of our gins, but we learnt our trade and craft while creating this. The gin has been on the same journey we have so I love it, and I love the taste of it, absolutely love it.
People are taking quite good care of themselves these days, possibly thinking more about minimising their alcohol consumption, do you find that’s negatively impacted distilleries?
No, the opposite. If you look at the ONS, the body that reports on stats, you’ll see that last year there was a turnaround in pub closures. One of the reasons they believe this has begun to happen is the gin boom. What people are going into pubs for now is not the wine or the beer so much – we can get that cheaply and take it home, which has led to the decline of pubs. But the pubs are stacked with hundreds of gins, drawing in people who are really enjoying the beautiful, crisp, unadulterated flavour. The artisan gins are very pure in their ingredients, there are no chemicals in there. People are turning to it because it is a clean drink.
And if people are cutting down, when they do fancy a drink they might well go for something unique and a bit special.
Absolutely, it’s a treat and it’s beautifully photogenic. A glass of wine is nice but it’s not as Instagrammable as so many of the beautiful gins out there, presented by fabulous mixologists and bartenders up and down the country.
Lots of places serve gin and tonic in those huge goblets nowadays. Are you fussy about your container of choice?
I’m really fussy. I’m not a fan of the large gin baubles, there’s too much ice and too much tonic.
Where can people get hold of Sky Wave?
Online at skywavegin.com, Amazon Prime or Master of Malt. We’re also available through the Oxford Wine Company’s three shops, and Slurp in Banbury.