Ben Blackledge and Janice Hewitt are the brains behind the latest addition to the UK craft gin scene, creating the first and only such tipple to be distilled in Abingdon.
They only launched last month and have already sold out of their first batch. The first reviews have trickled in for their London Dry, and so far it looks like Ben and Janice have outdone themselves with a drink that some are describing as dangerously drinkable. We caught up with Ben to find out how Abingdon Gin came to be, where they’re hoping to get to, and the meaning behind their tagline ‘Spirits of Precision’.
So, Ben, how did you get to this point? You were a pilot originally.
Yes, so I started off training in the Air Force. Then I worked in Hong Kong as a civilian pilot for six years. Then I met my partner in Vancouver and she moved to Hong Kong – it was around that time that we started dabbling in gin. I just had a small copper still and I’d bring botanicals back from layovers around the world and experiment with them. You say ‘dabble’ in gin, but as homemade drinks go, gin might seem a little out of reach for some. The process for making gin is that you take a neutral spirit, add botanicals to it and redistill it. Some distillers do it directly from the grain but the much more common method is to do it from a neutral spirit, so it’s quite approachable. We were sourcing botanicals from all over the globe and experimenting with different flavours, trying to blend them together to create something sippable.
You can’t have got it right the first time – were there some versions you’re glad you passed over?
Oh absolutely. It’s taken a long time. To get our latest batch we’ve gone through around 100 batches to find the right flavour combination. It’s not something that came to us overnight - it’s been a work in progress for a number of years. What we’ve ended up with is a classic London Dry that follows a timeless flavour profile. It's unashamedly juniper-forward, offering warming and complex notes of cardamom and fennel, balanced with angelica root.
At what point did you decide to make more of your experiments?
We moved to Abingdon and were surprised to find that, given the context of the craft gin thing going on in the UK and that Abingdon is quite a thriving town, that they didn’t have a small craft distillery. We just thought, ‘well let’s give it a go and put ourselves out there’.
Where can people find Abingdon Gin?
So at the moment we’re selling directly to the public, but in the coming months we’re hoping to get into bars and restaurants around Abingdon.
Do you have a particular serving method that you’d recommend?
Our focus was in creating a sippable gin, so we’d recommend it just on the rocks or neat. But because it’s a London Dry it also works in gin martinis, as a base for any gin cocktail or simply as a gin and tonic garnished with a wedge of grapefruit – that’s how we like it.
There’s a chemical symbol on your label – what does that represent?
We were kind of playing with the idea of Abingdon and its link to the Culham Science Park and all the research going on there. It’s kind of a play on the chemical symbol for ethanol – it’s not quite because the chemical symbol for ethanol is actually quite boring! It also kinds of alludes to the meticulous approach that we take in making our gin. We have laboratory-grade equipment with very tight tolerances, so it alludes to our process.
What plans have you got for expansion?
Well, at the moment we’re just operating out of an outbuilding which we’ve set up as a distillery, but as things progress we’re hoping to move into a larger industrial unit, and hopefully we’ll be able to do tours and tastings.