Blog: Grain to Glass and Back Again
What cocktail is most associated with Britain? If you said Gin & Tonic then cheers to you.
The G & T was devised in the mid-19th century by British colonists in India as a method of ingesting tonic water containing quinine which
was used at the time to treat malaria. Tonic water was so bitter that gin, sugar, and citrus was added to make it more palatable.G & T is now one
of the most popular cocktails in the world and the British connection with gin is undeniable.But like many foods and drinks that are widespread in
Britain, it was not invented in the UK, rather it was adopted from elsewhere. In the case of gin, it is a descendent of the drink Genever from the
Netherlands. Genever is the Dutch word for ‘juniper’ which is the main flavour ingredient in gin. It was popularised in England by William of Orange
(from the Netherlands) who advocated for his native country’s national alcoholic spirit after he was crowned English king in 1689.
Gin is distilled spirit alcohol made from fermented foods such as barley, wheat, corn, potatoes and sugar cane.The neutral spirit is flavoured with a selection
of botanicals, which along with the mandatory juniper often include lemon peel, angelica, cinnamon, and nutmeg.The spirit is infused with flavour either
by macerating the botanicals in it or by redistilling it so the alcoholic vapours pass through a basket of botanicals in the still and capture the
aromas and flavours.
Gin has been through a remarkable renaissance in popularity in the UK in the past decade with over 100 different brands, many from small independent producers, now on the market.But only a handful of those producers make their neutral spirit from scratch – most of them purchase the spirit from large, faceless industrial distillers and then rectify it with botanicals.
One of the few gin distillers that produces its own neutral spirit is Copper Rivet, a family business based in Chatham Historic Dockyard, Kent. It is also a distiller with grain to glass and traceability credentials. They source wheat, rye and barley grown on Burden Brothers farm 18 miles away in the Isle of Sheppey. The cereal is mashed and the sugars dissolve into water to create a liquid called wort (this is also the first stage of beer brewing) which is boiled.The wort is then distilled in magnificent copper stills that were fabricated by engineers in Chatham. The spirit is distilled again and the vapours pass through a basket of botanicals. I tasted their flagship Dockyard gin and it is a spirit with floral and citrus notes that is so smooth it can be sipped neat. In a virtuous circle, the spent grain returns to Burden Brothers to feed the farm’s Aberdeen Angus and Red Limousin cattle. Some of those cows graze on Elmey National Nature Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey which is the largest private nature reserve in Europe and they perform a crucial role in managing the land for wading birds by keeping grass levels down to permit nesting sites.
Photo credit: ABV Media
Grain to glass is a model that appeals to many people and for brands it is a factor to shout out about. Food miles are also increasingly important to consumers.
I had the unforgettable experience of visiting Burden Brothers farm during harvest and then delivering some of the grain to Copper Rivet on a 1906
grain barge called Edith May that floated up the Swale and Medway rivers to the distillery.On the journey I ate a lunch of locally produced food that
included steak from one of the farm’s cows. The cattle are transported to the abbatoir at night and fed for a couple of days to calm them so there
are no stress hormones in the meat.It was the most delicious and tender steak I have ever eaten.
Photo Credit: ABV Media
On arrival at Chatham Historic Dock, the grain was hauled off the barge and into the distillery in a magnificent 19 th century structure that was formerly the dock’s pump house. Inside, the red copper stills match the colour of the Victorian brickwork that makes up the fabric of the building. It is tradition to give female name to stills and at Copper Rivet they are named after deceased family members. Gin is not the only alcoholic drink produced there – they also distil vodka, eau de vie, and coming soon is whisky, currently aging for 3 years in oak barrels in a corner of the distillery, the unmistakable aroma of vanilla wafting out of them as the spirit ages and adopts the character of the wood. All of the spirits are grain to glass.
I can’t wait to try the gin made from the cereal I helped to deliver. A gin with Isle of Sheppey terroir. How unique is that?
Jane Peyton is an award-winning drinks educator and founder of the School of Booze.