The Salcombe Gin Interview

Salcombe Gin is a great example of a West Country craft gin distillery. Even though they are a relatively young company (their first gin ‘Start Point’ was released in 2016), they take great pride in their Devon heritage and use it as inspiration both for their brand and their products. From the outset they have produced award-winning artisan gins and continue to innovate, experiment and collaborate to produce some of the best gin in the UK.

As Salcombe is just down the coast from us we made our way to ‘The Boathouse’ on Island Street in the heart of Salcombe to meet co-founder Angus find out the secrets behind why Salcombe Gin has developed at such a pace since 2015.

ANGUS, WHAT AND WHEN SET THE WHEELS IN MOTION TO SET UP SALCOMBE GIN?

The concept for the gin stemmed from a long-standing passion I have for single malt whisky, that took me up to Scotland to learn to distil at the legendary Springbank Distillery in Campbell town and later followed by a shorter stay at Kilchoman Distillery on Islay, along with my business partner, Howard.

I lived in the US for several years whilst working in the underwater technology business and witnessed first-hand the growth of the craft distilling movement. That, paired with my passion for single malt whisky, led to a career change after 18 years working around the world mapping the oceans. Having given it quite a bit of thought in early 2014, I set myself a mission to get a distilling business off the ground by Christmas and, if that hadn’t happened, to move on. One of the first things I did was write a list of all the people that I thought could help in any way, including potential investors, those that could lend their technical expertise and potential business partners. I thought that it would be great to share this adventure with a friend, someone with a different skill set to my own, which led me to touching base with an old friend.

My business partner, Howard and I met in our late teens teaching sailing in Salcombe at the Island Cruising Club and had stayed in touch over the years. At the end of the hard day on the water, we would often enjoy a G&T at the yacht club, and I have had a love of a good G&T ever since. Howard, whose family had lived in Salcombe, relocated back to Devon, and I moved to Devon, having got back from the US at about the same time, and we got chatting. Over a G&T, the idea was sown, and we formed the company in July 2014. It then took the best part of two years to bring the dream to fruition, raising investment, building a distillery, creating the recipe for Start Point and building a brand before launching in Summer 2016. Although we’ve started with gin, we do enjoy distilling other spirits and have a few R&D initiatives underway!

YOU’VE NAMED YOUR GIN ‘START POINT’ WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?

Start Point is the first gin that we created, and it took 18 months to perfect. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, although blind tastings at 10am every day for weeks on end were a little more arduous than it sounds! We called our first gin Start Point for two reasons; the first is Start Point is the navigational landmark and the most southern point in Devon that all the Salcombe Fruiters, the famous fruit schooner sailing vessels that are so integral to our band, had to pass around on their way back to their home port of Salcombe. Secondly, it was our starting point, so it seemed a logical choice.

THE PACKAGING AND OVERALL BRAND DESIGN LOOKS AMAZING, THE BOTTLE TOPS LOOK DETAILED, HAS THIS BEEN AN ENJOYABLE PROCESS?

It has been very enjoyable, if not a little frustrating at times. For the Voyager Series, we commissioned a bespoke copper stopper with natural cork. It took about 6 months to develop as a lot of manufacturers we spoke to told us that what we were looking for couldn’t be achieved, at least not within the budget we had set. Where there is a will, there is a way! Interestingly enough, the stopper perfectly fits the Start Point bottle too.

The bottles for the Voyager Series are also bespoke and have been produced by Wade Ceramics in the Potteries. We were looking to source a gloss white glass bottle and at the time couldn’t find the effect we were looking for, and I stumbled across a limited-edition bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label in a gorgeous white ceramic bottle. Having found out where they were made, we then commissioned Wade Ceramics to produce a bespoke bottle for us that included an embossed outline of our gin pennant wrapping around the bottle.

WE’VE HAD A GREAT TOUR THIS MORNING AND SEEN YOUR IMPRESSIVE 450 LITRE COPPER STILL? HOW OFTEN DOES THAT RUN, AND HOW MANY BOTTLES DOES A RUN PRODUCE?

Provident, our 450l still is a bespoke Arnold Holstein still from Markdorf in Germany. Production levels currently vary according to the time of year, anything from twice to six times a week. Each still run produces enough liquid for about 600 70cl bottles at 44% ABV.

YOUR DISTILLERY HAS A GREAT SETTING, AND THE BAR LOOKS BRILLIANT, DO YOU HAVE CHANCE TO ENJOY A G&T?

Not as often as I would like, but with a young family and growing business, it can be difficult to find the time! As we are one of the only distilleries in the world that is directly accessible by boat, I do try and make a point, especially in the summer, of bringing my small boat from my home in Kingsbridge into Salcombe and tying up at the back of the distillery to enjoy a few G&Ts. I also like to try and come to work by boat when time and tides allow.

WHAT’S THE BEST PAIRING ADVICE FOR SALCOMBE GIN?

The majority of gin is still drunk with tonic water, and we recommend a classic premium Indian tonic water to let the aromas and flavours of our gin to shine through. Fever-Tree and Luscombe tonic waters both work really well. If you want to add more flavour, then the Luscombe Pink Grapefruit or Fever-Tree Elderflower work. For garnish, keep it simple. A slice of red grapefruit works best and perfectly complements the dominant fresh citrus in Start Point. For the Voyager Series gins, we recommend different garnishes to complement the different botanicals.

Four of the best Salcombe Gin cocktails

The St Clair

The St Clair, which lends its name to this cocktail, was a noted Salcombe Fruit Schooner. Serve it as an aperitif or as part of a celebration.

INGREDIENTS

  • 25ml Salcombe Gin
  • 25ml Elderflower Liqueur
  • 20ml freshly squeezed red grapefruit juice
  • 70ml chilled soda water
  • Red grapefruit peel for decorative garnish

Method

  1. Fill a Boston shaker with ice.
  2. Add the red grapefruit juice, elderfower and Salcombe Gin’ Start Point’.
  3. Shake vigorously.
  4. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a flute glass.
  5. Add the chilled soda water.
  6. Slice a thin piece of grapefruit peel and add to the rim of the glass for a decorative garnish.

The Salcombe 75

A vintage French 75 with a Devonshire twist.

INGREDIENTS

  • 10ml Salcombe Gin
  • 10ml Crème De Pamplemousse
  • 125ml Prosecco

Method

  • In a champagne flute, add the gin and crème de pamplemousse.
  • Top up with prosecco.
  • Add a rosemary garnish.

The Sicilian Brunchini

An unforgettable citrus martini

INGREDIENTS

  • 50ml Salcombe Gin
  • 15ml triple sec
  • 15ml lemon juice
  • 2 bar spoons of blood orange marmalade

METHOD

  1. Chill a martini glass with ice.
  2. In a Boston shaker glass, add the gin, triple sec, lemon juice and 1 spoon of blood orange marmalade.
  3. Fill to the top with ice, and shake until cold.
  4. Discard the ice from the martini glass and place a spoon of the blood orange marmalade at the bottom.
  5. Double strain the mixture into the martini glass.
  6. Garnish with a slice of sun-dried orange.

The Pennant Martini

You will find a pennant flying on Salcombe Gin’s labels; historically, it is a flag flown from ships as a sign of hospitality.

INGREDIENTS

  • 50ml Salcombe Gin’
  • 10ml Knightor Dry Vermouth
  • Ice

METHOD

  1. Place lots of ice into a mixing glass.
  2. Add the gin and vermouth.
  3. Using a bar spoon, stir gently for 30 seconds.
  4. Strain and pour into a chilled martini glass.
  5. Garnish with a red grapefruit peel twist.

Photo by Sara Cervera on Unsplash