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Campfire: Hertfordshire’s first gin

PUBLISHED: 09:57 21 February 2017 | UPDATED: 09:58 21 February 2017

Ben and Kate took inspiration from the Great Outdoors for their company ethos

Ben and Kate took inspiration from the Great Outdoors for their company ethos

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A new distillery in west Herts has created the county’s first gin, backed by a crowdfunding campaign and with a mission to savour nature. Laura Vickers met the husband and wife team behind Puddingstone Distillery

The first of a planned range of gins from Puddingstone - the name denotes sharing with friends outdoorsThe first of a planned range of gins from Puddingstone - the name denotes sharing with friends outdoors

Hertfordshire has its first gin after Puddingstone Distillery opened its doors in the village of Wilstone near Tring late last year. It is the culmination of a hard-fought-for dream of husband and wife team Ben and Kate Marston, and their first release, Campfire Gin, has been a labour of love.

The distillery opened on November 11 with what was planned as a soft launch and a thank-you to the distillery’s crowdfunders (the project was made possible in part by £23,000 raised via the Crowdfunder website) but it turned into something greater as visitors from the neighbouring P E Mead & Sons Farmshop ‘decided to pop in’. After three hours and nearly 400 people through the door, Puddingstone Distillery, on the eve of its official public launch, had already run out of gin.

‘There was excitement, many words of encouragement and then the stark reality that the next morning we’d have to be up very, very early to bottle products and refill empty shelves,’ Ben says. ‘The demand for our gin has not waned either – customers have been returning to the distillery shop and our other stockists to place third and fourth orders.’

Through the eyes of outsiders, the lively launch night at the distillery-cum-shop may have appeared to be the start of things, but the journey to reach this point started in 2014. While Ben was recovering from a minor wrist operation and off work from Tring Brewery, where he had worked since4 2008, Kate, the founder of a graphics design company, headed to a book store and picked up Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus and Simon Difford’s Guide to Gin. Thumbing through the latter publication, an initially casual ‘We could do this’ moment escalated with the realisation that all their past experience, knowledge, and ideas for the future could centre around a gin distillery.

Ben working with Amelia - the 200-litre stillBen working with Amelia - the 200-litre still

But it was going to be more than just gin.

By September of that year, the pair had contacted a still producer and met distillers, a trip that took in Durham Distillery and Strathearn and Pickerings in Scotland.

The same year, at the Craft Distillers Expo, a chance meeting with the organiser and gin expert David T Smith really opened doors. Product development started the following year, when the couple also passed the Institute of Brewers and Distillers exams, all while still working full time. It took around eight months to hone the final botanicals for their first product, Campfire Gin.

Ben admits facing challenges when scaling up from their basic home 1-litre still to two professional production stills with a capacity of 50 litres and 200 litres, affectionately named Isabella and Amelia. These were partly paid for by the crowdfunding campaign, which spanned 56 days and also raised money for equipment used for blending, bottling and labelling. Many of the 200-plus backers were local to Hertfordshire. Both Ben and Kate got hands-on kitting out their distillery and shop, which has a rustic feel, with wooden beams and corrugated steel.

Windows in the shop look on to the distillery stills, named Amelia and IsabellaWindows in the shop look on to the distillery stills, named Amelia and Isabella

Geology enthusiasts will know the distillery is named after the rare Hertfordshire rock formation – puddingstone – historically used for way markers, in church walls, as boundary markers, and is purported to have powers including the ability to ward off evil spirits. But what of the name Campfire?

Ben explains, ‘We’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and travelling. As we mentally journeyed back through our past looking to pinpoint all the sensory experiences that had influenced us, we realised our best encounters with gin had been outside, often by a fire. The environments varied but the comfort, warmth and simplicity that being outdoors with a good drink, alone or in the company of friends, staring at stars or blanketed by lush woodland resonated with us. We knew we were not the only people to enjoy those simple pleasures.’

Looking forward, the couple are planning to use their product and the distillery site as a hub for driving a series of activities designed to engage people with positive aspects of being outdoors.

‘It’s one of the reasons we managed to license a whole field,’ Kate explains.

Ben serving customers at the launch nightBen serving customers at the launch night

There’s an obvious appreciation and respect for the natural environment in the couple’s ethos (Campfire has the hashtag SpiritoftheOutdoors) which is reflected in the couple’s activities and future plans.

‘We’re starting with simple things like charitable contributions to environmental and conservation projects, and configuring a rainwater harvesting system as a supply for our condensing water,’ Ben says.

So what can you expect from Campfire Gin? Ten carefully selected botanicals make up a profile that is on the boundary between classic and contemporary styles. Alongside the obligatory juniper and common botanicals such as coriander seed and angelica root, the gin gets its signature style from the inclusion of coffee cherry, fresh sweet orange peel, roasted hazelnut and golden berries. I’m reliably informed that enjoyed neat, in a simple G&T or a classic martini, a bit of dark chocolate complements it very well too.

There are new gin releases in the pipeline too, so 2017 is going to be an exciting year for Hertfordshire gin fans.

A Puddinstone Purl cocktail with gin, ale, apple juice, ginger, cinammon and honeyA Puddinstone Purl cocktail with gin, ale, apple juice, ginger, cinammon and honey

Visit Puddingstone Gin

The distillery shop on the P E Mead and Sons Farm Shop site in Wilstone is open Fridays (9am-5pm) and Saturday (9.30am-5pm) where customers can pick up gin, tonic, gift vouchers and even some very on-trend branded enamel tumblers. Bookings are also being taken for distillery tours and tasting evenings, see puddingstonedistillery.com

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