From using up surplus fruit, to embracing sustainable distillation methods, we meet the gin makers who are crafting with a conscience
Sustainability and waste are the words on everybody’s lips right now, and rightly so: they’re as relevant to the food and beverage industry as they are to any other. We take a look at some of the leading gin distillers who are taking matters of excess produce, waste and protecting the environment into their own hands – and creating some delicious gin while they’re at it.
“Every year tonnes of fruit is wasted around the country because it’s too big, too small or too ugly to be sold,” explains Pete Thompson, founder of Cotchel juices and most recently, Reliquum gin – a London dry gin made with tree-ripened fruit from his farm near Harwich, north Essex. For Pete, whose family has been farming fruit and vegetables at Brook Farm since 1948, food waste is anathema.
“It’s our goal to recognise the value of all of our farm ‘waste’, whether that’s ploughing in crop residues as a green manure or making something delicious,” he says. While surplus apples and pears from the farm tend to be made into apple and pear juices, it’s surfeit plums and apricots – which have been naturally ripened – that are blended with London Dry Gin to create Reliquum fruit gins.
Reliquum gin is made in partnership with the English Spirit Distillery and is blended with a range of botanicals from Pete’s farm, from wild plants to citrus, coriander and angelica. Excitingly, Pete is even trialling growing exotic fruits, such as kefir limes and even yuzu.
Pete uses as much surplus fruit as possible in his spirit-making. “Each bottle of Reliquum plum has been made with 750g of fruit,” says Pete. “We first press the plums to extract the juice, which is then blended with London Dry Gin and a little water. These are then left for a period to allow the flavours to marry, and occasionally tweaked, until we find the right flavour balance. Our London Dry Gin uses an eau de vie made from our apples too – approximately 5kg of apples makes enough eau de vie for one bottle of our London Dry.”
On top of using leftover produce, Pete looks to keep gin distillation as sustainable as possible, “Gin is often reliant on ingredients sourced from all over the world, which opens up questions regarding sustainability.” Pete and his team are plotting new plantings of botanicals, including juniper, which is already firmly planted in the ground.
It’s not just excess stone fruits that are being used to make gin. For Foxhole Gin, leftover grapes have a part to play in combating waste. “After pressing, grapes are typically reduced to a pulpy mass of skins, flesh and pips; known by its French name, ‘marc’,” explains James Oag-Cooper, founder and MD of Sussex’s Foxhole Spirits. “It’s a waste product and every year, the wine industry produces tonnes of the stuff.” James and his team identified a way of using up this discarded by-product of wine making and in turn, have created a gin that has a “Velvet-texture, with floral coriander and orris, balanced with grapefruit and lemon zests.”
To create the gin, leftover ‘marc’ from vineyards across the UK is sent back for a second pressing and then fermented for three months. This base wine then goes through two ‘stripping’ runs, which distils the wine down to a pure grape spirit and is blended with neutral grain spirit. Botanicals macerate for 24 hours, before being pumped into the still. The high proof gin is then made over four runs and diluted with natural spring water before being hand-bottled. “Sustainability is important in all industries,” says James. “Foxhole Gin is proof that what was discarded, can be turned into a premium gin through craft and resourcefulness.”
For Will Edge, founder of Kent-based Greensand Ridge, sustainability is key. “We are built from the ground up as a sustainable distillery. We pursue sustainability in three ways: having a light touch on the lands, mitigating food waste and being a force for change in the industry. To have the smallest environmental footprint is key to our operations and to our gins.”
On top of using renewable power, Greensand Ridge are zero chemical use and endeavour to use as little plastic and waste as possible. “We throw away one bin bag of non-recyclable or reusable waste every six weeks. In our definition of zero waste we include organic waste (which we send to local farms for livestock) and waste heat (which we recover though heat recovery systems). In addition to this are things like using recycled and recyclable packaging materials and compostable cups and paper straws.”
Greensand Ridge’s Premium London Dry Gin includes eight botanicals, all found within a mile of the distillery including Kentish cobnuts – cracked by hand and blended into flour – and wild gorse and hawthorn berries.
“We want to be a voice for change,” says Will, “changing perceptions regarding sustainability and industry behaviour.”
There’s lots to be done when it comes to tackling issues of sustainability in drinks, but Reliquum, Foxhole and Greensand Ridge show how distillers can become more environmentally aware.