In the Green Corner is a new series of pieces from gin-mag.com focusing on distilleries around the world that go the extra mile to lessen their impact on the planet and help their local environment. In this first instalment, we chat with Tom Warner and Jonny Easter at Warner’s Distillery.
Being a farm-based gin brand, sustainability seems like it would come more naturally to a brand like Warner’s than to some. But, according to co-founder Tom Warner, it wasn’t top of the agenda when the business began back in 2012 (then known as Warner Edwards).
“It was farm diversification when it started,” he explains. “Our location lends itself to us being able to do this more easily than some. If you are on an industrial unit in central London there are only so many levers you can pull, but we have grown up in that environment.”
Regardless of where it may have started, Tom and his team are now pushing to make their operations as eco-friendly as possible. The brand even has its own conservation and sustainability manager, Jonny Easter. A marine biologist by trade and a beekeeper by choice, he joined the company full-time after being asked to set up an apiary at the distillery, based at Falls Farm in Northamptonshire.
“We have seen significant business growth in the last three years, [and] as we are growing we are able to draw on expertise. Mine is in countryside management and the environment and we’re putting that at the heart of who we are,” Jonny says.
“We rely on the countryside for what we produce and it is about getting consumers to put some of those things together – the role of water, pollination, hedgerows for botanicals. When we start identifying these things that are often thought of as free, we can put a value on them and see them as something we need to talk about and manage.”
Renamed Warner’s after the departure of co-founder Sion Edwards in 2019, the brand has come a long way in nine years. It now has an eight-strong core range of gins and launched its non-alcoholic 0% Botanic Garden Spirits range last year.
Its original gin range contains around 25 per cent homegrown ingredients in each expression. Tom says that the newer the product is, the more ingredients sourced from the farm it will contain; the Botanic Garden Spirits, for example, are 90 per cent homegrown.
Its ‘distillery garden’ already includes lemon thyme, lemon verbena, sage, blackcurrants, raspberries, lavender and more, with plans to add angelica this year. It is experimenting with homegrown alternatives to Asian spices, such as dandelion. The brand’s ultimate goal is to increase the number of its own botanicals it grows year by year – something which will benefit wildlife on the farm as well.
Jonny explains, “A lot of our botanicals are good for pollinators. We let our lemon thyme go to flower and then it is superfood for bees, and angelica is the same. Doing that at scale, we have an impact on pollinators. Giving back is about creating space. With pollinator declines, growing your own is an excellent remedy.”
Tom adds, “We have big ambitions for growing more of the ingredients that go into the gin – juniper we are probably always going to have to bring in, but we want to grow as much as we can and we are getting inventive with the produce from the English countryside.”
The team at Warner’s is keen to emphasise the “cyclical nature” of its production. It takes local offcuts from a prepared food factory – that would otherwise be wasted – and uses them for compost. It supports local efforts by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species to maintain hedgerows. Each year the distillery organises a “sloe swap” to gather fruits for its sloe gin; people can bring in a basket of sloes and take home a bottle of gin in return. As Jonny puts it, “It really is the outside that goes into a bottle.”
Warner’s is encouraging its consumers to do more, too. It has previously sold Gift of Nature wooden gift boxes for its gins, which it encouraged buyers to repurpose as bird boxes, ‘bee hotels’ for solitary bee species, and even garden planters.
“I think there is a bit of a step change happening with the consumer,” Tom muses. “There are definitely different types of consumers at the moment: there are the people who care and want to do good for the world, but there is definitely a pink shimmery gin drinker for whom, as long as it has enough sugar and alcohol in it, they are happy… We can only actually talk and reach and discuss with the people who want to hear it.
“We are just going to keep banging our drum because it makes us feel good. If we can keep using our platform to make people think about what they drink, it is a good thing.”
As a farm-based distillery targeting the super-premium space, Tom feels Warner’s has a taller mountain to climb than some. “People want them [super-premium spirits] to look cool and urban; when you say ‘farm’ and ‘environment’ and ‘earth’ and ‘living creatures’ it seems to clash. There is a dichotomy there and if you don’t bridge that gap it will not help the category. You can make super-premium spirits while doing good things for the planet. If you make the environment cool, it will help that massively.”
Their message for any distillers who want to become more sustainable? Jonny’s advice is to work out what measures will be practical for your business and be focused in your strategy.
“Sustainability as a whole is massive, there are so many rabbit holes you can go down, and a lot of people are put off by that,” he says. “You need the structure and focus about what matters to you and what you can do as a business, no matter how big or small. We are working towards B Corp accreditation and that gives us structure.”
Jonny adds, “Businesses can be a force for good. With businesses like ours, our growth and our reputation can drive trends… I think if we can help drive sustainability as a trend in craft gin, I would be more than happy to see people copy us.
“It is about driving consumers to understand the impact we all have on the planet and that where we can tread lightly, we should. Although we might not get immediate recognition for the work we do, we know it is right.”