In our new series, My Gin Life, we chat to some of the most influential and revered people in the global gin industry. We’re kicking off with Charles Maxwell, master distiller at Thames Distillers and the first inductee to the Gin Magazine Hall of Fame.
Gin Magazine (GM): Tell us how you got into the distilling industry and your early experiences within it.
Charles Maxwell (CM): My mother’s family, the Bishops, have been distillers in London since my eighth great-grandfather was apprenticed in the 1680s. So I was literally born into the trade.
GM: How did you come to found Thames Distillers? Tell us a bit about the company’s work.
CM: The opportunity to purchase the stills and bottling equipment came up some 25 years ago and I decided that I wanted to get back to my heritage, having worked in the trade for some 20 years already.
Thames basically specialises in receiving briefs from its clients and developing them up into finished gins and then most of the time putting them into production. We work with some of the big companies in the trade right down to almost individuals, taking their first steps into the alcoholic drinks market.
GM: Outwardly, contract distilling is not the most glamorous side of the industry – what drew you to it, and what do you feel it brings to the industry as a whole?
CM: Contract distilling when it means we are helping to create world-class gins is challenging, exciting and, when we succeed, intensely rewarding. As a shareholder and director in Thames Distillers, when travelling around the world I get a real buzz on walking into a bar and scanning the back shelf to see gins we have created and made being sold thousands of miles away from our distillery.
The benefit to the industry that we, as contractors, bring is that the brand owner can have their gin developed and made by experienced and skilled craftsmen, and then produced and they do not have to invest in equipment and property, so can concentrate on the marketing and selling of their brands. Additionally for some of the big players in the field they can trial and have produced what, for them, are small volumes which do not muck up the production efficiencies in their own factories.
GM: Tell us one thing you are proud of in your career, and one thing that you may do differently if you had the chance again.
CM: I am proud of the fact that we have built Thames Distillers up from a business with an ability to produce and not a customer in sight, into one which is recognised by its peers in the industry as one of the places to go get a professional quality gin, or indeed any spirit drink, produced.
If I was to be given the opportunity to re-wind I am not certain I would be brave enough again to buy a production unit with no customers for what we could produce!
GM: What is the best piece of career/life advice you have been given?
CM: Don’t tell me how you cannot do it, tell me how you can; in other words, do not give someone a problem, give them a solution.
Remember we are all human beings and we all have a life to lead.
GM: What do you find most exciting about the modern gin industry? What part of the industry should we be watching for interesting developments in the near future?
CM: The vibrancy, creativity and interest in the modern gin industry is great. Watch all parts of the industry for interesting developments, as one thing is for sure, it will develop and most possibly not in the direction that one might think today.
GM: Are there any other gin producers that you really admire?
CM: I admire all those producers who stick to producing quality products, and do not get sucked into chasing the latest fad with some patched-up product.
GM: If you were a gin style or gin cocktail, what would it be and why?
CM: Definitely a quality London dry gin. It is the basis of many a great drink and mixes well in all the right company!