Nina Howden, co-founder of Monmouthshire-based Silver Circle Distillery, the producer of Wye Valley Gin, talks to Joe Bates about her desire to experience Seoul’s music and food scene and recalls the night she spent partying with Björk and her band in a Helsinki hotel.
Joe Bates (JB): What have been some of the most memorable and interesting countries and places that your work has taken you?
Nina Howden (NH): Our distillery has only been around for three years, but I used to work in music before and travelled a lot then. I loved going to music festivals in small, unusual places. The locals are always so proud and welcoming. Nova Scotia in Canada was one place like that. We saw stunning nature, had lobster fresh from the sea, and I did an air guitar solo at a karaoke bar. While developing our latest spirit, a modern aquavit, we spent some time in Sweden (where I’m originally from) and had an amazing time at a crayfish party in the archipelago outside Gothenburg, which was something I hadn’t done for a long time. The sun doesn’t fully set, and sitting outside at midnight in the dusky glow while eating leftover pieces of cheese and singing rude drinking songs was so fun and memorable.
JB: What spirits other than gin do you like to buy in duty-free when travelling overseas?
NH: The last thing I bought were some delicious bottled cocktails from The Clumsies bar at Athens airport. The Aegean Negroni I had was so good that I wanted to share it with everyone back home.
JB: Do you spend a lot of time on the road? If so, what travel tips do you want to pass on to our readers?
NH: Yes, I do! I never check bags into the hold, so if I buy spirits when I’m away, they tend to be miniatures which can go in your hand luggage in clear plastic bags. Also, take your own Bloody Mary mix onto the plane – theirs is never spicy enough.
JB: If your flight was delayed, who would you most like to share a G&T with in an airport bar?
NH: Michelle Zauner from Japanese Breakfast. I just read her book Crying in H Mart about losing her mother and the connective powers of food. So many of my memories are connected to food in some way. I would ask her to recommend a gin I’ve never tried before, so that I could think of the time I met her every time I drank it.
JB: If you had 24 hours to spare, what city in the world would you most like to explore?
NH: I would love to go to Seoul, both for the food and the K-pop.
JB: We have a long 12-hour flight ahead. What book would you recommend we read to while away the time?
NH: Drunk in China by Derek Sandhaus is a brilliant and funny book about baijiu and Chinese drinking culture. I travelled to China when I was 18 and tried baijiu for the first time. Just like Sandhaus, I hated it. He decides to learn to like it, believing that the threshold for that is 300 shots. The book follows this journey to “spiritual” enlightenment.
JB: Where can travellers find Wye Valley Gin, and what’s your favourite way of enjoying it?
NH: Spirits always taste best when you drink them close to where they are made, so I would recommend drinking Wye Valley Gin in one of the many pubs that serve it in the Wye Valley. My favourite place is the Boat Inn in Penallt, a charming old pub with stunning views over the river, where you can go for a wild swim before your drink. Wye Valley Gin uses several botanicals that we forage ourselves, so if there is time I would recommend doing the Wye Valley Walk from Chepstow to Tintern to see if you can locate some of the smells on the way.
JB: Brand loyalty aside, what are some of your favourite gins and gin cocktails?
NH: Maybe it’s the Scandinavian in me, but I’ve always been a fan of Kyrö Napue Gin. I love the spiciness of rye; it’s something we have incorporated into our aquavit as well. I love Dry Martinis and any drink where you can really taste the spirit.
JB: Tell us about a funny, strange or unusual thing that happened to you on your travels.
NH: Some people say that nothing good happens after midnight, but I have found it’s often the opposite! I once ended up at an afterparty at Björk’s hotel room in Helsinki simply because she and I (and her 12 choir singers) were the only ones left in the bar.
JB: Now we are able to travel internationally again, what destination will be top of your list to return to?
NH: Mexico City is one of my favourite places in the world. I love places where food is always available, where you smell it everywhere and can grab a new bite to eat or something freshly squeezed on every street corner.