Made in Lancashire - Batch Gin
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 July 2016
The surge in popularity of gin means this Lancashire town now has its own award-winning micro-distillery. Roger Borrell reports
Gin has gone from being the curse of the working classes to the upmarket drink of the moment favoured by the chattering classes.
It’s a business with more fizz than Indian Tonic Water and it shows no sign of going flat. Across Britain, small distilleries have been following in the footsteps of the micro-brewery boom by producing hand-made spirits each flavoured with individual mixes of heady spices and fragrant botanicals.
The North West hasn’t been slow to spot the trend with several distilleries opening in the Lakes and now Burnley has its own – in the unlikely surroundings of a terraced house basement.
The company, Batch Brew, is the baby of IT expert Phil Whitwell, who grew up in nearby Ramsbottom. Work commitments mean he is based in Winchester but interest from family members back home meant he decided to base the distillery in Lancashire.
He and a friend started off making beer but intense competition and low margins put them off. ‘I’ve always been a fan of gin and, as part of my day job, I found myself in Madrid and I was recommended to go to a gin bar,’ said Phil.
‘It was quite a revelation. We are all used to a G&T in a highball glass but out there it’s served in big Copa de Balon and there are huge varieties served in many different ways. Gin Mare, for instance, comes with a sprig of rosemary. When we got back we decided to have a go.’
The biggest challenge was getting the recipe right. They spent the best part of a year getting the mix right, ending up with 12 botanicals – juniper, cardamom, orange peel, coriander seeds, angelica root, cinnamon bark, frankincense, myrrh, allspice berries, cloves, nutmeg and lemongrass.
‘The ingredients aren’t a secret but it’s the proportions that are the all important element,’ said Phil.
‘Also, we wanted to produce something that was a little different. It’s a London Dry Gin but it has a spicy element that gives a slight heat on the nose and in the first taste. It also has some woody notes.’
Incredibly, it was an almost instant hit, winning a Silver Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits competition and attracting the support of Booths, which now stocks it in every store. Exports have started going to Italy and Austria and Batch Gin has even found its way to Japan.
His nephew Oliver Sanderson and head distiller Emma Coughlan started off producing between 300 and 400 bottles a month in Burnley and that has now rocketed to 1,500 presenting quite a challenge to his distribution team – his sister, Sarah and her husband, Terry.
‘Operating in a basement is no longer practical, especially manhandling pallets,’ said Phil. ‘We have a new still on order which will allow us to increase production. Copper stills are invariably made in China or the USA but we wanted something made locally so we have worked with a company in Manchester to create a new design. It has cost a bit more but it fits with our commitment to the local community.’
Batch Brew is also moving to a new base – a former mill. ‘The council in Burnley has been tremendously supportive and in return we are committed to grow our business here.’ Everyone will drink to that.
To find out more go to www.batchbrew.co.uk