Photo credit Sean Graham
So… A couple of weeks ago I spoke with Brentingby Bruce (henceforth referred to as “Bruce”) and mentioned to him I was going to review his gin and asked him if I could email him some questions to clarify a few points. Of course he said that this was not a problem… Now when I received his answers I saw that he’d put so much time and effort into providing really detailed responses that I felt bad just picking out little bits to add in to the review…. So I asked the obvious question… “Do you fancy doing a Q&A?”… So we decided that that was the best way forward… I then realised there maybe needed to be a few more questions to expand on his previous answers AND some just for fun… So I emailed Bruce again DEMANDING (asking for) answers…
These are the questions and answers we did…
Q. Why Brentingby? What does the name mean?
A. Brentingby is a little hamlet in Melton Mowbray. With provenance being important to me what better testament than to name the gin after the little hamlet it’s made in and where the distillery and I live. Brentingby has a rich history and if you Google it and look at the old polo fields where Her Majesty used to play polo (or watch it), there are images of the old parasols and people drinking what, one can only assume is, gin. This is where the idea sprung to mind and helped create the gin. I am, by virtue, a symbolic person and every aspect of the brand has some symbolic connection. From the hibiscus on the logo to represent the Hibiscus Coast (Durban, South Africa), tropical birds as this is something I did as a kid to earn money from My grandfather. He wanted me to remember as many birds as I could from all over the world. The name of the gin is the location of the gin and where the distillery is, the copper colour on the bottle to represent the copper still. All these things combined resonate with me and allow me to tell my story with imagery instead of words.
Q. When and how did Brentingby come about?
A. I was sitting offshore in West Africa when the idea was born late 2016 and trained for 2 years while researching and developing until we got the licenses, the main still arrived and had the green light to move forward… Believe me its not easy, there is so much to go through and so many consultants who charge a lot of money. I opted to go alone for the most part. However, they know their stuff and, in truth, can save you time and money. The process in itself is costly and added to the consultant’s fee it adds up. There are my two go to people in the industry, they know who they are and they keep me right. I am forever grateful to them and will always be grateful. Getting Tom’s time and learning from him is the best thing that happened… He has forgotten more than I know. I learn better by being practical and having Tom there to show you and guide you is worth more than anything to me. I have a long journey to go and will continue to grow with the brand and the gin. It’s a fantastic industry to be in and one we will continue in. Its amazing to meet so many nice people and new brands.
Q. Why make gin?
This is an interesting one. I have always loved gin and it brought back memories of my mom who loved gin. The image of her sitting tanning by the pool in South Africa will sit with me forever. She passed when I was 13. I am not one for a sob story and there is a lot more to Brentingby than meets the eye… However I don’t want sympathy. I want people to be happy and come together to be social to enjoy the liquid and make memories that will last a lifetime. As well as there being the gin craze, which also played a part, it’s the combination of it all coming together to form the “birth” of our gin… Plus Tom Nichol as a master distiller is amazing… You know I could write pages of sob stories and look to pull at heart strings but that’s not me. I am a positive person and when drinking gin it’s best in good company and normally enjoyed socially which, for me, is the key. Gin is complex and to make gin is easy… However to make a great gin is very difficult and I love the idea of trying to do something challenging and difficult. When we started out we wanted to create the best gin we could.
Photo credit Sean Graham
Q. How did you meet Tom Nichol and what was the best piece of advice he gave you?
A. I approached Tom through linkedin, a great place to network. I sent him a message and then waited. As a professional he was sceptical however with persistence and drawings of what I wanted to achieve I think as a distiller I hit the spot. Soon after, many chats, he was on a plane from Scotland to Brentingby, and so the journey began. Tom’s knowledge is second to . He is truly a master distiller by the very meaning of the word. As the journey went on I started to grow and learn from him and I absorbed as much as I could. I still make mistakes which is all part of the learning curve, however I was never going to allow a sub standard product out the door and a few things gave Tom confidence in my ability and where I wanted to go. He made me work hard to understand the process, the botanicals and getting the balance right. Nothing was handed over on a platter. I had to dig deep to work at it before Tom would assist, which is a great way to learn. Some of the best advice he has given me? Stay calm , think it through and work methodically. You will make mistakes however, you will not forget these mistakes and work as hard as you can for as long as you can.
Q. How long did it take to perfect your recipe?
I must have done over 100 distillations to get somewhere close to where I wanted then it was time to go live. In truth it was the second distillation on our 400L still that we knew it was right It’s about getting the balance right and mouth feel. As a wise man once told me “use your nose to tell you as you have so many more receptors in their than your mouth”… However, for me, its a combination of taste and smell.
Q. What made you choose the botanicals you chose?
Juniper goes in for obvious reasons. Coriander, Angelica, liquorice root, orange peel, grapefruit, hibiscus, birch bark… The standard ingredients go without saying however grapefruit because its always been an enjoyed fruit of mine. It’s refreshing and versatile I think. Hibiscus to represent where I come from, birch bark represents the woodland area near the distillery (the one used in our imagery). This combination lead to the creation of Brentingby Gin… A beautiful and versatile gin while maintaining the true definition by being juniper forward and allowing the lovely flavours coming through.
Q. How are you able to use hibiscus without it colouring the liquid?
A. Hibiscus is put in with all the botanicals into the pot, the distillate comes off clear bringing vapours. These are condensed and, in essence are colourless. Much like juniper and the other botanicals out there the colour will come if you do a steep afterwards or use a different process. Much like whisky which comes off clear and is then aged in barrels to give it colour, flavour and so on ……….I don’t want to give away too much info as some stays in house!
Q. What method of distillation do you use?
A. We use a single shot process. Everything goes into the still and we then collect the distillate. We get approx 500 bottles per batch, there are many ways, I happen to like this process and feel comfortable with it.
Q. How long does it take to create each batch of Brentingby and how many bottles come from each?
A. This is a great question. We are a fully distilled gin, one batch at a time, creating about 500 bottles per distillation. The distillation is relatively quick in the grand scheme of things however each batch is rested to allow the botanicals to combine and open up before being bottled. I won’t give away all the distillers tricks and tips but each batch is carefully and lovingly produced and rested to bring out the best for the consumers enjoyment.
Q. That bottle design… Why did you choose copper? Is it to do with the still?
A. Very much so. It is mainly to represent the copper. I have been led to believe copper is considered the best material for distilling and softens the alcohol so allow a smooth taste… I believe it is to do with a chemical reaction… I’m not qualified to confirm this but I am sure there are scientists who will.
Photo credit Sean Graham
Q. You designed Ayanda (the Brentingby still) yourself… How did you go about that? What were you looking for in your still?
A. I will not mention the names however there are many people I am grateful to for their input, they know who they are. I needed a still that would be versatile, that could create the grain to glass I wanted to achieve (work in progress… Don’t ask) and have as much copper surface as possible to ensure a smooth quality product. I wanted to have a column with a pot still and basket to be able to create subtle gins and our standard London dry.
Photo credit Sean Graham
Q. Can you give me some info on the sustainable and environmentally friendly measures you take?
A. Having come from the oil and gas industry I have tried to adopt similar processes with healthy, safety and environment.
Having the wind turbine on the farm next door was a no brainer really. It generates electricity to power the steam generator which is not only sustainable but cost effective so it ticks all the boxes from a business model and sustainable drive point of view.
Sustainability is part of our ethos… We up-cycle our bottles to make lamps, vases, candles etc and even offer refills to the local area at present which reduces waste and, effectively, reuses the bottles. We also up-cycle other items in the distillery which can be seen on display in the distillery.
We try to recycle everything we can and even use the botanicals to create compost.
We have a glycol chiller to use less water. It’s a closed system so filled up once a year. So, in essence, we are powered by wind and have very little water usage. Just trying to do our bit.
We use steam to heat the still. This is fantastic as it allows us to control the temp quickly and easily to ensure a constant rate of flow for our distillate and a clean source of heat, its powered by wind and uses a small amount of water which is tank fed.
We also capture rain water to water and wash down items outside… It’s difficult in winter if it freezes however great in summer and waters our botanical patch where we currently have juniper and various other botanicals growing.
Q. What does an average day in the Brentingby distillery look like for you?
A. The average day for us is about finding the balance. Distilling normally takes place early morning or late afternoon to allow me time to reply to emails, complete orders and try find routes to market for Brentingby Gin. Having our own distillery is wonderful but very time consuming. Its about being efficient and planning accordingly to execute the day. I try to bring some of the skills I have learnt in the oil and gas industry and utilise them in the business. Its tough trying to distill, get on the road to sell the product, clean the distillery and be ready for tastings and tours. that being said its a labour of love. I give 110% to what I do and try keep focused, its difficult trying to get people to try the gin and to grow consumer awareness but a journey I am enjoying and love meeting new people.
Q. If you weren’t distilling gin what do you think you’d be doing?
A. This is an interesting question. I love working with my hands and being social, however I think I would still be in the oil and gas game. This is a tough industry as time is money and there is not much room for error without severe costs. There has always been a burning desire to work for myself and at least try something on my own, if you don’t try you will never know I guess.
Q. What is your recommended serve for Brentingby (gin to tonic ratio and garnish)?
A. Recommended serve – Its difficult as we are all different. I do like to suggest a double measure with lots of ice and 150ml tonic. I like to try establish the pallet I am serving and garnish with Grapefruit and rosemary. If that garnish didn’t suit I would do the same ratio with lime and thyme or rosemary as some people don’t like grapefruit.
Q. How do you drink your gin?
A. I have various options. I like it neat with ice. I like to get the full botanical flavour. As a G&T I will pour a stiff double (more likely 60ml gin and then add tonic… Probably about 150ml tonic with a wedge of grapefruit and rosemary and lots of ice. This gives and all round sensory experience on the nose and pallet.
Q. What’s next for Brentingby?
A. Whats next ? Well upwards and onwards. We are only 7 months old and continue to try grow in the already saturated market, finding route to markets to be able to deliver Brentingby Gin in as many bars as possible. This is the toughest part – securing distribution and getting access to the on trade is difficult. We have been fortunate to work with some great distribution companies and buyers who have allowed us the opportunity to get Brentingby Gin out there. Its having the patience and dedication to knock doors and grow awareness and do the tastings to allow people to make up their own minds. We are all different and have different pallets.
We have some interesting developments coming and it’s a case of “watch this space”.
Q. And finally… Cant you sum up Brentingby both as a brand and what it means to you?
A. This is a tough question. Its everything to me. Its my life. Its a journey from business to pleasure and by that I mean when I am distilling this is the fun part and interesting part, then there is the business aspect… Time to be serious, review strategies and work to find route to market. Its tough being the distiller, marketing team and be on the ground knocking doors. Its about finding balance and planning and to execute with efficiency.
I truly created Brentingby gin to be the best gin we could be and to be enjoyed socially. I love a good party and, I am sure some in the industry will agree, I am a very social out going person and I want the gin to be all that and more.
One has to be versatile, flexible and prepared to work long hours. Its the love for the brand and the passion that keeps me fuelled. Reading reviews and hearing the kind feedback is truly heart warming. I don’t think everyone fully appreciates the time and effort we put into every bottle of Brentingby Gin. I am not the only one doing it… There are others but I think this shows in the product. Its a labour of love and trying to put everything in your life on hold to grow the brand is what is so important. I have people behind me who give me strength and believe in me. I am not always right but I give 110% in what I do and I am a big believer in truth and transparency. If I make a mistake I will own it and apologise, this brings closure and allows us to move forward .
There is a great saying I once heard during an interview. The interviewee picked up the glass and started pouring water into it as it started to over flow the interviewer pointed out that its overflowing, the interviewee replied “I always give 110%”.
This is so true… If you work 12hrs a day 7 days a week you can accomplish a lot more than in 8 hours a day for 5 days a week. Its what you put in that you get out. You don’t always get what you want but that said you have to be persistent and believe in yourself. The toughest part is route to market as its a chicken and egg theory.
So that was everything I thought to ask… I hope you now know everything about Brentingby that you wanted to know… Plus some extra little bits that were interesting to read.
I wanted to thank Bruce for his time and Sean Graham for the use of his wonderful photos.
I hope you enjoyed reading this (course you did)… It might be something I’ll try and do more regularly if distillers etc are interested in taking part… And of course people are interested in reading them!
I hope you appreciate this being online tonight as I am away being treated for an injury and its a VERY full schedule… I still managed to squeeze in getting this pieced together and posted… That’s how much you mean to me!