Wharf Distillery New Town Blackberry & Winter Spice Gin Liqueur
Philip Day reviews Wharf Distillery New Town Blackberry & Winter Spice Gin Liqueur. In this feature, he discusses the brand’s history and provides his tasting notes on this gin liqueur from Northamptonshire.
With its roots firmly planted in the gorgeous Northamptonshire countryside, Wharf Distillery is a small-batch, copper-pot distillery that specialises in crafting a diverse range of spirits that include, apple brandy, brandy, whisky and gins, in addition to a small range of liqueurs and aperitifs.
Gin isn’t just for Christmas. It’s the perfect comforting or celebratory drink, ideal for these dark, dank cold nights, particularly if is a mix of warming winter spices with rich fruity notes. Just what’s needed to get anyone through the current situation. Crafting the perfect gin takes time, patience and a sprinkling of innovation.
Wharf Distillery believes they’ve mastered all three of these aspects and have recently launched their first gin liqueur.
New Town Blackberry & Winter Spice Gin Liqueur (20% ABV) – their gorgeous new blend – is the stunning result of all these creative, meticulous and artisan methods. Laurence Conisbee, who founded Wharf Distillery in 2014, has a lot to say about the brand new wintery creation, based around the following winter spices: Cinnamon, Orange, Nutmeg and Ginger:
`We just wanted to do something rich, warming and a little bit different to the usual sloe gin type drink. The local blackberry gives a rich fruitiness without being too sharp or bitter. It pairs great with ginger ale, or a large shot in a prosecco and would be a great way to kick off the New Year. Based on our classic London dry gin base, we utilised a tried and tested spice recipe that we’ve been using with huge success for the past 8 years.’
Gin Liqueurs typically carry an alcohol content of around 20-28% ABV as distillers try to create a not too sweet liqueur which is full of fresh fruity flavour.
My tasting notes: (Official sample kindly provided by Wharf Distillery)
Initially, I was concerned that the Gin Liqueur would be over-sweet, as other gin liqueurs I have tasted in the past had a tendency to be so. I was pleasantly surprised as the team at Wharf Distillery seem to have got the balance of sweetness and the sometimes inherent sharpness of the blackberries just right.
Tasting the liqueur neat over ice, the fruity notes dominate followed by the warming winter spice notes of the cinnamon, orange peel and nutmeg with the powerful undertone of ginger. If you can imagine the tastes of a fine mulled wine with a shot of gin added for good measure, that’s exactly what we have here.
I then tried it mixed with hard seltzer and the result was divine. I experimented further mixing with (alcoholic) ginger beer, which really accentuated the spicy notes, while the fruitiness helped to round off the mouthfeel and provide a pleasantly fruity aftertaste.
One thing’s for certain – Wharf Distillery’s New Town Blackberry & Winter Spice Gin will undoubtedly be topping the charts in 2021.
It’s ideal for creating your own cocktails and let’s be honest at the moment we’ve all got plenty of time to experiment in box-set chill time when we’ve finished being at work, working at home or coping with your children’s homeschooling!
Wharf Distillery is run by Laurence and Alice. Alice provides the creative force behind the partnership as well as being a tad more proficient on the admin side. No stranger to alcohol, Alice formerly ran a brewery before deciding that it was much nicer to make products that she personally enjoyed. Alice is also a whizz on the social media where her images of the distillery and products bring the company’s Instagram and Facebook pages to life.
A brief outline of the history of the distillery
In 2009 Laurence and his partner started collecting apples from the back garden and scrumping apples from manor houses and remnants of old orchards scattered in and around Milton Keynes to make traditional still cider. Initially intended for personal consumption, production exceeded expectations to the point where they decided to create a company called ‘Virtual Orchard’ to sell the excess cider.
In May 2011, their ‘Hard Core’ cider was awarded ‘Gold Medal Champion Cider of Britain’. The same year, a chance meeting with a small distillery led to the introduction of their apple brandy.
In September 2013, the decision was taken to give up their day job to make cider full time and in November 2014 they saw the purchase of their first copper pot still, named ‘Velocity’ (every still has to have a name) in order to create their own spirit. They both like to do the whole end to end process.
In 2015 they started producing malt spirit for two local breweries and in December of that year they laid down their first whisky spirit to mature in an old Madeira cask.
On January 11th 2017, Laurence and Alice opened the door to a new chapter in the history of Virtual Orchard and Wharf Distillery, purchasing and converting the farm shop at Wakefield Country Courtyard, a former dairy farm just three miles North of Milton Keynes, and a similar distance South of Towcester racecourse, just off the A5 Watling Street at Potterspury.
‘Having been a farm shop for so many years it seemed a shame not to continue selling some food items so we decided to create the distillery deli focusing on quality locally produced foods and drinks as well as other speciality foods from farther afield. At the same time we reserved some space to create the distillery tap room, to showcase our growing range of spirits, ciders and liqueurs.’
The acquisition of new stills has allowed them to increase their own production, as well as to accommodate the growing number of contract distillations.
‘The final big change during this transition was that we decided to lay our original brand ‘Virtual Orchard’ to rest in the orchard. Having served us well for many years we felt that with the distilling now taking up more of our time, that ‘Wharf Distillery’ was a much stronger identity. So Wharf Distillery is our new future, but carries with it that unbreakable link to our past, and four great years on the Galleon Wharf.’
(Their previous premises were based at Galleon Wharf, close to the Grand Union canal.)
Specialising in grain-to-glass production, the distillery uses primarily locally sourced grain, wine and cider to make its spirits. It also has created a series of collaborative partnerships over the past seven years that have included: cider using fruit from local apple growers; brandy using wine (rosé, unusually) from local winemakers; and limoncello made from waste lemons left over from a contract pressing the company did for a green juice company. Wharf Distillery doesn’t like waste. Their vodka is made from sugar beet grown in East Anglia, while the wort for its whisky spirit comes from local brewers who use English barley, which is malted and crushed locally in Milton Keynes.
They have a low carbon footprint of which they are immensely proud. All the ingredients they use are locally or ethically sourced from further afield.
Laurence outlines what makes their distillery truly different from other small-batch distillers:
‘So what makes us truly different? Many, possibly most, new micro distilleries don’t actually distil the base spirit from scratch, they buy in ethanol from industrialised distilleries and then re-distil the spirit to create their gin. At Wharf Distillery we do everything from base ingredients, so we know exactly where everything has come from and control the entire process from start to finish. We even fill the bottles and add the wax seal by hand.
Small batch distilling gives a flavour and character that cannot be matched by the large producers. We’re true artisans. Each of our spirits contains beautiful botanical blends and zests that burst with flavour, all handcrafted in our handmade Portuguese copper alembic pot stills. Whether you’re searching for the perfect after-dinner drink or a mixer for your crazy cocktail creation, our diverse range covers all areas, with each spirit being handcrafted using traditional techniques.’
Their first Wharf Distillery statement gin offering ‘SAFINE DRENC’ appeared in 2018.
Their website explains the thinking behind this iconic gin:
‘‘Safine’ is Anglo-Saxon for Juniper (‘drenc’ for drink) and this amazing fruit forms the backbone to our gin, as it should. We have then entwined some classic botanicals with some less common: lemongrass to add a touch of the orient, mystique and an element of citrus; elderflower, to add to the bouquet and a reminiscence of the English countryside; then ling heather, the essence of old England, symbol of courage and nostalgia and well-being.’
Gin production has increased dramatically with lots of mouthwatering blends available under the company’s ‘New Town’ branding.
Wharf Distillery, in addition to its own offerings, provides a bespoke contract distillation facility and offers a contract and private label service for businesses wishing to launch their own products. Most notably, the distillery has produced a gin exclusively for the world-renowned Bletchley Park – home of the codebreakers.
Most products are only available currently from the on-line shopping facility of the company website, where the company’s complete range can be viewed.
I can recommend a visit to the website to see if you can resist giving in to temptation.
Once lockdowns are a thing of the past this innovative distillery will definitely be on my ‘to visit’ list.
I will leave the last word to Laurence:
‘In December 2020 we were thrilled to be judged/voted Drinks Producer of the Year at the Circus Magazine Independent Food & Drink Awards – particularly special as initial nominations were put forward by the general public. The final decision was a mixture of a judging panel and more public voting. We are very humbled to have been given this award.’
Address (Production Facility):
Home Farm Business Park,
Whittlebury, NN12 8XS
Telephone: 01908 543344 or 07901 800182.
Kindly provided by the team at Wharf Distillery.