Tarquin’s Gin, made just down the road from us at the Southwest Distillery in St Ervan, is less liquor and more perfume – a delicate, delicious perfume you’ll want to drink and drink often.
Distilled in a flame-fired copper pot called Tamara, named for the goddess of the River Tamar, Tarquin’s is the first gin to be made in Cornwall for more than 100 years.
Ginsmith Tarquin Leadbetter is a craft distiller, and I say that as someone who does not use the C-word lightly. I’m fed up with the term ‘craft’ being bandied about all over the place and across all industries, the spirits industry included. I shudder when I hear it because so few products are genuinely worthy of the term. And I positively loathe the over-liberal application of the word artisan.
Marketers have high-jacked both these words as a lazy way of attributing value to what otherwise might be a fairly standard, disposable product. Big brands have cottoned on to craft as a way to mislead consumers into thinking they’re a smaller, more unusual and therefore more desirable make. All of which ruins things for those of us who want to give craft credit where craft credit is due.
The Southwest Distillery is the real deal.
When Tarquin showed me round his distillery, it wasn’t just the small scale production (300 bottles a batch to be precise) that had me thinking genuine craft. Nor was it the fact that he includes the apostrophe in his Tarquin’s Gin logo, although it is greatly appreciated
Nor was it the hand-made aspect and attention to detail. Yes, every bottle of Tarquin’s Gin is hand-filled, hand-labelled, hand-waxed and hand-signed by Tarquin’s own hand. Well, actually, his mum Joanna helps him out with the labelling because her handwriting’s prettier than his, he says.
But cynic that I am, I might well have wondered if all this was just clever gimmickry, if it wasn’t for the way Tarquin talked about it all.
He took me through the distilling process from start to finish, something he’s probably had to do hundreds of times since getting the family-run business going in July last year. Yet he explained it all with such, dare I say it, genuine passion (another one of those words marketers like to bandy about).
He’s also had to draw on plenty of patience and faith on his journey from emerging market analyst to bar tender to ginsmith.
“I studied politics and economics at university and got a job in London as an emerging markets analyst but it didn’t take me long to figure out that it wasn’t for me.
“I’d done a cordon bleu cookery course, and was drawn to doing something in food and drink, something I could do on my own. My initial plan was to open a restaurant, and while I was getting my business plan together, I took a job working behind a bar.
“That’s where my enthusiasm for craft drink really developed.
“Craft spirits started to pop up but they were still pretty rare. Look behind any bar and you’ll find that about 90% of the products are owned by just four companies and there are very, very few craft produced or local spirits.
“That’s when I realised that it was possible that I could make my own, and that I wanted to do that more than I wanted to open a restaurant.
“It took me 18 months from start to finish to produce my first bottle of gin.
“What drew me to gin is that it has such a loose definition, so you can be creative as long as you make sure the juniper is in there. So you can really create something unique.”
Tarquin started on a mini distiller, working his way through 50 different ingredients to figure out which flavours work.
“I had to build up a memory bank of flavours and really come to understand the ingredients. I started out trying lots of really exotic and unusual ingredients like pink pepper, curacao oranges and cacao.
“Everything and anything.
“After all that experimenting, I was drawn back in a more traditional direction.
“I made more than 100 batches before I began to know what I was doing and what I wanted to achieve. Then I started building the flavour. I had plenty of ups and downs.
“There were plenty of times when I had to ask myself what the hell I was doing.
“It was a gamble.”
He finally settled on his recipe:
- Juniper berries from Kosovo
- Coriander seeds from Bulgaria
- Fresh lemon zest
- Fresh orange zest
- Fresh grapefruit zest
- Orris root from Morocco
- Angelica root from Poland
- Liquorice root from Uzbekistan
- Green cardamom from Guatemala
- Cinnamon from Madagascar
- Bitter almonds from Morocco
- Devon violets from Tarquin’s garden.