Downton Distillery is the home of Explorer’s Gin, a handcrafted London-dry gin made in the heart of Wiltshire. We spoke to Founder Hugh Anderson to find out more about the brand and how the business has navigated its way through 2020…
How did you get into ginsmithing?
The ember was sown when I took Meike (my partner) to a gin making course at the City of London Distillery for her birthday. Following this, I got our first alembic still and started experimenting and learning as much as I could about the whole process.
What did you do before ginsmithing?
Originally, I served in the military before working in IT across various industries.
Where did your passion for gin come from?
I had a great uncle who was a Master Brewer and Distiller. He would often appear at my Grandmother’s with his latest concoctions and I was fascinated by how this alchemy worked. My career took a different path, but my interest in all things gin was vigorously reignited by the course at the City of London Distillery. What I enjoy about the subject is the whole experience, the history, how different flavours work together and the types of distilling that can be done.
What’s special about Explorer’s Gin?
Our unique botanical is Western Red Cedar, which came back from America in 1852. The native Indians called it the ‘Tree of Life,’ as they used it for medicine, cooking, tea, clothing and to build their sea canoes. Ours grows in the distillery garden and is freshly cut before every distillation.
Also, our beautiful bottle tells the story of the ‘Golden Era of Discovery,’ where Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh established new global trading routes.
Tell us more about your business journey and the creation of your brand
The journey involved (and still does!) working 24/7. I would strongly suggest to anyone wanting to do this to find themselves a mentor. I was fortunate as I had two excellent mentors that I could talk to and refer to if needed.
If you can answer the question: “Why should the customer care about your brand and what makes you different within a crowded market,” then you will be on the road to a good start.
The brand talks of nostalgia, history and adventure. Are these personal passions?
History and adventure are both very important to us. Travelling, being curious about other cultures and being open to the world is ingrained in our DNA.
What are your aspirations for Downton Distillery?
One of my core objectives is to make the business sustainable while also becoming ‘B Corp Certified,’ which means that the business balances its purpose and impact on both customers, suppliers, community and the environment.
Tell us about ‘reuse and refill’
We have introduced a refill service at Downton Brewery, where customers can refill their gin bottles for a cheaper price than if they purchased a new bottle.
By taking this action we have reduced the number of bottles heading to landfill and customers are saving themselves money.
How did you adapt during 2020?
As Covid-19 started to hit the headlines those within the distilling sector began asking how we could legally make hand sanitiser without paying the ‘excise duty’ on it (alcohol tax). Lobbying was done through the British Distillers Alliance with HMRC finally allowing us to step up towards the end of March. Since then, the distillery has been sending sanitiser to those on the front lines.
During the initial lockdown, a group of volunteers ran hand sanitiser points within their local communities in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and London. People were able to take 100ml of hand sanitiser for their homes, all we asked for was a small donation to cover the base costs.
Are you offering anything special for Christmas?
We partnered this year with Virgin Wines producing a 50ml bottle for their Advent Calendar.
Rather than using our standard Downton Logo, I wanted to reflect the happenings of this year. The design has written within the logo “2020 has been tough and full of lessons for us all. Here is to kinder and more harmonious times ahead.”
How is Explorer’s best enjoyed?
Explorer’s Gin is very versatile. I suggest pairing it with a premium Indian tonic water like Double Dutch as this allows the botanicals to shine through. As for garnishes, use some grapefruit or orange peel. It makes a wonderful Negroni, Martini or Southside. The recipes are on the website.
What are you most proud of so far?
Within our first six months, we were awarded the Bursary at Junipalooza by Gin Foundry, which was a huge honour. We were then awarded a Master’s Medal at the Spirit Masters 2019. Since then Explorer’s Gin has won many international accolades for both its design and flavour.
We also won on Theo Paphitis #SBS Small Business Sunday, which was amazing!
What’s next for Downton Distillery?
Current circumstances have thrown a spanner into our plans and I know we are not the only distillery that has been impacted. I hope that everyone gets through this and can pick up the pieces on the other side and continue with what they were wanting to do.
Where is Explorer’s Gin currently stocked?
Explorer’s can be found on our website www.downtondistillery.com or at a number of small independent wine shops in Wiltshire and in London.