Kingston Distiller’s Neil Beckett – In conversation
Posted on November 24 2015
Customers visiting The Good Wine Shop rarely lack “ginspiration” as we have over twenty different types on our shelves. These come from as far away as the Black Forest, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and even Yorkshire (the home of Andy, our Chiswick Manager and spirits buyer)! Closer to our shops, just down the river, is Kingston Distillers. Founder, Neil Beckett, who gave his name to their gin, dropped by for a chat…
How did you get started with distilling?
Well, some less charitable friends declared it to be a midlife crisis but I think it was more down to a desire to develop a really good gin, something refreshing and bittersweet but also really smooth.
Your London Dry Gin is called type 1097. How long did it take you to come up with type 1097? Were there another 1096 mixes?
Getting it right took a while! The 1 refers to our first ever gin and the 097 refers to the recipe number so it was a long process but we managed to keep it under a hundred!
What makes Becketts special?
I wanted to create a classic gin, nothing too left-field but at the same time it needed to have something distinctive. I think I’ve managed to develop a really appealing gin that’s both crisp and refreshing but also very smooth, which is almost a contradiction and unfortunately rare.
A couple of the botanicals are pretty special. We add mint which we grow here; it seems to combine with juniper very nicely, giving it that cool pine flavour. But most special of all is our use of English juniper berries from Box Hill. Most other gins source their juniper exclusively overseas so it is wonderful for us to be able to pick them ourselves just down the road at such a beautiful location.
Using English juniper is obviously important to you…tell us about your involvement in its conservation
Well, to pick the juniper from Box Hill we needed to obtain the consent of Natural England and the National Trust. Permission is required as juniper is increasingly rare in England and is therefore a priority species for conservation. Yet it is indigenous to England, you only have to look at the number of places with juniper in their name to realise that it didn’t use to be so rare. A walk up to Juniper Top in Surrey reveals no juniper so we are undertaking a long term conservation project to re-introduce juniper to this area from seed. However, it has become very apparent to me why juniper has become so rare. It is the panda of plants, seemingly having little interest in reproduction! Hence this is proving to be a long process!
How do feel about the tide of new gins coming on to the market?
I try not to pay too much attention, ignorance is bliss!
Those new gins seem to have an ever more extensive list of botanicals in them – you’ve adopted a less is more approach – why?
I wanted to create a beautifully balanced classic gin with a couple of special elements that would make the perfect G&T and would also work neat. The star of any gin has to be juniper which combines perfectly with the mint. Then we have two wonderfully balanced citruses (lime and sweet orange peel) and you’re just about done.
So it’s a singular gin without too many confusing or competing flavours, which I think is what makes it so refreshing, literally and metaphorically! And because the gin is simple it makes a perfect base for you or your bartender to experiment with adding other flavours, comfortable that you won’t have a battle on your hands with an overpowering gin botanical.
Apart form Becketts which other gins do you like to drink?
As I say, I don’t tend to try many other gins though I like the clean and refreshing gins from Williams Chase and enjoy the odd Pinkster.
Until recently, Beckett’s London Dry Gin had been your only product…but you’ve just released a limited edition sloe gin – how did that come about?
As soon as we had devised our London dry gin recipe I was absolutely convinced it would make a fantastic sloe gin. So, it was always going to be our second product. I really like sloe gin, particularly at this time of year, and I’m really proud of ours.
What’s next for Beckett’s – can you give us a sneak peek into 2016?
Well, we shall shortly be adding a Cocktail section to our website. We have asked some of the best bartenders in London to develop cocktails using Beckett’s and will be publishing their fantastic recipes so anyone can try making them. I haven’t yet decided what to develop next year though there are a couple of fantastic ideas in the pipeline!
Finally, what’s your favourite way to enjoy your London Dry and the sloe gin?
Well, the London Dry would be as a G&T – 50ml of Beckett’s, 100ml of a good Indian tonic water, plenty of ice and garnished with a sprig of mint. For the sloe gin, neat!