Author Terry Kitto interviews Cheshire Botanicals Founder Holly Challinor about Nantwich Gin and the tale behind the family's inspiration.
Terry's debut novel will be available as a paperback and eBook from July 30th 2021. To find out more, please visit: www.terrykitto.com.
Terry: Today I'm chatting virtually with Holly Challinor, Founder and Director at Cheshire Botanicals. Since the family-run company launched their debut London Dry Nantwich Gin in November 2020, they have gone on to win a silver medal at the London Spirits Competition and have featured in GQ Magazine. Such achievements are even more impressive when one considers that the first batch was launched in the throws of lockdown! So Holly, whilst I'm sipping on a double Nantwich Gin G&T - with ice and Fever Tree's Aromatic Tonic, I might add - I just have to start by asking:
What kept you resilient during Covid-19, and do you have any tips for new businesses that are worried about the after effects of the pandemic?
Holly: Covid-19 was, and still is, an exceptionally stressful time for many small businesses, and several delays definitely affected our plans on the run-up to releasing Nantwich Gin. However, we weren't about to let that stop us - locals surely needed a pick-me-up, and we didn't want to hold back the release of the gin after the hype started to build across social media.
As for concern around the after effects, I really think that research is key if you're starting a new business. We had to adapt our ideas to accommodate for the various lockdown rules, and plan ahead to be flexible in these changing times. Our initial plans were to work with local businesses and stockists as we launched, but most of the outlets were temporarily closed at the time. A majority of our focus shifted to customer sales, which I'm very thankful for now. We've built up such a lovely base of connections this way and received fantastic feedback on the gin.
I also think it's so important to highlight the stories and inspiration behind your work, whether mid-pandemic or not! This is what helps you to stand out in potentially saturated markets. Looking at Nantwich Gin as an example, it's not just the town itself that's part of the story, it's the personal links to our family, too. For me, the gin has always been a tribute to my Grandma - if it wasn't for her, this business and product might not have existed: the floral aromas and flavours in the gin were inspired by walks with her through Nantwich and seeing all the flowers on display.
I've found that supporters of the gin have loved hearing about the personal side to the project, as this helps them to know who they're supporting by buying or even simply sharing our posts on social media.
Terry: So, what inspired you to start a gin company in the first place?
Holly: Well, the idea sparked quite a few years ago. I remember the "gin boom" that really started to kick-off around 2013. This got myself and my family interested in these brand new craft gins that were popping up everywhere. Suddenly, there were so many different flavours and new products to try.
When I returned home from university, the whimsical fantasy of 'hey, why don't we try making our own gin?!' started to become a reality.
The idea of creating Nantwich Gin came from the love myself and my family has for our local town, where my Dad was born and raised and where I hold many happy memories of visiting with my late Grandma, exploring the floral displays of Nantwich in Bloom. So it felt natural to create a product in honour of Nantwich, and its stories past and present.
I started researching, built Cheshire Botanicals with advice and guidance from my parents and invested in a small still. I started playing around with recipes and initially created some questionable flavour profiles...! But six months of trials and continuous learning later, we settled on the recipe for Nantwich Gin.
We launched our first gin to market in late November and we've received such lovely feedback since! The gin was also awarded a silver medal and a highly commended award in our first ever spirits competitions - and we're absolutely over the moon with the judges' comments.
Terry: What was your process for creating the recipe for Nantwich Gin? Did you have a certain flavour combination in mind before you started?
Holly: The recipe began with a metric tonne of research, combined with several distilling courses and a pinch of inspiration from 16th century botanist John Gerard!
I've always wanted Nantwich Gin to have that floral aroma and palate with some herbaceous elements. Research and my Dad's knowledge of Nantwich led us to Nantwich-born John Gerard, who was rumoured to be royal herbalist to King James I. He also penned 'Herball', considered as the book on plants and botany at the time, and developed a large garden in the suburb of Holborn, London.
With these inspirations and the nearby Nantwich Walled Garden in mind, we aimed for floral and herbal notes amongst traditional juniper whilst developing the recipe. We also worked hard to balance a lingering warmth in the finish from pink pepper corns, amongst prominent cardamom.
Terry: Nantwich Gin is now an official partner of Fever Tree Tonic. What is it about their products that pair so well with Nantwich Gin?
Holly: We've always been huge lovers of Fever Tree, so during our recipe trials we often mixed samples with Fever Tree's Original Premium Tonic to see how the flavour profile developed.
I'd always recommend trying a gin neat first, then over ice, perhaps with water and then with tonic. Each element brings out various botanicals, and the results can be so interesting.
I personally find that Fever Tree Original is one of the least "invasive" tonics - by this I mean that, at least for me, the tonic doesn't overpower the rest of the flavour that the gin has to offer.
Terry: Your fantastic label design was created by local artist Jiri Borsky. How did that collaboration come about, and were you aware of his work before getting started?
Holly: My parents have been big supporters of Jiri Borsky's art for a while and as I grew up, I learnt to appreciate fine art through his paintings around the house. We reached out to Jiri during the development of Nantwich Gin, who kindly agreed to design our label. Based in Stoke, Jiri really isn't far from Nantwich and knows the architecture of the town well, but we sent several photos of the most well known and classic structures in Nantwich for reference. Jiri fused together various elements of Nantwich and included several 'N' shapes within the black timber shapes, to create the unique label seen today.
We've received a lot of feedback from locals who love the label, and even some who have bought a bottle just to have on display. Others have fed back that they keep their bottles for decoration and some have transformed them into pieces such as vases and even lamps! It's so lovely to see the bottle that we worked hard to bring together, being up-cycled and loved in somebody's home!
Terry: You're also developing a creative way to recycle old Nantwich Gin bottles. Can you tell us about it?
Holly: Well, we wanted them to be decorative for lovers of the design, and for the non-gin drinkers out there who would like a bottle as a memento. We considered quite a few options before trying out the terrarium/kitchen herb planter idea I thought of recently. These would likely only be available at face-to-face events. We'll be providing more information on these very soon, so keep an eye on our socials for updates!
Terry: What's next for Cheshire Botanicals?
Holly: We have so many exciting things planned for the near future, but the next big project is a new flavour. We're aiming for this to be released in the autumn, and it'll be based on a significant event in history that took place in Nantwich. I can't reveal much more at this stage, so watch this space!
A big thank you to Terry for taking the time for this virtual interview! Please check out his website and social media for news and updates on his work.
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