MEET THE SUPPLIER: MAIDSTONE DISTILLERY
Written by: Amie Poole
When husband-and-wife team Darren and Samantha Graves discovered their hometown of Maidstone's secret history as a hub of the gin-producing world, they were inspired to create their own.
• What did you do before creating Maidstone Distillery?
We are both spirits enthusiasts. Darren has been making spirits albeit on a small scale for many years. Darren previously served as a Captain in the Army and Sam as a Project Manager. We live in Bearsted on the edge of Maidstone and when we discovered the significant but largely forgotten history of distilling in Kent’s county town we felt inspired to do the legacy justice. Darren teamed up with Master Distiller Gerard Evans to create the three spirits that would relaunch the Maidstone Distillery. We have two exciting spirits that we hope to launch later this year as well as embarking on our journey to make Whisky, which will be a personal dream come true for Darren.
• What's the inspiration behind your gins?
We want to create awards winning spirits that taste amazing and with distinct flavour profiles that stand out from the crowd. Each of our spirits have a narrative or story behind them which has helped inspire the taste. We currently have two distinct gins; our first signature spirit is named after George Bishop, the founding father of Maidstone Distillery from 1785. This fascinating man pioneered the start of a professionalised gin distilling industry to create a spirit which was renowned for being one of the finest gins throughout all of Europe. Inspired by this legacy, our George Bishop London Dry Gin is complex, distinctly smooth with a great balance of spice, citrus and floral notes.
Our second spirit is Ranscombe Wild Small Batch Gin, distilled from botanicals foraged sustainably within 10 miles of the distillery. It is a reflection of the important flora around us all and for every bottle sold we donate £1 to our charity partners Plantlife, Europe’s largest wild plant charity, and their important conservation work. We hope to launch a third gin later this year which will have an altogether different story and flavour expression, we can’t wait to share it.
• Can you tell us more about the distillation process and botanicals you use?
We source all of our own ingredients and use our beautiful 450 litre traditional copper still to create our spirits. Our craft is truly artisan and has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. Both our gins are created in the single shot method and nothing is added to the spirit once it comes from the still other than pure Kentish water. The distinct flavour of our gins is created through the distillation process alone with no additives. We use a specialist method of vapour infusion for our Ranscombe wild gin whereby the more delicate botanicals are placed into a special part of the still called a Carter Head. Even our Sharp's Toffee Liqueur starts its life in our copper still with a distillation of 6 specially selected botanicals.
• What can visitors experience if they visit the distillery for a tour/tasting?
Our distillery is a truly immersive experience where we place visitors at the centre of our craft. You can see our spirit still and equipment up close as well as meet the people who help create our spirits. We are located in the historic Market Buildings of Kent's county town with its 200 year old arches and high ceilings. On site we have an experience room where visitors can learn of Maidstone’s 250 year old distilling heritage, smell and handle botanicals that we use as well as completing a tutored tasting of two of our gins at our bar. For those drinks enthusiasts we also offer some very popular experiences including cocktail making and our very popular gin making classes whereby you can select from over 60 botanicals, design your own gin recipe, and operate your own miniature copper still taking home your very own 70cl bottle of spirit.
• What have been the biggest challenges/achievements with Maidstone?
After 2 years of planning we launched the Distillery in 2020 during the pandemic which was clearly a challenging time for us all. Frustrated but determined to do something positive we actually turned our hand and equipment to manufacturing hand sanitiser and supplied local hospitals, ambulance crews and rail networks. Some of our most memorable achievements include several notable international awards for excellence for our spirits. Of note more locally our signature Spirit George Bishop London Dry Gin being crowned Kent spirit of the Year. Kent has a vibrant drinks scene and over 20 spirits were nominated by the general public before an expert panel chose George Bishop as the winner. We are also delighted to have become a Visit England accredited attraction with 5 star rated reviews.
• How would you describe your gins in 3 words?
Depth, Meaning and Character.
• What’s your favourite gin cocktail?
For Darren it has to be George Bishop London Dry Gin served in our Sunset Negroni with Aperol and Lillet Blanc vermouth - simply delicious! For the cocktail enthusiasts Sam recommends a Kentish Garden, our take on a mojito, made with Ranscombe Wild Small Batch Gin, elderflower liqueur, local honey, fresh mint, lime and soda water.
Many thanks to Sam and Darren - we'll be offering samples of Maidstone's delicious gins on Thursday 14th April and 19th May in Faversham and 14th May in Tunbridge Wells. See you there!