8 June 2019

Thundry Hills Gin

Thundry Hills Gin

Not far west of Godalming, I pass through the historic village of Elstead and cross the River Wey to meet Neil Redit, Head Distiller and Co-director of Elstead Village Distillers. Escaping the drizzly weather, our setting for the interview is a cottage in the midst of renovation, sited on the five-hundred year old Thundry Farm. The distillery is located here too, quite literally around the corner, in a converted stable block.

"I moved into the cottage three years ago and it was in pretty bad condition," begins Neil, "It was falling to bits everywhere. So I was doing it up as I could afford it, and in the meantime I was helping Paul and Christine Shubrook, who own the farm. They were very grateful and wanted to contribute."

Neil explains he declined monetary contributions to assist with the renovations, so Paul and Christine instead bought him shares in the local cider company, whose director informed them they were exploring the idea of producing their own gin, having about Neil's interest in the process. Months later, however, little progress had been made at the cider company, so Neil and Paul teamed up to make their own spirit.

"Paul and I went on a gin experience to the City of London Distillers," Neil continues. "We made a couple of gins, brought them home, gave them to people, and people liked them. We then ordered some more gin, because they make it to your recipe. We handed them out and around to lots of different people, and everyone said they were really lovely. So we thought, hmmm, maybe we've got something here. We went to a gin festival in London's Tobacco Dock, tried lots of different gins and thought ours isn't too bad, we don't think. And we decided to go for it."

Thundry Hills Gin

Neil and Paul set up the company in August 2017, initially under the name of Surrey Hills Gin, which seemed fitting considering their charming location. But a last-minute trademark dispute with the agent of a well-known gin company saw the pair having to rebrand their product in the final four days before their official launch.

"That meant we had to ditch around £3,000 worth of merchandise and labels," says Neil. "All the stops were pulled out, because we were launching. Our designer worked overnight and through the weekend to get our new labels sorted. We decided to call it Thundry Hills Gin, which I think is actually better, and we launched in February of last year, once all the licensing and everything were in place."

"And that's how we've been going," he continues. "We have two forty-litre stills, we produce about fifty bottles at a time. We bottle, label, brand and seal every single bottle here at the farm. And we hand deliver everything. I think we're in about forty to fifty pubs, and probably eight to nine retail outlets. Mainly local, but there are some anomalies – there's a pub in the city of York that's got it."

Thundry Hills Gin

Thundry Hills fits the description of small-batch gin, but that doesn't mean Neil and Paul's aspirations are small too. The duo launched the company with not one, but two gins, which are the base recipes they formulated in London, and have since produced a third for their permanent collection, plus a fourth seasonal edition. Each gin comes in a clear bottle with a distinctive, colour-coded label featuring the batch and bottle numbers, Elstead Village Distillers logo, and artwork of the local wildlife.

Sanctuary Gin is Neil's recipe, dressed in a white and light blue label with a pheasant graphic. Neil reveals the name and choice of animal were inspired by Thundry Meadow accross the road, which is a bird sanctuary. "The gin itself is more of a traditional gin," he explains. "It's 43% ABV, it's very high in juniper and it's got a little twist of black pepper in it. So it tends to hark back to the old fashioned gins of yesteryear. Because the juniper content is very high, and juniper can be very citrussy and quite warming, you get lemony flavours. I like it just with plain tonic; it doesn't have to be a fancy tonic, as long as it's a reasonable quality. I normally go for a low sugar tonic as well - I don't mind the alcohol, just the sugar!"

Wrapped in a white and red label with a hare motif, Original Gin is Paul's recipe, although the name is misnomer in that both Original and Sanctuary editions were conceived and launched at the same time. The intended name was to be Thundry Gin, but having changed the name of the whole range to Thundry Hills Gin, Paul's recipe was renamed Original. "We couldn't have Thundry Hills Thundry Gin," Neil clairifies. "So that's why it's swapped around, but what's in a name, eh?"

"Original has less juniper, caraway seed, and a very small amount of sweet orange peel that goes in the still with it, just to give it a slightly different edge than Sanctuary. It's smooth, I like it neat over ice, or again with a plain tonic. We've done cocktails with Original, because it lends itself quite nicely. We have one with Cointreau and another with Creme de Melon, and we did those last summer."

Thundry Hills Gin

The third edition is called PM Gin, which stands for pear and mango, and whose name inspired a dark blue label featuring a barn owl. Although intended as a seasonal summertime edition, its popularity encouraged Neil and Paul to continue its production indefinitely. Unusually for a fruit-based gin, the liquid is clear, and yet the the flavour is beautiful - certainly my favourite of the three - without the tartness or overpowering fruitiness you might get from certain commercial brands.

"We differ slightly from some distillers that produce fruit gin," Neil goes onto explain. "If you go into a supermarket and buy a fruit gin, it'll normally have a colour, it'll normally be pink or red or whatever. And that's because what they do is they produce a base gin, then they tip fruit juice into it. That sort of compounding or blending, we don't do any of that. Our gins are classed as London Dry, which as you probably know are done in one-shot distillation, so nothing is added afterwards except spring water. And our fruit gin is no different. Everything goes into the still, it's distilled in one go. The distillate is collected and watered down, and that's what we drink. That's why our PM Gin is crystal clear, it looks like water. And it has a very distinctive fruity flavour."

The fourth gin was produced specifically for Christmas last year, and features a cream-coloured label with a prancing deer. "We called it Michaelmas, and it was basically Christmas spices in a bottle," says Neil. "And it was quite popular, so we'll probably bring that out again next Christmas." Given all the gins are sold in 20cl bottles as well as the standard 70cl, there's no denying they would make an excellent stocking filler.

Thundry Hills Gin

Beyond the production, however, Neil is keen to explore more events, having already hosted customers at the farm on special open days, a gin tasting at The Woolpack in Elstead, and a supper evening at The Swan Inn in nearby Chiddingfold. There's even an interest in making a fruity sorbet from the PM Gin, the sound of which makes me salivate.

"Made from PM Gin, but I might have to put a bit of pear and mango with it," describes Neil. "If you have PM over ice in the garden, in the summertime, it's quite dangerous, because you turn around and find you've just sipped the lot, so you pour another one, and by evening you're completely whackered." Please drink responsiby, I think is the message there.

Going forward, Neil respects the main challenge is getting the name out - made all the harder when his time is also split between his full-time profession and refurbishing the cottage. Towards the end of our interview, we discussed the potential of social media; and indeed an image on Instagram can be influential in pushing sales, perhaps more so than my few words on this blog. But for small-batch distillers such as Neil and Paul, whose business runs on passion as much as profit, I believe true success lies in physically introducing the product to as many people as possible, then let the customers share the news of their new favourite tipples.

Therefore on this World Gin Day, I implore you all to explore your local gins as I have done. Try a sample, buy a bottle, and perhaps even recommend a couple to your friends and family. You'll be promoting an independent business, and you'll have a delicious something-something to sip on. It's as easy as that.

All three editions of Thundry Hills Gin are available to purchase through the Elstead Village Distillers website, or you can locate a bar in which to try it first. And since you're here, you can read my previous interviews with the equally independent Sandhills Distillery and Distillers of Surrey by clicking on their names.

Thundry Hills Gin

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