It’s midday on the last Saturday of September and, with summer drawing to a close, we are driving through the winding country rounds in to the picturesque town of Holmfirm.
Even though filming had wrapped up back in 2010, Holmfirth is perhaps most famous for having been the set location for the classic British sitcom ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. And as we turned the next corner, I was completely star struck as I excitedly pointed out in amazement that I had just seen the entire cast of said comedy series just standing at the side of the road as we drove past!…
My wife didn’t even look up from her phone or raise a smile. But then again, it was the seventh time I had made the same joke about a group of elderly people waiting for a bus on the pavement, and I’d been reliably informed that ‘it wasn’t funny the first time’. A little harsh I had thought, as I tried to find comfort in the fact that my 3 month old son had found it somewhat amusing from his position in the back of the car. Though I did catch him smiling at his own feet the other day, so I’m not entirely sure he’s the best judge of comedy…
But why were we heading to one of the jewels of Yorkshire’s crown on this day, you ask? Well, with the heat of 2018 draining through my fingers like grains of sand, I was desperately seeking some kind of ‘Divine’ intervention to cling on to any semblance of the buzz of summer. And as I pulled up at our destination, I looked to my right and saw an angelic glow emanating from within the building we were heading towards (though I can’t be sure it wasn’t just a reflection from the window). We were at the Divine Gin Distillery, and ‘wine’ definitely wasn’t on the menu…
As we walked towards the entrance we were greeted by the beaming smile and warm embrace of creator, distiller and all-round nice guy ‘Ray’, who I have come to term; ‘the nicest man in gin’!
I first met Ray at a gin tasting event I hosted in Wakefield in 2017, and was blown away by his enthusiasm, infectious personality & honesty. In a gin world that can, at times, so easily look to blind you with science & magic, Ray breaks down the gin making myths; ‘you switch the kettle (Still) on & catch the drips’, all charmingly described in a cheeky northern twang. ‘Making the gin is the fun & easy bit. It’s selling it that’s harder!’.
Hearty handshakes & pleasantries exchanged, I survey my surroundings. Whilst the Divine distillery and tasting room are still going through their finishing touches, and are a ‘work in progress’, it is nonetheless impressive, and a clear labour of love. Everything on display, from the back bar to the tasting bench, has been sourced and built by Ray himself, with no short cuts taken. I once made a pair of book ends in ‘Design & Technology’ at school (we agreed that’s what they could be used for anyway) but this was craftsmanship a level or two above my standards.
Ray walks us over to introduce us to ‘Francis’, an important member of the Divine family; their first ever & original still. Lovingly named after both Rays Mom (Frances) and his partner Rachel’s Dad (Francis), Ray explains that this is where the journey started, as if talking about an old friend. Weighing in at 50 litres, the team were able to knock out around 35 bottles per run, distilling twice per week in the early days.
But as my eyes drift front and centre, it’s clear to see that things have started to change somewhat… Jutting up through a hole in the floor, the ‘yet-to-be-sealed-in’ top of a 500 litre can’t help but grab the attention! Reaching all the way up from the distillery on the floor below, ‘Angel’ (fittingly named to match the Angel wing branding of Divine) is an absolute bruiser. Kicking out 300 bottles per run, from around 200 litres of neutral grain spirit, Ray currently only needs to do one run per week. But as supply eventually, and undoubtedly, will need to increase to match demand, the newest member of the team will certainly be their guardian angel, with the ability to produce 1,000 bottles a week under current capacity!
The Divine Spirit…
Divine currently have two gin offerings on the market. Their London Dry & their Raspberry edition. And as I entered full on geek mode, we couldn’t help but talk the distilling process.
There’s no smoke & mirrors here. Whilst Ray describes them as ‘pretty’, Divine don’t use a Copper Pot Still. Only essential for brands making their own base spirit, he happily and transparently admits to buying their neutral grain spirit to ensure consistency and quality of production.
But this is an expensive game, as Ray & Rachel are still working on getting bonded. Until they reach that point, they have to pay per litre of neutral grain spirit that they use. And that ain’t cheap!
Ray will happily divulge the botanicals that go in to his juniper elixirs – the only secrets he’s keeping close to his chest are the ratios and cut points used; no good magician reveals their tricks!
The London Dry
The London Dry flagship is a perfectly blended and balanced gin, that ranges from a warming and earthy spice to a vibrant citrus affair, comprising of:
. Juniper (totes obvs)
. Angelica root
. Cassia Bark
. Grains of paridise
. Cubic berries
. Orris root
. Cinnamon bark
. Orange peel
. Liquorice powder
The botanicals are popped inside a giant tea bag (Ray-ism), hung in the Still and allowed to swim in the neutral grain spirit for its 9 hour run. The resulting gin is then left to rest for a week, before local Shepley Spring Ice Valley Water is used to bottle Divines master piece at a handsome 42% ABV.
The true skill of distilling, Ray goes on to explain, is knowing when to take the cuts at the right time. Ever since visiting the Plymouth gin distillery last year, I’ve been fascinated by distillers ability to know when and where to take the cuts that discard of the sweeter tasting ‘Heads’ (in this case around 2 litres of 90% proof spirit) and the woodier tasting tails (40 litres of liquid that will eventually go back in to the Still as part of the next distillation) to be left with just the ‘Hearts’ that make the final cut.
And in true Divine style, illusion and showmanship is stripped out of the equation, replaced by heart warming honesty. ‘It’s not an exact science’ I’m informed. A multitude of factors, right down to the weather/temperature outside, will mean that you never get the same volume or ABV straight off the Still. ‘You’ve got to work with what you’ve got’ to hit the same consistently high standards of quality every time.
It took Divine 36 different recipe attempts to land on the London Dry of their dreams, as they toiled to get away from a citrus heavy gin. And once that tricky balance of citrus fruit & coriander was nailed, it turned out that lucky number 8 was to be the botanical combination that we have now come to know and love.
The Raspberry Edition
The Raspberry Edition is a distilled gin that takes its cue from its older brothers Dry Gin base.
This gorgeous red glowing addition to the range essentially sees Hereford ‘frozen from pick’ raspberries added to another ‘big tea bag’ and dropped in to the still with the London Dry gin for 3 days, to create something quite special!
Overtime, lessons have been learned and creative methods have been changed. Ray recalls, to comedic effect, how he realised in the early days he was letting 60 bottles of gin quite literally walk out of the door in giving away his ‘used’ raspberries to a local jam company making a boozey/novelty gin for their range. In not squeezing the raspberries post the distilling process, they were leaving the premises with a far more precious cargo then they could have bargained for… It’s not normally that you’d fear a breathalyser test post your morning ‘jam on toast’, but I’ll bet that was a breakfast that packed a punch! Needless to say, the process now includes giving those raspberries a good squeeze to release maximum juice & flavour for the gin, for which it is all the better.
The thing that Divine are at pains to point out is that this isn’t a ‘flavoured gin’ as you might know it. The only other ingredient that is added to the London Dry is the raspberries. No sweeteners. No sugars. No nothing. This isn’t a fluorescent, synthetic bottle of nasties waiting to greet you in the morning with a hangover & regret. It’s pure and unadulterated. What that does mean, however, is that on the pallet you don’t get that instant liqueur/syrup like sweetness that you might have been expecting. Instead, you get the citrus and earthy bite of the London Dry, with a red fruit special guest addition. But with a splash of light tonic water added to the mix, those raspberry flavours are pulled kicking and screaming to the forefront, slapping you in the chops with bright and vibrant berry delights. It is, quite simply, superb.
But what of all of those spent botanicals I hear you gasp? Well fear not, ‘the nicest man in gin’ has all of your ethical needs covered! When he’s not busy giving away his used raspberries (for free!!!) to local jam makers, the rest of the used ingredients go in to a community garden as compost. Divine Gin; saving your pallet and the planet, one bottle of gin at a time!
As we reach the bottling station, attention turns to the aesthetics of what is (to put it weirdly) a very sexy bottle indeed! Whilst not unique to Divine, as a product of Allied Glass, it is nonetheless a work of art. All labels come pre-printed, eliminating the need for hand labelling, depicting the Angel wings of their original brand name (until legal reasons meant a change to ‘Divine’ was needed).
But don’t be fooled; pre-printed labels or not, there are no shortcuts on offer here and the bottling process is a mind boggling one person conveyor belt of activity to get the finished product ready for its baying crowd of eager guzzlers.
As our tour of the distillery comes to an end, and we opt to prop up the bar with a well earned glass or two of something ‘Divine’, and our attention inevitably turns to the future.
Divine have now got all of their bar licenses in place for their new premises, meaning that the good times can well and truly roll. Whilst there are no plans to be open to the public, the coming months will see ticketed events, tasting nights, surprise guest distiller ‘take over’ evenings and much, much more. And with licensing recently granted to sell directly to the public, rather than just to retail, bottle sales from the distillery are on the horizon for you to get your mitts on your very own little piece of heaven.
Despite numerous attempts to tease out any future additions to the range, I didn’t quite land on a final answer. But with suggestions of the potential for a ‘Chuckleberry Infused’ gin in the ideas stage, this is one blogger who was leaving very excited for things to come!
As we made our way to the exit, full of admiration for what team Divine have achieved on their ongoing journey in to the gin world, I couldn’t help but bow to my blogger (and poser) sensibilities and have my picture taken, numerous times, in front of what I am certain will become the iconic ‘angel wings’, synonymous with a brand who do what they love & love what they do.
And so I say, if Holmfirth has seen the ‘last of the summer wine’ then fear not. Divine Gin are here now – and there’s plenty for everyone.
With huge thanks to Ray & Rachel at Divine Gin for their time, the tour & my complementary bottles of gin (and stunning glassware!).
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