It turns out that we, as a nation, must have completely misheard the chanting amongst all of the excitement. It would seem that they were actually saying footballs coming ‘Rome’…not ‘Home’. Ah…Balls. (Pun intended).
When I published my fuller review of Sky Wave Gin at the beginning of July 2021, we were captivated by the football and the postponed European Championships. The whole country seemed to have been galvanised in to a shared spirit of hope, after a Covid fuelled 18 months to forget. It really did feel as if, after 55 years of hurt, football really could be on its way home!
But before we had time to stick the metaphorical kettle on, to welcome it in with a classic English cup of tea, victory was snatched away in the cruellest (if not perhaps most fitting) way; a penalty shootout. Eugh.
Whilst we must now move to calls of ‘it’s coming home…in 2022’ (in time for the next World Cup), if you feel like you’d like to relive the experience of joyful anticipation, through my naive optimism written before the fact, then checkout my Sky Wave Gin review here:
But if you’re still in a state of epic disappointment, then fear not friends, I’m here to put my arm around your shoulder and offer you an uplifting ‘Team Talk’…with the team at Sky Wave Gin that is!
To supplement my full review, I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Sky Wave Gin co-founders Andy Parsons & Rachel Hicks and Brand Development Manager Simon Pettit, to get the exclusive inside scoop on a brand that is making a big name for itself and bringing home the gold where the England team weren’t able to.
So sit back and get comfortable as I put the team ‘on the spot’ (so to speak) to hear the story behind this multi-award winning, innovative and (very) hard working brand!
The Gin Shelf (TGS): Co-Founders Rachel & Andy had previous careers as a BBC reporter and an Army officer respectively. What drove the career change, and when did they decide that they wanted to make a gin?
Sky Wave (Simon): Both Rachel and Andy moved from their former careers to establishing and running successful businesses; Rachel formed Rachel Hicks Media over 8 years ago to offer media training to senior management in global companies facing the press, and still continues to be involved in this alongside her role at Sky Wave Gin. Andy set up a consulting business specialising in operational and change leadership around project management and continues to be involved with this field combining it with his Distilling responsibilities at Sky Wave Gin.
Sky Wave (Andy): With a shared love for gin, Rachel and I searched for a gin that met our tastes, and couldn’t find it. So we set about creating our very own craft gin that would go on to become the World’s Best Contemporary Gin in 2020!
We went to a distillery gin school ‘make your own gin’ experience, to celebrate a significant birthday (Note to reader: no further detail given on the significance despite my best efforts!) and ended up creating a gin that quite literally became the talk of the class. Not only did our gin impress the Master Distiller leading the session…but the rest of the class wanted to drink our gin, rather than their own designs!
Sky Wave (Simon): Things got really serious after Andy bought ‘Tilly’, their first 2 litre Still in March 2018 – Tilly is still in use for new product design (NPD).
TGS: Wow! Given the huge success that the brand has seen, which we’ll come on to more shortly, how do you find the time to run your respective businesses and the brand?!
Sky Wave (Andy): When what you do for a living is genuinely something you love to do, and it’s a passion, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s a privilege to have to opportunity to do what we enjoy every day.
Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say that I don’t need to remind myself of that on a cold winters morning at 5am when I’m starting a distillation to get production to fit around the days schedule…
TGS: When did Sky Wave officially launch?
Sky Wave (Andy): During the summer of 2018, Rachel and I set up the Distillery at our home, converting and adapting a number of rooms to enable this to work whilst exploring all the aspects of branding and production and acquiring all the necessary licences with which to run the business.
In October 2018, we began operating on a sole trader basis but this quickly grew with online sales and entry into a few competitions and in April 2019, Sky Wave Distilling Company Limited was formed and the things began to take off, leading to a batch of awards at the end of 2019; China Wine & Spirits Award (Double Gold), Women’s Wine & Spirits Award (Gold) and then in February 2020, the World’s Best Contemporary Gin Award, from the World Gin Awards which was a massive achievement for Sky Wave so soon after its inception.
TGS: Tell me more about ‘Team Sky Wave’; who are the faces behind the Still that make the magic happen?
Sky Wave (Simon): Team Sky Wave is small, close knit and has an almost family feel to it. Rachel (Hicks) and Andy (Parsons) are the co-founders and owners – both do the distilling work, although it is mainly Andrew’s area (& he engages with those customers who approach us to work on bespoke gin creations) and Rachel is the mainstay behind our marketing and sales, working with our team to grow those areas and to manage our social media.
Alongside this, they sought to build a team of ‘associates’ who were committed to the brand and prepared to work part-time and flexibly to help develop the sales, grow the business and set some structure in place in spring 2020. The team comprises:
Sarah Birkby – Marketing Manager
Simon Pettit – Business Development Manager
Christina Russell – Sales Manager
With this core team in place and working successfully together, we were able to recruit a number of sales associates to look to build our sales in key areas and introduce Sky Wave to new outlets and markets. We’ve since augmented the team with two invaluable new additions;
Christie Lord – Sales Associate
Melloney Banton – Distillery Hand
TGS: Tell us a little about where Sky Wave is made
Sky Wave (Rachel): Having initially been made at Cheveley, our home in Bucknell (a small village just outside Bicester) the growth Sky Wave Gin has seen meant that inevitably we needed to expand and locate new premises from which to distil, bottle, label and sell our gins. We approached Bicester Heritage and were invited to become a part of the family of businesses at this fantastic site. [www.bicesterheritage.co.uk]
And Matt, let me tell you – it’s stunning.
It was formerly RAF Bicester and home to a training site for Blenheim Bombers during WWII and has been sensitively and beautifully developed by Bicester Heritage since 2013 to become a home for over 40 businesses, which is becoming the main UK hub for historic motoring.
Sky Wave Gin is now housed in what was 105 North Tanker Sheds (as the name suggests, it was a garage for some of the fuel bowsers for the planes at Bicester). After work to fit it out and ensure it offers an amazing setting for Sky Wave Gin, we opened in early 2021 with a beautiful brand new 200 litre still, ‘Basca’.
Not a day goes by at the new site when there is not a distraction around some beautiful classic car.
TGS: How important is locality and provenance to you and the gins that you make?
Sky Wave (Rachel): It is really important and something which we are striving to strengthen, as there is always scope to improve. We aim to use, wherever possible, local produce for our gins; raspberries, rhubarb, apples and blackberries are picked locally (or exchanged with growers for gin!). Sourcing some of the more exotic botanicals necessarily means some air mileage, but we have tried to source directly from producers wherever possible.
An integral part of all of our products is the use of Blenheim Palace Natural Mineral water, which is sourced from Blenheim, less than 10 miles from the distillery, and is emblematic of our Oxfordshire roots.
It is a fortuitous coincidence that Blenheim was the home of Winston Churchill who was partial to fine martini, and also that Blenheim Bombers were based at RAF Bicester, now our new home.
TGS: ‘Sky Wave’; it’s an intriguing name. What’s the story behind it?
Sky Wave (Andy): ‘Sky Wave’ was chosen as a name for the brand to inspire adventures. We didn’t want to name our gin after ourselves or our location. We wanted something more expansive and inspirational. Sky Wave captures that sense of escape.
Sky Wave (Simon): It also represents all that Andy and Rachel’s experiences have covered – adventures across the globe, climbing mountains, diving in oceans, rallying across deserts, wing-walking on aeroplanes and so on, as well as referencing their respective previous lives; Andy spent many years in the Army serving in the Royal Corps of Signals, once even leading the ‘Changing of the Guard’ at Buckingham Palace, and Rachel is a former BBC Radio reporter.
A ‘Sky Wave’ is also a long range radio signal. As discussed, this neatly ties in with our new home at Bicester Heritage. During WW2, agents were sent to RAF Bicester to be trained as radio operatives. They were then dropped into France to help with the Resistance. Our distillery is in sight of the Radio Control Tower for the airfield which virtually runs alongside our building.
TGS: What goes in to the Sky Wave flagship gin? And how many attempts did it take to get the recipe ‘just right’?
Sky Wave (Andy): Sky Wave’s Signature London Dry contains 13 botanicals, some of which remain a well kept secret known only to myself and Rachel. However, we can share details of the main botanicals:
. Juniper (obviously!)
. Pink grapefruit Coriander
. Orris Root (acts as the binder)
. Bladderwrack – foraged under license from the Pembrokeshire coastline, which is one of the cleanest coastlines due to the quiet shipping lanes
. Blackberries – foraged from the Oxfordshire hedgerows and frozen to last through the year
It took around 40 iterations, over 6 months with 300 different tasters to finalise the recipe.
TGS: Are there any botanicals that you’ve tried to distill that just haven’t worked?
Sky Wave (Andy): You know what? Yes! We wondered for some time why we could not seem to get our local elderflower to work for us as a flavour. After some investigation, it transpires that there are actually two types of elderflower; one that tastes nice. And one that tastes like dog wee…
It was a short lived experiment!
TGS: It’s fair to say that for a relatively young brand, the Sky Wave range is impressively well armed! (the team have their London Dry, Liberation London Dry, Navy Strength, Orange & Madagascan Vanilla, Raspberry & Rhubarb, a Spiced Apple Gin Liqueur, as well as a limited edition cask aged expression). Was that an ambition you had from the beginning of the brand, to have strength in depth, or has it been a natural evolution that’s run at pace?
Sky Wave (Andy): We always wanted to showcase a good range and a variety of craft premium gins, and particularly focussing on traditional London Dry style gins. With that in mind, the Signature Gin was created and developed and the Navy Strength was an evolution from that, to create a more luxurious version of the same fantastic product, at 57% ABV.
The next stage was to offer a fruit gin, but one that would appeal to those wanting flavour, subtlety and dryness with their gin. So Rachel created the Raspberry and Rhubarb gin, based upon our Dry Gin rather then creating a slightly sweet gin, which would go against the style that Sky Wave favours.
Sky Wave (Rachel): Some expressions, like our latest Orange & Madagascan Vanilla gin, have come about quite by accident by picking up on what consumers tell us at gin festivals, unearthing new and innovative ideas to explore. In a similar way to our other gins, it was conceived and developed to be a dry fruity gin for grown-ups! All our fruit gins use only fresh fruit, never essences or flavourings. And, based on the feedback we’ve received so far, it’s fair to say that it has been blowing people away.
Our Liberation London Dry Gin is a little different though; it’s like a Shakespearean play! It began as a love story, nose dived into tragedy and was redeemed by overcoming adversity to triumph! I had a ‘special birthday’ coming up and asked Andy to develop an equally special gin to mark the occasion. But just as he began work on the flavour profile we had discussed, tragedy struck as Covid hit and we all went into Lockdown. During this period the world was turned on its head and Andy responded by reflecting some of the mood in the new gin. We wanted to reflect the benevolence that was abounding and also the nature that we had more time to enjoy.
Liberation’s botanicals include lemon verbena and raspberries, which we saw growing around us during Lockdown. It’s softness on the palate reflects the kindness that seemed to permeate society.
Finally, named Liberation, the gin overcame adversity to capture the zeitgeist, the freedom we are craving when we can finally share a G&T freely with friends in any location and any numbers we choose! Liberation has a delicious citrussy nose with a gentle juniper middle. It was ‘Born of Love, Inspired by Nature’, and has recently won Bronze at the 2021 World Gin Awards.
TGS: If I put you on the spot and forced you to answer, would you profess to having a favourite gin from your range?!
Sky Wave (Andy): It’s got to be a draw between our Signature London Dry and our Cask Aged gin… but the Cask Aged probably takes it! We think it’s something that’s never actually been done before…
The gin is aged in a very specific Spanish Rioja based vermouth cask, rather than the more common French/Italian options, which took us around 12 months to source. We only ever made 400 bottles, and the remaining supplies are starting to dwindle.
TGS: How do you drink your Sky Wave Gin? And would you go as far as to say that there is a ‘perfect serve’?
Sky Wave (Rachel): For me, it’s a Cask Aged Martini;
. 75 ml of Sky Wave Signature London Dry or Liberation Gin or, best of all, Sky Wave Cask-Aged Gin
. 15ml of Dry Vermouth (Lillet)
. A dash of Sky Wave Grapefruit Bitters
. Ice cubes (not crushed ice)
. A cocktail stirrer (or spoon!)
. A cocktail strainer (the Hawthorne type is ideal)
Add some of the ice to the martini glass to chill it whilst you mix the cocktail, or use a glass straight from the freezer. Mix the Sky Wave Gin, the vermouth and the bitters in a tall thin highball glass with plenty of ice. Stir vigorously for at least a minute. Empty the ice (if used) out of your martini glass, and strain your cocktail into it. Garnish with an olive or a twist of lemon.
Sky Wave (Andy): I would stay classic with a Signature London Dry perfect serve;
. 1 part Sky Wave Signature London Dry Gin
. 2 part Merchant’s Heart Tonic
. 2 drops Sky Wave Grapefruit Bitters
. Slice of ruby/ pink grapefruit
. Plenty of ice
Sky Wave (Simon): My favourite serve is as a ‘Skywave 57’ (deliberately a transposition of the classic 75!);
. 35 ml of Sky Wave Navy Strength (57% ABV)
. 20 ml of pink grapefruit juice (fresh is best, use a little more if using a juicer)
. 10 ml of simple sugar syrup
. 75 ml of your favourite Champagne
. Ice cubes or crushed ice
Chill a champagne flute with crushed ice or iced water. Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the Sky Wave Navy Strength, pink grapefruit and sugar syrup, and shake vigorously. Empty out the champagne flute, and fine strain the contents of the shaker into the flute. Top up slowly with the champagne. Garnish with a long grapefruit twist if you wish.
TGS: What was the thinking behind the design and aesthetics of the branding?
Sky Wave (Rachel): To represent our brand and what we stand for; Premium gin for gin lovers. No gimmicks.
To be clean, crisp and elegant. Rather timeless. The bottle is heavy and imbues a sense of quality and sturdiness. It will deliver a premium expression. The labels are simply stylish with a nod to the 1920’s era with its font and border, perfect for our new setting in the home of historic motoring whose heyday was the 1920’s and 1930’s.
We want our brand to be attractive to people who care more about what is in the bottle than what the bottle looks like.
TGS: Sky Wave has received a whole raft of accolades and awards over the last two years, with the London Dry being named as The World’s Best Contemporary Gin at the 2020 World Gin Awards (congratulations!). What have been some of your proudest moments to date?
Sky Wave (Simon): The past 2 years have been phenomenal for Sky Wave, winning the ‘World’s Best Contemporary Gin’ in February 2020, so early on in our story was huge for us, but we have been lucky enough to have had a series of moments that have made us incredibly proud:
. Building our team of associates, who have helped us reach out to a host of new and exciting outlets across Oxfordshire, the Cotswolds and further afield and it is growing at a pace
. Moving in to our lovely new Distillery site here at Bicester Heritage, with a new, bigger Still, which increases our production capacity and scope for NPD
. Being able to open our doors and offer Distillery Experiences to our customers here on site
. Being the most medalled British gin distillery of 2020 (we believe) with 15 international medals
. Having Andy recognised for his skills in being shortlisted as one of 8 in the ‘Master Distiller of the Year’ category at the Icons of Gin in this year’s World Gin Awards
. Having our ‘Craft Gin Making’ book published in 2021 by Crowood Press
TGS: How do you respond to the theory that certificates and awards on gin bottles are less valuable in today’s market, given the volume of brands that seem to have them?
Sky Wave (Andy): Initially, the awards were an invaluable way of gathering validation for our efforts in the early days, where huge marketing budgets weren’t available. But, very importantly, Sky Wave exclusively enter competitions of the highest calibre that are blind tasted, ensuring that the gin is left naked and to be judged solely on its taste and the quality of the product.
As we say ourselves, “this many awards can’t be wrong!”…
TGS: What was your biggest challenge in making the gin? Or are we living in it right now with the impact of Coronavirus?
Sky Wave (Rachel): Getting our range of gins widely known across the UK and beyond among gin drinkers who seek out ultra-premium expressions.
TGS: What’s next for Sky Wave? Any exciting plans in the pipeline that you can let us in on?
Sky Wave (Simon): Sky Wave has ambitious plans to widen it’s reach (both nationally and internationally) and try to ensure a growth in it’s customer base, and is looking at engaging with some new and exciting partners to help us achieve this.
Sky Wave (Andy): There’s a brand new gin for 2022 ready and waiting to go, reflecting a famous Oxfordshire Landmark. We ‘might’ even be (Note to reader: so obviously they are are!) producing for a prestigious outlet in the very near future. Though we’re going to stay very tight lipped on the details of both things at this stage – look out for future announcements…
We always have a continuous eye on opportunities to expand on the distillery, having already initiated a ‘Distillery Experience’ (head to the website for details) and running our virtual tasting experiences for corporate clients.
Sky Wave (Rachel): All in all – watch this space!
With huge thanks to Andy Parsons, Rachel Hicks and Simon Pettit of Sky Wave Gin for the samples of their London Dry and Navy Strength expressions, and their time and energy in our catch up! Make sure you keep up to date with their exciting next steps on their website and across social media!
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!