So, two weeks ago on a beautifully sunny Sunday, I took a trip to Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival to meet with Luke Wheadon, proprietor of the stunning Bella Luce Hotel on Guernsey. 4 red stars with the AA and a member of luxury hotels of the world means this family run, independent boutique hotel is pretty special. However this isn’t why I’ve come to see him. He’s also the creator of a fabulous new gin, due for launch in June and I’ve been lucky enough to get to try it.
Wheadon’s gin takes the family name and for good reason. His family have a long history of distilling and brewing on the island, dating back to 1890, (even the Bella Luce property has links back to his grandmother). With this in mind, he is proud to fly the family flag with a gin that really is rather special. Awaiting the final label design, it was fantastic to meet a distiller on the cusp of launching a new product, the reality of his intentions almost realised and his excitement is contagious.
To me, a good, well made gin is bettered by locally sourced botanicals, alluding to it’s local history. Luke took 18 months trying different flavours before settling on building 14 different botanicals around the combination of zingy pink grapefruit and it’s trademark rock samphire (crithmum martimum), a member of the carrot/parsley family that grows wild on the island. It prefers granite at the high water mark and the 2,000 million year old Icart Gneiss has one of the largest tidal changes anywhere on the planet. Interestingly, rock samphire comes complete with it’s own history. Shakespeare referred to the difficult task of collecting samphire in King Lear and there is a long history of foraging, predominantly on the cliff faces. Children were regularly let over the side with rope tied around their ankles, a “dreadful trade” indeed! It became so overforaged that it was made illegal to do so under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, luckily these laws do not apply to Guernsey and with it growing so well that the team have plenty to work with.
After a revival in popularity in recent years, rock samphire has now become quite the delicacy in restaurants and is a highly desirable ingredient. Therefore, its involvement with this gin automatically elevates it’s status. It is a tricky ingredient to manage as the intensity of the flavour can change through different seasons, let alone years; but Luke’s already well aware of this and is on constant taste testing to tweak the recipe accordingly to deliver consistency to the drink.
From its initial launch in June, it will be available mostly on Guernsey. Locality is important, with botanicals being foraged locally and Luke hosting regular gin evenings at the Bella Luce, with customers enjoying an in depth talk and sampling gins and cocktails to gain a good knowledge in flavours, culminating in them picking a combination of botanicals to design their own gin, which is distilled during dinner and supplied in a wax sealed bottle. I’m sure my invitation is already in the post, hey Luke?
Luke’s a friendly chap. He admits that there was a time he didn’t like gin but now he can’t get enough of the stuff. His passion for his craft is obvious and there really is something about the confidence he has in this recipe. After trying it, I’m inclined to agree with him. He’s inquisitive and eager to ask questions to improve on an already pretty sound knowledge. He’s also very ambitious and interested in getting involved with competitions so it will be interesting to see what the future holds for him and this wonderfully bold gin.
Luke believes a good gin should do all the work and I believe his gin is more than capable. At a good, round 40%abv, the samphire gives a boom of flavour that’s just solid through and through and it really is delicious. There’s hints of earthiness, lifted by a lovely citrus tang with a delicate sweetness of cucumber. It’s a slice of grapefruit and cucumber that he recommends to garnish. Nothing complicated, keep it simple; let the gin do the talking. Are you surprised that he’s a big fan of Martinis?