I recently discovered, shock horror, that I was running particularly low on gins to write about do I did a shout out on Twitter. One of the first ones to get in touch were Little Quaker Distillery. I must confess, they had not be on my radar previously. And, with the humble bottle design for Quaker Gin showing an old fashioned photo of Darlington being all I had to go on, I said yes, but didn’t really know what to expect.
The bottle arrived within a few days. There was a printed cover letter addressed to me, and the transcript of a recent interview which gave lots of extra information. It’s a really helpful thing for bloggers like me, who love to tell the story of a distillery, as well as the drink.
And, their story is an endearing one. On a first flick through the interview, there were a couple of details that initially caught my attention. Most notably that the distillery is one of the smallest in the country at 2.1m x 1.6m sq and also that amongst some local botanicals are petals from a rose bush once owned by Paul’s dearly departed Grandma. It’s a lovely notion. And, these small details were just the beginning.
Paul and and Leanne Colman, the husband and wife team, do everything from distilling to bottling to marketing and selling; the whole kit and caboodle. The project is quite simply the quintessence of craft distilling, which has been a hot topic of recent. What exactly is ‘craft’? There are varying definitions and rather blurred lines. I would suggest, humbly, that operations like this are about as close as you can get. 70 bottles a batch, though it’s not always the size that matters, but the process, which in this case is transparent and genuine. There is a very personal and eclectic mix of ideas forming this gins identity. It’s very different to the well planned cohesion of a gin created by companies that focus on a brand. Admittedly, this confused me a little at first. Nowadays we are so used to gins that deliver exactly what they suggest from the name, the bottle design and the sales pitch. However, what they have created here is quite the triumph, and it has an extra element. Because, no one else was ever going to think this up, this haphazard collection of name, of style and idea. It’s absolutely original, it’s a little bit of them in a bottle.
Factory Manager Paul and Account Manager Leanne were inspired after being members of the Craft Gin Club. They decide they wanted to make a gin. After various courses, research and product development, they had a product that they were happy with and found that they had reached a point of no return. After some discussion, they decided to “take a step into the unknown”, registering the business.
They needed a name. Proud of their Darlington heritage, of “a market town that was vibrant on on the front of the industrial revolution”, they wanted something close to home. “Darlington”, Paul explains, “is the birthplace of the railways and its forefathers were pioneers and entrepreneurs. That said, the townsfolk of Darlington are typical of a North East town, warm and friendly.” To represent this, Paul used the nickname of the local football team, to create Quaker Gin. Leanne added the ‘Little’ to the Distillery name to represent the size of the operation. And there’s a notable element of community spirit in it’s reception too, with kt being stocked in many bars and restaurants in the local area, including 5 star Rockliffe Hall. “We could not have had any more support from the local council, the police, the businesses and the general public”.
We started out raising funds through crowdfunding so people are on the journey with us and we keep our overheads low whilst maintaining out full time jobs with the hope that over the next year at least one of us can run the business full time as we set out to show people that dreams can come true if you work at it.
On the nose the gin is sweet, almost buttery. Folded into this biscuit sweetness is a tang of citrus and subtle hints of floral notes, lavender and rose.
The palette is truly spectacular. first thing that hits is it’s creaminess. For the last few years, creamy is an adjective that’s been creeping in to describe gin that’s smooth, with little harshness to the flavour and a generous mouthfeel. I think those who try this gin are going to rethink that use. This gin is thick with a silky, smooth creaminess that far outweighs most other gins I’ve tried. It’s become a solid characteristic, rather than an adjective. The smoothness dissipates into the a zing of fresh fruit and the juniper keeps rolling along, the vast wave carrying this incredibly generous offering of botanical complexity. The finish leaves notes of spice mingle with the florals.
Despite having a very definite flavour, the gin works with many serves. In a G&T, it’s natural sweetness makes it incredibly palatable. It works with tonic, although Paul suggests Mediterranean. Garnish wise there is a wide variety, although grapefruit works and strawberries and raspberries are the recommended serve and they work so beautifully with the floral and creamy elements. Another suggestion is an elderflower tonic to pull out the fruits and tone down the citrus. But, as Paul suggests “It’s personal choice and we wanted a gin that would allow people to be able to experiment.”
The gin itself is something really special. And I could leave this here, but I really do have to touch upon Paul and Leanne. They exude a genuine love of what they do. They also have a good knowledge of what gin needs to be,
“We have lots of people asking us about flavoured gins and that’s another conversation for another day on when a gin is nothing more than a flavoured vodka. For The Little Quaker Distillery our gin should be heavy on juniper which is important.”
This is such an important thing in today’s times and it makes a very important point. There are some people out there that believe there’s not much room left for new gins. It’s a saturated market and that aside, the surge of gin liqueurs have really made their mark. Quaker Gin, is a solid beacon to new gins and anyone who has the fire in them to start up and make a new spirit in the current climate. It is completely it’s own, born by the love of it’s creators. The industry has been calling for transparency in process and integrity in idea, respecting the nature of true gin. All of these elements are fast becoming essential to the discerning drinker. And, Little Quaker Distillery, a tiny operation run by a couple in Darlington, has it all.