When Paul Bowler of Winchester Distillery delved into his parents’ drinks cabinet at the tender age of 12, the first thing he came across was a rather old bottle of Gordon’s Gin.
“It was surprisingly palatable,” he says with a smile. “Even as a student, when cider and black was about as sophisticated as it got, I always liked a gin and orange.”
An appreciation of quality when it came to drinking stayed with Paul, who after 20 years working in London in IT decided to rethink his career and indulge his passion for gin.
“Friends and colleagues thought I was completely mad when I announced I was setting up as a distiller,” he says. “But what started as an experiment in the kitchen at home soon had me completely hooked, and, having fine-tuned my combination of botanicals through a process of trial and error and intensive study with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, I finally created a gin I was really proud of.”
The gin was Twisted Nose, which was launched in 2014, initially in batches of just 50 bottles. Combining 10 botanicals, including locally-grown watercress to create a fragrant and refreshing finish, it was snapped up by the city’s independent wine merchants and hostelries and was soon in so much demand that there was a waiting list for bottles.
“Thanks to changes in distilling law, craft gin production began to see a surge of interest from food and wine critics nationally and that, combined with local support, really helped to boost business,” Paul says.
Twisted Nose Wasabi Vodka followed, with total production now topping tens of thousands of bottles a year. But Winchester Distillery has stayed true to its local roots and continues to develop additional small-batch spirits, with its limited-edition seasonal range of Hampshire gins including a Christmas best-seller, Winter Wassail, a dry gin rich in juniper, festive spices, Bramley apple and cranberries.
Its latest launch is Winchester Dry Gin, inspired by King Arthur’s round table. “It’s made with 25 medieval botanicals, one for each knight seated at the table, and has a rich, complex finish and subtle herbal nuances,” Paul says.
“It’s a gin I’m certainly very proud of. It not only reflects Winchester’s great cultural past but is also a way of giving something back to the great city that I call home.”
Twisted Nose, £34.95, and Winchester Dry Gin, £37.95, are available at all good local independent wine merchants. www.winchesterdistillery.co.uk