JAMES Richardson and Martha Garbe have just won the first sales in Britain for their innovative gin that’s distilled in Bushmills. The gin is now being distributed by Hammmods, a specialist independent drinks wholesaler based at Knutsford in Cheshire.
James and Martha are bringing a more scientific approach to distilling Giant’s Basalt Rocks branded gin, their first venture into distilling. They’ve recently launched the gin in a striking hexagonal shaped bottle that’s been inspired by the location of their distillery near the iconic Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim.
The entrepreneurs are building their new Basalt distillery near Bushmills using knowledge of chemical engineering from their studies at the historic Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
“We were both keen to build a small business using our knowledge of chemical engineering from our studies,” Martha explains. “Of course we were familiar with the science,” Martha, who is from Thurso in Scotland, continues. “The final two years of our degree course was also focused more on the business side of engineering, giving us a great understanding of project scoping, economics, sustainability and marketing of such projects. This was immensely beneficial as we moved towards setting up our own small business,” she adds. “We wanted to apply the meticulous scientific approach from our engineering degrees to distilling, taking a step away from traditional craft distilling with an emphasis on the latest sustainable processes and cutting-edge technology. It’s something new, built on precision and accuracy as a way of creating the most incredible flavours and high-quality spirits,” continues Martha.
The idea to create the distillery for a range of spirits came from Coleraine native James during the coronavirus lockdown which they spent in Thurso, where Martha worked in Caithness General Hospital in an acute ward and High Dependency Unit for nine months during Covid-19.
“We both received First Class Masters degrees in Chemical Engineering, and during this time we also gained a Certificate in Distilling from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. In September 2021, we moved over to Northern Ireland to start working full-time on the distillery together,” she says.
Their chemical engineering background led them to choose an IStill stainless steel distilling system from Worden in the Netherlands instead of the traditional copper style used by most distilleries here.
Giants Basalt Rock Gin is the first brand to be launched from Basalt Distillery, the identity they chose to reflect its location. “Innovation is what drives us, and so we do have more products that are already in the pipeline at the distillery,” she adds. “We’ll bring these forward when the gin is fully established.”
They looked at several sites for the distillery before opting for Bushmills, also, of course, the home of Old Bushmills and The Sexton multi-award winning Irish whiskeys. There’s also a single barrel Irish whiskey being marketed by Limavady Irish Whiskey, which was launched last year by Darryl McNally, a former distiller at Bushmills.
“Finding suitable premises as a start-up was challenging, and we really wanted to have our own borehole which initially made things difficult,” explains Martha.
“Both our families have been hugely supportive, and one day James’ grandad, who lives in the countryside, decided to ask his neighbours if they would be interested in renting out a warehouse to a new distillery coming to the area. The first neighbour he approached was happy to help us get on our feet, and he also had a 600ft borehole onsite that we would be able to use. This gives us great space on-site to grow. We are also in the process of getting the site ready to host visitors in the next few weeks,” she says. “We’ll be running gin tours to increase awareness of our gin and production process.
“Our Basalt Experience is a three-hour immersive, hands-on experience that gives participants an in-depth introduction to the art and precision of distilling using iStill technology. It will be hosted by myself and James,” she adds. “Guided through the fundamentals of gin distillation and recipe to development, participants will get the chance to pick and blend botanicals to create their own unique gin recipe. We’ll store their recipe at the distillery, should they ever want to have another bottle in the years to come.”
Each participant will be able to distil gin using disruptive, stainless-steel technology using an iStill Nano. They can control the iStill Nano on a designated iPad, where they can dial in chosen cut points for head, hearts and tail, and watch as the temperature changes throughout the run.
As the gin distils, they will also discover the history, the production and the botanicals behind Basalt Distillery’s Giants Basalt Rock Gin as they are guided through a tasting experience and enjoy some Basalt cocktails. Participants will then be able to fill their own bottle of gin with a personalised label before waxing and sealing the bottle to enjoy later.
Martha and James are also now focused on lining up a network of distributors to help them sell the existing gin and other spirits being planned. While the new Basalt Rock Gin was launched in May, they have been running pre-sales and marketing activities since last October.
“These have been going extremely well for us,” she continues. “With the promising discussions currently taking place with distributors, as well as our pre-orders, we’re set for a very busy year. The deal with Hammonds is a significant step forward for us in Britain. We hope to begin creating job opportunities within our first year of launch,” she adds.
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