This family-owned craft distillery is proud of its reputation for creating the best English gin using premium ingredients from the English countryside.
Founded in 2017, the Wessex Distillery has already received global recognition, winning an impressive array of national and international awards. In 2021 the company’s ‘Wyvern Classic Gin’ received a gold award from the renowned London Spirits Competition and double gold from the world’s most prestigious spirits competition – The San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The distillery’s ‘Alfred the Great Premium Gin’ also received a double gold at the London Spirits Competition.
Some homeowners from Beechcroft's Hampton Manor in Godalming recently enjoyed a trip to The Wessex Distillery, and we managed to catch up with Chris Clark, who runs the distillery alongside his father, Jonathan, and his sister, Amy.
Chris: It was all down to my father, Jonathan. He fell in love with gin on his 50th birthday, when he enjoyed a bottle of Bombay Saffire Gin without experiencing ill effects.
At the time, we owned the freehold of a cocktail bar in Bride Lane in the City of London and when the tenant left, my father took over and decided to try his hand at making gin. The result was the City of London Distillery which opened in December 2012, bringing gin distilling back to the City after an absence of nearly 200 years.
The first gin, loyal to our roots, was a classic London Dry Gin, followed soon after by the Square Mile Gin – and these were distilled in a pair of copper stills named Clarissa and Jennifer, named for the ‘Two Fat Ladies’ of the BBC Food Show.
My father later sold the business but didn’t want to stop making gin so we set up the Wessex Gin Distillery near our Surrey home in 2017.
Chris: It really is a family business. My father, Amy and I work here and we have a friend who helps out with everything. It means we’re all involved in every aspect of the business.
Chris: Although we primarily focus on selling our gins online, our products can be found in several local businesses including Secretts and Squires. We also have a click and collect option on our website.
Chris: This is a two-hour experience which generally takes place on Thursdays. The groups are small – up to 8 people. We welcome our participants with a gin and tonic and we provide some history on the company and on gin making. Once the visitors have toured the labs, they are taught to make their own bottle of gin from scratch – from weighing out the botanicals through the whole distillation process using a small still. They bottle their gin, wax and seal it and even add their own labels. Everyone goes away with a bottle of gin as well as the gin that they’ve made themselves.
Chris: No, not at all. People are very willing to drive to Surrey to visit and take part. In fact, our gin labs tend to be full of people who live at least an hour and a half away. We do have regulars who are local, though. We always keep our door open and locals will pop in every two to three weeks to buy their gins direct from us.
Chris: We use botanicals, mainly sourced from the English countryside. Botanicals have to be oil based and we use juniper, coriander and angelica root. We have eight gins in the current range and some are citrus based: sweet orange, lemon and grapefruit. There’s also a spiced one with cardamom and a floral one which uses rose petals.
Chris: I like a traditional gin and tonic with a double measure of gin, naturally light tonic and lots of ice. Our Alfred the Great is one of my favourites – a lovely citrus gin with the zest of an orange.
Chris: We consider something successful if we like it – but it’s all about personal taste. For me, our most successful experiment turned out to be gooseberry and elderflower. We added freshly pressed gooseberry juice to the distillation. We tried tea – which resulted in a smooth gin but none of us are really tea drinkers so we weren’t so keen on that one.
Chris: Going forward, we are looking forward to growing the gin labs and creating limited edition runs of gins. We are planning to introduce a new flavour, a few times a year and to produce a limited edition of no more than 500 bottles of each. We’re going to link these special editions with our charity work. We support the Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People, based in Surrey which provides support to disabled people of all ages aimed at increasing their independence.
Chris: Traditional, authentic - and delicious.
Further information on The Wessex Distillery may be found here.
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