When we began working on our Gin issue, we had the chance to get to know the team at Highclere Castle Gin.
After putting together their story for our print feature, we knew there was more to share about this very special line. Highclere Castle has become a familiar figure in many homes thanks to its use as the set of Downton Abbey, but this unique and historic gin will hold its own after the glow of celebrity association has passed. After just a few years in existence, Highclere is on it’s way to being one of the most awarded gins by the end of 2021. To learn more about the brand, we caught up with Co-Founder and CEO, Adam von Gootkin.
Tell us a bit about the history and heritage of Highclere Castle Gin.
Highclere Castle has been hosting many of the world’s most famous and interesting people for centuries. Typically, the evening revelries begin with gin cocktails, and sometimes end with them too! To celebrate Highclere’s commitment to the highest caliber of hospitality and entertainment we have released Highclere Castle Gin. Our award-winning gin is distilled in England’s oldest gin distillery located above an ancient underground water source and the botanicals are sourced from the castle’s Victorian era orangery and the walled monk’s garden. It is a very citrus forward gin, and we have integrated oats from Highclere’s estate which has never been done before in a gin and this creates the velvety smooth finish different from any other gin on the market. This impeccable smoothness has led to 21 international gold and platinum awards in the last year. We believe that by the end of 2021, Highclere Castle Gin will be the most awarded gin in the world. The head butler at the castle makes the cocktails the exact same way gin cocktails have been made at the castle for the last 100 years.
Any fun information about the castle people might not know?
The current Lord Carnarvon’s great grandfather, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun along with Howard Carter. The 100-year anniversary of archaeologist’s greatest discovery takes place next year! We are planning a very special release and event to commemorate this exciting discovery. With the pandemic happening last year, we launched a virtual cocktail party called, “Cocktails at the Castle”. These live stream events are held on our Facebook and Instagram @HighclereCastleGin and feature Lord & Lady Carnarvon hosting a cocktail party in different rooms of the castle with the head butler Luis, whipping up his amazing cocktails. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to stay in touch with customers, friends, mixologists and bartenders!
Highclere is a mix of locally sourced botanicals—why these botanicals?
Highclere Castle Gin’s botanicals are primarily sourced from Highclere’s ancient estate. With Highclere being a citrus forward gin, we have dialed back the juniper a bit to allow the citrus to lead the show. Decadent small oranges with a high ratio of oil in the peel takes center stage being surrounded with gentle support from the lime flower and lemon peels. The touch of lavender we use boarders the walls of the monk’s garden and was planted by the Bishops of Winchester in the 9th century. The lavender we use is over 1000 years old! Of course, we use juniper, cassia bark and angelica root but the quiet star of the show are the Highclere Castle Estate grown oats, prized around the world by thoroughbred racehorse owners. The oats are included post distillation in the botanical blend, lending a subtle, velvety smooth finish that is so incredibly pleasant, many customers are saying Highclere Castle Gin is the first gin you can enjoy on the rocks. The recipe took nearly 2 years to perfect.
Talk to us about the unique distillation process used to create Highclere.
Highclere Castle Gin starts with an English wheat base. Botanicals are carefully weighed out per our secret recipe blend and added to the still with a charge of the English wheat spirit. The warming process allows the botanicals to release their oils and this process of maceration continues over night. The next day the stills are heated to a higher temperature and the resulting boiling process turns the liquid into vapor which rises to the swan neck and water-cooled condenser turning the vapor back to liquid. We make very aggressive cuts to separate out the heads, hearts, and tails. The resulting high proof gin is then blended with water to precisely 43.5% alcohol. Et voila!
You’ve already been recognized with numerous awards and accolades—what makes Highclere stand out?
We live in a world where most of what we drink are brands created in marketing boardrooms and then mass produced. Highclere’s exceptional uniqueness lies in its authenticity. At the end the day, flavor and smoothness is the most important characteristic of a highly award winning spirit. What makes Highclere so special, is the place and its people that bring the estate and gin to life.
What should bartenders know about mixing with Highclere Gin?
Highclere Castle Gin is a dynamic but delicate spirit. I enjoy spirits the most when the spirit itself takes the center state and Highclere performs that job really well. Highclere really shines in classic cocktails like the gin martini, negroni and gin & tonic. However, because it is a more delicate gin, there is not really a need to hide it with sweeteners, lots of ingredients or even a powerful tonic. The best things in life are simple.
In a short sentence—what could a bartender say to a guest to describe Highclere Gin?
Quickly becoming known as the world’s most awarded gin, Highclere Castle is recognized by millions as “the real Downton Abbey”, but is in fact a real castle in England producing the most sophisticated gin available.
What other cocktail ingredients complement Highclere Gin?
Tell us about the beautiful bottle and label—what was the inspiration for the design?
The Highclere Castle Gin bottle is custom and took over a year to design. It is produced in England from sand sourced from France. The high square shoulders were inspired by Highclere’s main tower, bold and strong as it keeps its watchful eye on Highclere’s rolling green hills. The custom unique purple shade that we designed represents both a nod to the lavender we use from the monk’s gardens and as Highclere is very much a noble brand, purple has always been the color of the nobility dating back to ancient roman times. Getting the color was very challenging because we wanted the bottle to glow naturally in sun light or on the back bar while also being understated and strong in low lighting.
Tell us about the future growth of the brand.
Highclere is available in 25 US markets and growing quickly. It is also distributed in Canada, United Kingdom, France and Switzerland with Hungary and Malta markets opening soon. The brand is incredibly well represented in many of the world’s leading restaurants, hotels, and private clubs. We are very thoughtful to ensure true partnerships with any restaurants we work with, in the real spirit of Highclere. Highclere Castle Gin is for mixologists and restauranteurs that deeply care about the provenance and pedigree of the products they serve to their customers. That inspires us as much as we hope to inspire them.