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Drink Finder Ginversation with Monterey Distillery

Drink Finder Meets the Maker, Monterey

So Simon, tell us about yourself. How did you find yourself here today distilling gin?

So I guess it is a bit of a long journey that started when I lived in London. Where I fell in love with drinking gin. I was enjoying drinking vodka but then found gin as most of us do. Because I was in London you start going to all sorts of bars and those bars tend to get more creative in their use of gin and you find you have developed a love for gin. Fast forward some time, I have two friends that I went skiing with every year and would talk about gin a lot. Eventually they said ‘well why don’t you stop talking and why don’t you start making’. And so we agreed to do it, we started a process that was two and a half years, maybe more ago. We bought a small still and started to experiment to see if we could start with relatively zero knowledge and make something that was reasonably ok and then develop further and refine. It took a lot of experimentation and learning along the way which involved a lot of mistakes. And here we are today.

What is the story behind the brand name?

Well there is a lot of gins out there on the market and I wanted one name. It took a long time to find a single word that had any relation to the location of where we are now on the Helford. There is are lots of Monterey pines around where we are now and one day it came upon me to call it our gin Monterey, it stuck with me for a while with ideas like having a Monty and Tonic. I like the idea that Monterey Pines have a connection to the gin era that I see is the true gin era - the 20s and 30s. It is also when all the Monterey pines were planted in and around Cornwall. I am particularly fond of that period and time, the savoy cocktail book is one of my personal favourites. So yeah I guess for me all gin is associated with that time period as are the Monterey pines.
Monterey Head Distiller Simon Finemore

What is the secret to making a good gin?

It’s a very good question and I am going to struggle to answer that. Ahhhhhhh… I think you have to have, for me anyway you have to have those classic gin elements. Heavy Juniper and Coriander notes and then everything else is a version or a certain twist on that recipe base. I like gin to have a pleasing aroma, a smooth and clean mouthfeel, it should take you on a flavour journey as different elements are expressed on your taste buds over time. For me a gin has to work best in classic cocktails such as a Martini. I will have to think about this question. Its easy to say what I don’t like and what makes a bad gin, but the answer to a good gin….. so much harder.

What was your original view for the distillery and how has that changed?

Well that is a difficult question, I guess it has been an organic development as I had no particular view, to start all I wanted to see was if we could do it. I guess it has sort of developed over time and will continue to develop so we will see where it goes. For the moment it is as I imagined and I am happy with that.

What challenges did you face in the early days of the business, when you first entered this industry?

So there’s the nuances and subtleties of distilling you only get with experience from the hours, days and the months you put in -which are absolutely necessary. From a scientific point of view it looks to be a pretty straight forward process. But there is a certain number of non linear relationships to getting the product to be what you want it to be and to be consistent and most of all enjoyable on the palate! The subtleties and nuances are difficult to grasp and appreciate when you first start out. Technically there is a few challenges as well as getting the right kit and then working out systems so you do not waste any very expensive alcohol. And yeah you have to learn fast as it is not cheap if you get it wrong, there has been times when we did get it wrong and it hurts.
Monterey Distillery Dog Nuuska and Monterey Pines

What makes this distillery stand out from the ever-growing crowd of gin producers?

I would say that our perspective is that I would like to think that our gin is not part of the new wave of gins, it is more of a classic gin aimed at the cocktail market and lovers of gin. That is reflective in the styling of the bottle, labels and its association with the gin boom era of the 20s and 30s. It’s a classic gin and brand that hopefully will stay the distance, continue to develop and not disappear after a few years. We are not into producing fruity or fancy gins, nothing against fruity or fancy gins, they are very popular, but that is not what I like to drink and for that reason we don’t make them.

Can you tell us more about your ethos and philosophy with production, are there any changes instore for the future?

So well our original idea was to use an organic base, that was a must and I wanted everything to be as organic as possible but I found that I had to compromise with regards to the quality of the botanicals as only some of the ones I could source were organic and of sufficient quality. You have to compromise on certain botanicals because you want a certain profile and quality. The original idea was to be totally organic but I found that difficult on a number of fronts so some of the botanicals are not organic sadly. But we are still in search of the organic replacements for the remaining non organic botanicals, they just need to be of the right quality and profile.

Monterey Pine Tree

How did you come across your flagship recipe?

I arrived at what I call a sort of ballpark recipe at version 32 and then so that was the rough sketch of where I wanted it to go and then from there we spent time refining that sketch. It took from version 32 to 57 until I was happy. Version 57 was the one! It was down to a personal taste and vision in regards to what I like to drink and I know others do too.

Some think the gin ‘bubble’ may burst soon, can you see this happening?

Well originally when we first came up with this idea, I said “there’s no point it’s going to burst and it will soon. What’s the point of the time and money” that was two nearly three years ago now. Yet here we are 3 years later and the gin market is still growing. I would hope that when the gin market does slow as it must at some point this brand will survive hopefully better than others as it’s a classic gin profile. Hopefully it continues to grow.

Where do you see the distillery in 5 to 10 years?

I would like to see the brand grow, I would like to see the brand survive. I am not expecting the brand to be competing with the historic big names like Gordon’s any time soon. I wouldn’t want to lose the small batch distinction I wouldn’t want to sell it to a bigger company that would take the production from my hands to a large scale machine. I think keeping it hands on is very important.