An experiment with fruit from the Warner family farm in their newly established gin distillery led to Warner’s Rhubarb Gin setting the standard for the growing pink gin trend today. Food & Drink Business sat down with founder Tom Warner to find out more about the brand’s expansion into Australia and the handcrafted precision applied to every bottle of gin.
Based in the UK, the Warner farm’s main operation is cattle farming, which uses around 95 per cent of the farm’s footprint. Despite the Warner’s distillery business occupying a smaller area, it carries the larger turnover.
“Agriculture is a lifestyle industry because you’re asset rich but cash poor so we wanted to generate more cash from the assets we had,” Warner told F&DB.
“So, we started looking at lots of different businesses that could be done using the farm as a functional part of the business or as a backdrop for what we were doing.”
Warner said the penultimate idea was distillation of floral crops to sell into the soap and fragrance market, however, they needed to find another use of the still – “then we thought, we can make booze, that’s way more exciting.”
Gin was the perfect fit for the business, Warner said, based on the natural setting and botanical gardens on the farm, as well as the “foodie” background of both Warner and his wife’s family.
The recipe for Warner’s first gin – their orignal Harrington Dry Gin, a classic London dry – was perfected using a one-shot distillation method. It is used as a base before adding fresh, organic material post distillation to create the flavours in its flavoured gin range.
“We’re about creating smaller batches, which gives you softer more textured mouthfeel of spirit, but the downside is that its quite masochistic because last year we did 453 distillations, which is more than one a day to make enough gin, whereas some distillers do only seven distillations for their entire year supply,” said Warner.
“For our first flavoured gin, my mum soaked fresh elderflower in the gin for two weeks and added a bit of sugar and it was amazing.”
“Not only were we harnessing the elderflower fresh from the farm, but we also ended up with this slightly coloured uniquely flavoured liquid and in 2013 no one was doing flavoured gin, and now the market is flooded with flavoured gins.”
Pink gin steps into the scene
In 2014, Warner’s brand launched its rhubarb gin, which he says is “the first rhubarb gin in the world and the first gin that is pink by volume”.
“It has inspired the rolling stone of the trend – ours is the original and the best,” said Warner.
“The gin comes off the still at 89 per cent and we cut it to bottle strength with the juice – a third of the bottle is rhubarb. There’s no flavourings, no syrups, it’s rhubarb juice and still-strength gin in a bottle.”
The Warner farm now has three botanical gardens, which accounts for six acres (around 2.4 hectares), to ensure the Warner’s business remains self-sufficient and helps create the flavour in all of its ranges.
Warner said the brand now has less reliance on importing and has increased biodiversity on what would’ve been a monoculture on the farm.
“It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship between flavour, distillation and the environment that keeps getting bigger, it’s incredible.”
“I say that we don’t make ‘craft gin’ as it’s a marketing term but we make graft gin because it is about the time, work, energy and passion that goes into every gin.”
Warner’s London Dry Gin and Rhubarb Gin only recently launched in Australia, with Warner’s visit coinciding with the Fever Tree Festival in Sydney and Junipalooza in Melbourne, where the rhubarb gin “sold out on the first day and we had to go and restock.”
Warner’s brand gins are available in Dan Murphy’s stores around the country, with more of the product range expected to be introduced in the coming months.