6 O'Clock Gin is our Gin of the Month, so we sat down with Michael Kain, head distiller at Bramley and Gage, to chat about this superb modern gin.
Hi Michael, can you start by telling us a little bit about the history of Bramley & Gage?
Bramley & Gage, the makers of 6 O’Clock Gin started on our family fruit farm in Devon 30 years ago. We began by making strawberry, raspberry and blackcurrant liqueurs and we now make and distil 6 O’Clock Gin and 6 O’Clock Tonic as well as 6 O’Clock Sloe Gin and 6 O’Clock Damson Gin and a range of 13 fruit liqueurs and vermouths.
How did you switch from fruit farming to distilling?
We started with liqueurs as a way of adding value to the crops we had. Sales were okay and we were looking to grow the business so we added some new varieties including a sloe gin. That quickly became our number one seller and when you’re making a lot of sloe gin, you need a lot of gin. So we thought, "hang on, I wonder if we can make our own gin?"
We started with compounding and then switched quickly to distilling because it makes a much better gin.
That gin still wasn’t 6 o’clock. 6 O’Clock started in 2008 when the recession hit and we looked for more ways to grow the business. We were already making gin, and I love gin, so I wanted to try and make a really great London Dry Gin.
Unlike some other brands, there wasn’t one bright spark moment but an evolution of trial and error, iteration and reiteration to get to the recipe that we have today.
And that’s not just the recipe but the sourcing of the ingredients, the equipment, etc. We took a lot of time to refine the process to get to the great gin we sell now.
Can you tell me about 6 O’Clock Gin in your own words?
It’s a dry gin, juniper led with only 7 botanicals, each one adding something to the character of the gin. My view on botanicals is that the more you add the less you can taste. If you have 47 botanicals you can’t name them, you can’t taste them, what’s the point?
Our recipe is inspired by our fruit liqueurs in so far as we aim for purity of flavour. If you’re making a liqueur, it should taste of the fruit you make it from. So with a gin we wanted it to taste clearly of juniper. We set out to make a London Dry style gin but more of a modern interpretation; a little smoother but still at high strength so that it makes a decent gin and tonic.
In fact, making a great gin and tonic was a clear focus for us. Most gins are drunk in a G&T and we’re so committed to making great G&T’s that we started making our own tonic too.
Tell me about 6 O’Clock Tonic.
Tonic makes a huge different to your G&T and when we launched 6 O’Clock tonic most of the other premium tonic brands that people will know about now weren’t available. We were disappointed at the effect the more commercial brands had on our gin, so we set out to make our own citrussy tonic that complements our dry and citrus-led gin.
6 O’Clock Tonic is an all natural tonic, no artificial sweeteners or indeed any artificial ingredients. It’s currently made for us by a small family brewery in the black country, rather than a huge factory. We started by making it in-house and it’s still made to our recipe and using ingredients that we source and send to them.
Do you do everything else in-house?
Yes, in fact, it felt unnatural to have someone else make something for us. For as long as we’ve been doing this, every bottle of 6 O’Clock that there’s ever been has come through our own production lines; labelled by hand, corks added by hand, that’s how it is and that’s what craft and artisan means to me.
Where does the name come from?
The name comes from my grandfather Edward Kain who was an engineer and inventor as well as a world traveller. Because of all the exotic countries he travelled to he needed to take anti-malarial medication and 6 o’lock was the time of day he always drank his anti-malarial tonic. And, of course, what goes better with tonic than gin?
We wanted to honour our grandfather because his tradition of invention and experimentation has really stayed in the family. Plus, I like the name because it strikes a note of restraint. You wait until 6 o’clock for something with quality rather than diving straight in at midday.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Well, like any small business there’s an element of finance and banking that has to happen but a day could be; measuring out botanicals, loading the still, picking fruit, making liqueurs, a sales visit, a tasting, even I.T. There’s no typical day, every day is different.
Aside from 6 O’Clock, what’s your favourite gin?
I’ll give you about 5. I like Sacred Gin, I like Sipsmith, I think it’s a great quality product. I like Tanqueray 10, which of the mainstream brands is underrated. I quite like Christopher Wren Gin from City of London. Oh, and Plymouth Gin!
Tanqueray 10 is generally thought of as a Martini gin, is that how you enjoy it?
No, I drink it with tonic. I really love a gin and tonic and will almost always drink my gin that way. It depends if I can get good tonic. If I can’t get 6 O’Clock Tonic or one of the better brands then I’ll typically have sparkling water rather than one of the lower quality mainstream brands. Nothing ruins good gin like bad tonic.
Have you been to a Gin Festival? What did you think?
We were at Gin Festival Gloucester. We were really happy to be involved because we think you’ve done a great job in educating people as to how great different gins can be.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Our 5-year-old matured sloe gin should be out towards the end of 2017. I’ve tasted it, and it’s amazing! The aging adds richness, roundness, woodiness and earthiness without losing the fruit, juniper and coriander. Unlike commercial sloe gins it isn’t rushed into production. If you’ve made your own sloe gin at home you’ll notice it tastes a little bit better. That’s because sloes have a stone in the middle, a bit of wood, and just like aging spirits in a barrell, letting that stone sit there for longer improves the flavour.
What’s the best thing about what you do?
6 O’Clock, when I get to drink a gin and tonic!
6 O’Clock Gin is our October Gin of the Month. Pick up a bottle this month and you'll get a FREE 4 pack of 6 O'Clock Tonic added to your order. Ideal for mixing with 6 O'Clock Gin.
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