GIN MASTERCLASS AT COLWITH FARM DISTILLERY
Colwith Farm, near Lanlivery, has been in the Dustow family for five generations, since Stafford Dustow bought the farm in 1904. It is now the home of a successful potato business and, since spring 2018, a smart new distillery and visitor centre.
The farm is currently run by father and son, Michael and Chris, who grow 300 acres of potatoes for customers such as Burts Crisps and McCaines, and Chris’ brother Steve who oversees the distillery. Grandfather Clive is now in his 80s but he still comes to work every day too.
There are now dozens of gin producers in Cornwall, but Colwith Farm Distillery has a significant point of difference in that it is the county’s only “plough to bottle” distillery, something that came about due to the need for diversification on the farm.
Unlike most distilleries, which buy in cheap ethanol as a base spirit, Steve uses the farm’s homegrown potatoes to create his own vodka, which is then distilled to produce gin. I visited the distillery, where Steve explained the process…
Around 1.5 tonnes of potatoes are used in the distillery each week. To put this into context, Burts uses 300 tonnes per week. A high starch, floury potato is used. The first part of the process consists of peeling then mulching the potatoes, to which two enzymes are added.
From the 1.5 tonnes of potatoes, approximate 800kg of potato “slurry” is created, which is then cooked at 95ºC, and cooled, and yeast is added at 32ºC. This process takes a day, and the result is an 8% ABV potato wine, which is then transferred to the first still, shown below.
The liquid is passed through this still, increasing the alcohol content from 8% to 25% ABV, then passed through a second still (below) increasing the alcohol content again to create a 96% ABV ethanol.
This ethanol is simply diluted, using mineral water from the aquifer below the farm, and the result is Aval Dor vodka. ( Aval dor is the Cornish word for potato.) Aval Dor is creamy with hints of toffee, viscous and smooth, with no harshness.
There are currently only six distilleries in the UK creating vodka from scratch, and Colwith Farm is the only one in the West Country to do so.
In order to create gin, the ethanol is mixed with mineral water and botanicals, and undergoes a secondary distillation in the handsome copper stills.
Stafford’s Gin (named after Steve’s great great grandfather) contains as many botanicals grown on the farm as possible, including rosemary, lemon balm, bay leaves and elderflower, as well as those that aren’t grown in Cornwall, such as juniper berries, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Interestingly the flavour changes through the distillation process, starting fruitier and lighter with an ABV of 80%, turning heavier and harsher as the ABV drops. There are also seasonal variations due to the change in flavour of the botanicals over the course of the year.
Stafford’s Gin is bold and dry, with complex flavours – not too much juniper, but spicy and citrusy.
Following the fascinating tour, it was my chance to create my own bottle of gin in the workshop, which is the most beautiful chemistry laboratory I’ve ever seen, with eight individual mini copper stills.
After a quick tasting of the gin and vodka produced on site (very quick – I was driving so couldn’t indulge), and with the help of a “gin flavour wheel” and a little advice from Steve, I selected my botanicals: juniper berries, almonds, pine nuts, apricot, coriander, cubebs, lemon balm, lime leaves, rose petals and sea buckthorn.
Ethanol, water and the handful of botanicals were added to a mini still, and the distillation process took around 20 minutes, after which I measured the ABV, added water to reduce it to a respectable 44%. My gin was poured into a bottle, sealed, labelled, et voilà…
The flavours need to mellow for a couple of weeks, but I’m looking forward to trying it for the first time very soon.
Speaking to Steve, it’s clear that the distillery, and the creation of Stafford’s Gin, have been a labour of love, and one that has truly paid off.
For more information or to book a visit to Cornwall’s only “single estate” distillery, see www.colwithfarmdistillery.co.uk.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Colwith Farm Distillery. The usual cost of a distillery tour and gin masterclass is £100 per person, or £150 for a couple. Thank you to Steve for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.