Whiskey business

The Day – Elegance reigns supreme with Highclere Castle Gin

Downton Abbey fans have more to celebrate than the release of the new film. There’s a gin with a local connection that is gaining international acclaim and is made by Lord and Lady Carnarvon, owners of Highclere Castle, with botanicals grown on the vast estate where the series and films are set.

You might want to whip up a gin martini to greet the release of the sequel, Downton Abbey: A New Era, on March 18 (at press time, the US film’s release date has been moved to May 20) .

Highclere Castle Gin, a partnership between Centerbrook businessman Adam von Gootkin and the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, who live in the castle which inspired Downton Abbey and where some scenes are filmed, has received more than 50 awards of gold and platinum and in the estimation of its creators is on its way to becoming one of the most sought-after gins in the world.

Distilled at the historic Langley distillery in northern Britain, in an old copper pot still dating back to the 1800s, the gin is made with orange, linden blossom, lavender, juniper, root angelica, cassia bark, cardamom and oats. These are the same oats grown at Highclere to feed the thoroughbred racehorses at Highclere Castle Stud, as well as many other of the world’s best thoroughbred racehorses.

The oats are what give Highclere Gin its smooth finish, von Gootkin said, and it was the idea of ​​Lord and Lady Carnarvon who teamed up with him to add the grain.

“Scientifically, it doesn’t make sense to add oats to a gin with the botanical blend, but Lord and Lady have excellent palates, so I said ‘Let’s try it’…and c that’s why we got this creamy finish,” he said.

Juniper has grown wild around Highclere since the property was occupied by the Romans, but is protected in Britain, so the gin juniper comes from elsewhere. But the other plants come straight from the castle property, such as lavender from the Jardin des Moines and citrus peel from the orangery.

But how come a former Connecticut moonshine maker has now teamed up with the owners of the majestic 200-room Highclere Castle to craft a highly acclaimed gin? As absurd as that sounds, von Gootkin, who got his start in the spirits business with his Connecticut-based Onyx Moonshine Distillery, sent the Carnarvons an email pitching the idea.

His moonshine was selling well in Connecticut, but von Gootkin wanted to create a spirit that had global, not just local, appeal. He is of English descent on his mother’s side, a Chafee – his mother’s cousin is former Rhode Island Governor and U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee – and von Gootkin said the family ran a successful distillery in the 1960s. 1800 which was shut down by the government after a relative was caught avoiding paying federal taxes on barrels of whiskey shipped to Canada.

Later, during Prohibition, according to von Gootkin, the family had a hotel in Middletown on the Connecticut River, where steam ferries made daily trips to and from Manhattan, carrying on board forbidden spirits which were served in the speakeasy. from the Chafee Hotel.

So around 2009, when von Gootkin, now 38, quit the music business and decided to moonlight instead, he was surprised when his grandmother told him the story. colorful family in the trade, which he had never heard before.

Apparently the spirits are in the blood of the family, he said.

Onyx took off, but von Gootkin was looking to create a spirit with global appeal that had a story and was authentic and he decided, why not ask the owners of Highclere Castle, who have other business arrangements, if they wanted to associate with him.

“I was introduced to Highclere Castle via Downton Abbey, along with 250 million other fans around the world, and was so inspired by the place that when I learned it was real, I reached out to the castle,” said von Gootkin, at Highclere Castle Gin’s US headquarters in Centerbrook. There is also an office for the gin trade at Highclere Castle.

“It was a very random email, to like general email logs,” he said. “And the next thing you know Lord Carnarvon called me and we had a wonderful conversation and two weeks later I was on a plane to stay the weekend.”

It was five years ago.

What he told Carnarvon, he said, was that he was an American spirits entrepreneur who regularly visited England and very much enjoyed his time there, and believed that the castle, with its rich history and extensive gardens, was the perfect inspiration for a new gin. .

“What’s so beautiful about Highclere Castle, the reason it makes the perfect brand and the perfect gin, is that you have those two main components,” von Gootkin said. “On one side you have the castle with hundreds of years of entertaining the most famous and interesting people in the world. They have hosted royalty, celebrities, statesmen, scientists , poets, many of the world’s most fascinating people, and Lord and Lady Carnarvon still do it today.

And then there are the gardens, where many of the plants used to grow gin grow naturally, and have done so for centuries.

After his first visit to Highclere, von Gootkin said he returned several times to forge a friendship and business arrangement with the Earl and Countess.

“When you’re there for dinner, you never know if you’re going to be next to the ambassador to Egypt and opposite a princess from the mainland,” he said. “So, you know, they bring people together from all over the world and from all walks of life and all professions, to forge friendships and relationships. And these parties, which date back at least to the late 1800s, always start with gin cocktails,” he said.

“When guests arrive, butlers are lined up and ready to go with gin cocktails on a tray expertly mixed by head butler, Luis,” von Gootkin said.

It was at one of these parties where guests gathered with their after-dinner drinks to enjoy cigars that von Gootkin had an idea for another business opportunity with the Carnarvons. He contacted a friend who is a renowned Nicaraguan cigar blender and asked if he could try to replicate a cigar described in an old bill found in the castle archives.

Yes, the cigar maker told him, he could.

“Six months later, Lord Carnarvon and I are in the jungle of Nicaragua like an episode of Indiana Jones, and we’re tasting our final brew,” von Gootkin said, adding, “And now it’s one of the top rated cigars in all of the United States.

But it was the alcohol that took center stage and after around three years of work the partners launched their gin in 2019, just months before the global pandemic hit.

Everything about their product is British, from the ingredients to the distillery, the distribution center and even the shape of the bottle – it mimics the tallest tower in the castle – and its color, royal purple – even the barcode or the SKU – it’s staggered to look like Highclere Towers.

The gin has received very good reviews and is being helped by an influx of new gin drinkers. “Even through the turbulence of the past two years, gin has proven to be the tonic for many, with the Wine and Spirit Trade Association reporting a 22% increase in sales over the previous year,” thedrinksreport said. com in a December 2021 article.

When COVID hit and people hunkered down at home, the Carnarvons participated in virtual cocktail parties on social media and hundreds of thousands of viewers tuned in, von Gootkin said.

“Our team at the castle broadcast live with Luis the butler making them a cocktail and having fun,” he said.

There is a published and online booklet, called A Butler’s Guide to English Cocktails, which includes a brief history of the castle, a message from the Butler at Highclere, and recipes for gin drinks like The White Lady, The Negroni, a British 75, and, of course, a gin and tonic and a gin martini.

“Lady Carnarvon found the handwritten cocktail notes of this old 1920s butler in the castle archives,” von Gootkin said of the creation of the book. These recipes have been passed down for decades from one Highclere butler to another.

Today, these cocktails are made with gin from a bottle bearing the name and image of Highclere Castle.

“We have sent the gin to many of the most prestigious tasting panels in the world and yesterday we were up to 51 international gold, double gold and platinum awards, with most of our scores around 95 or 96,” von Gootkin said in mid-January. “So we are on our way to becoming the highest rated gin in the world.”