Words by Rosie Cattrell
Combining the purity of Cornwall’s unspoilt natural resources with a desire to bring something new to the Cornish spirit scene.
With sweet, crisp and natural flavours surrounding us here in the south west, many have come to realise the potential that Cornwall’s abundant larder has to offer, and Brian Farmer and his family have come across something that seems to have so far been overlooked in the Duchy. Blending local ingredients and rich orchard flavours with a long-established tradition, Moorland Distillery has landed firmly on the map of Cornish artisan spirits.
Having worked in training and development for 20 years, Brian suddenly found himself without a job and decided to start a small social enterprise, supporting long term unemployed individuals into work. “Although this type of work proved to be very rewarding, it came with many challenges and as we live on a smallholding, we began to look at alternative types of business that we could run from home.” With the family on board, the path to their very own business wasn’t as smooth as they’d hoped, as Brian so kindly elaborates: “If I’m honest I made a few mistakes, one being venturing into Aquaponics which involved converting our lounge into a small-scale plant, painting the floor red, installing 1,000 litre tanks, various pumps and a complicated filter system. This project hit snags early on due to water treatment, energy consumption and it is fair to say it was a struggle to get the family on board, so we decided to rethink our plans quite quickly.
Without having a lot of land, we knew we needed to find a niche product of fairly high value and we were determined to make a truly Cornish product from scratch; a product that could be purchased for that special occasion and that would be attractive to the ever-growing tourist trade.” Brian and his family began to research new businesses that were small scale and that had grown quite rapidly in a short time. One of the industries that caught their eye was the gin market which, when linked to a Cornish brand, demonstrated enormous potential.
But it seemed that everyone who was producing gin was sourcing their ingredients from outside the county, which was something that the Farmer family didn’t want to do. After spending many hours attending craft fairs, food and drink festivals, and trawling supermarket alcohol shelves to find that missing Cornish beverage, they soon came to realise that a true Cornish apple brandy, produced in the traditional way from fruit wine, was missing from the market. “We had found a potential product and research indicated that most ‘true’ fruit brandies were distilled using a traditional copper pot still and matured in oak barrels,” explains Brian. “So, throwing caution to the wind, we located and imported a 150 litre copper still from Germany.” Enter, the affectionately named, Susie.
With a vision to produce a truly Cornish product that is made from scratch, in Cornwall, by the Cornish, the Farmer team set out to lay the foundations for Moorland Distillery. Starting with apple juice, which is fermented into apple wine using selected yeasts, a process which is common with all true brandies, the low wines are transferred to the copper still, Susie, and gently heated to extract the apple wine spirit. “Only the very heart of the distilled alcohol is used to produce our Apple Brandy,” Brian continues, “being settled briefly before being ‘laid to rest’ in oak barrels, sealed with bees wax and left to mature. Our cellar is well ventilated which provides the advantage of barrels being exposed, in some degree, to the infamous ‘Cornish mizzle’. Early trials have shown us that this unique combination of quality natural ingredients, pure spirit, prolonged contact with oak and climate has the potential to produce an outstanding brandy. We stored our first brandy in the summer of 2017 and we launched our ‘one year old’ fresh bottles in the summer of 2018.”
However, the team would find that there were yet more challenges to overcome. Once they had started to produce their Apple Spirit, and after putting it into oak barrels to mature for five years, they very quickly entered the ‘cashflow crisis’ mode, so production came to a bitter halt. Not wanting to compromise on the quality of the product they’d uncovered, Brian and his family went back to square one, attending more shows and events, trawling the supermarkets, searching for a product that could be produced alongside their brandy, without having to mature.
“After a lot of further research, we came up with an idea of a Cornish apple schnapps that could possibly appeal to a younger generation or be a key cocktail ingredient,” he explains. Made from a careful blend of spirit, apple juice and spring water, the Moorland Distillery Apple Schnapps is produced as an 8% and a 20%. The 8% can be served over ice or with a mixer and incudes honey from their own bees that live in the apple orchard. The 20% can also be served over ice, but is more popular as a base for a cocktail with prosecco, ginger ale or champagne.
“Having finally established a range of beverages that met our criteria, we explored the wholesale markets but found that without samples, sales were slow. With this in mind, we took the decision to focus on events, markets and food and drink festivals where samples could be offered. Then Covid-19 hit and all the shows were cancelled for two years!” Despite all this, Brian and his family have kept Moorland Distillery running, and together are finding success.
Although running a business as a family is certain to come with its challenges, the team have done their best to identify each other’s strengths and where each of them might add value to the business, as Brian elaborates: “We have an IT expert who keeps the infrastructure up and running, an engineer who solves all our equipment running issues and another son who is brimming with confidence when facing customers. Alongside this my wife, our ‘mission control’, has an expert eye for detail on our image which includes label design, marketing material, stall design and anything that requires that special input. I mainly focus on production, spending endless hours in the distillery or as some people call it, my ‘man cave’.”
While it was not their intention to produce a wide range of products, Moorland Distillery now offer a sweet and indulgent Cherry Brandy and a sloe-based Hip Flask alongside their Apple Brandy and Apple Schnapps, with some exciting plans for a new product in 2022. With all the flavours of a Cornish orchard blended into their tantalising product, it comes as no surprise that as many locals are buying the products as are sold into tourism, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones who are looking forward to what’s going to come next for Moorland Distillery.