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Freshness and Balance

From the crisp zest of cliff-top alexanders to the delicate fragrance of beach roses, Padstow Distilling has found a way to bottle the very essence of Cornwall’s wild and wonderful coastline. Words by Rosie Cattrell

Scents and flavours have the power to transport us through time and place, whether into long-forgotten childhood memories or back to the landscape we know to be home. For Founder of the Padstow Wine Company, David McWilliam, it’s the borders of the Cornish coast that called to his own senses, producing his first gin in 2019 before developing an original barley-based recipe as part of the Padstow Distilling Co, inspired by the natural world around him. It is through this story that he kindly guides us, on a journey through barley fields to the edges of Cornish clifftops, fringed with alexanders.

How important is it to you to be using locally grown and foraged ingredients in your collection of gins?

We see it as the most wonderful opportunity. Not only do we use barley that grows literally a quarter of a mile from our HQ, but I pick botanicals from the edges of the same fields. We’re very lucky that the produce that grows around us works so well, producing a lovely, bright, crisp taste. There’s a certain amount of curation that has gone into the gin, and we’ve certainly experimented and played around with different flavours and different styles in order to get the one that we think really reflects the region. It seems that increasingly people want to understand that what they’re eating or drinking has actually got some provenance to it.

Tell me about the relationship that your gins have with Cornwall and the landscape in which they were made.

I’ve been visiting Cornwall since I was a child; my grandparents and parents would holiday down here and we’d always take long walks along the South West Coast Path. I’ve had all that sensory input from childhood, which came back to me when I moved here at 24, and I’ve lived here ever since. So, when we were looking at recipes and the way to create our gin, it was when we started adding the local botanicals that really took me on this sensory journey right back to the coast, so there’s a kind of give and take relationship with nature there. And there’s a certain amount of trial and error that comes with that – I didn’t know that that alexanders, for instance, (which is the botanical that I picked from that little stretch of the estuary) were going to make the most wonderfully evocative spirit. It’s as much about discovery as it is about design.

Taking on all the foraging yourself, what does it mean to you to be so hands on in that respect?

As we grow I will eventually teach other people how to forage for botanicals, but the volume that we need from the cliffs isn’t huge, and we deep freeze alexanders for production all year round. One thing we have started doing increasingly is to actually take clients out on a discovery walk from the harbour in Padstow along the coast path to St George’s Well, after which our original gin is named, and then over to the barley field at Gun Point where there are some lovely cliffs overlooking the beach where I pick the alexanders. It’s a lovely experience to go and taste those botanicals; we snap them and put them in our mouths for a little nibble of this lovely sweet, savoury, saline flavour. Naturally we finish with a gin and tonic on the beach which is just wonderfully luxurious, but at the same time a really natural experience. It’s a bit like going to a vineyard and looking at the grapes, and the sense of nostalgia that comes with smelling and tasting the wine.

One of your latest additions is the Hawkers Cove rose gin. How did you come up with that particular flavour?

It was important to me that we had a small range of gins, but I never really wanted to do a big variety of really intense flavours. I’m very much about freshness and balance. There’s a little tiny beach just below Gun Point where a particular beach rose grows, which in June and July produces the most gorgeous scented pink flowers. The fragrance is fantastic, and that was the inspiration for our rose gin. It’s actually a very light, soft gin based primarily on juniper (which gin must be) but we also include pink peppercorns in the botanical mix which gives it a lovely pink note. It’s got that perfect balance between the delicate fragrance of roses with the dryness of juniper and the freshness of the pink peppercorns, which combines to produce a really soft, gentle dry gin, winning us the gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which we were absolutely delighted with.

What inspired you to create the rum and vodka in your collection?

The rum is an easy one. It may be fairly easy to work out that we’ll be producing some whiskey quite soon because we use barley that grows nearby, which is of course the foundation for whiskey, so the rum felt like a bit of a no brainer, especially with the maritime connection here in Cornwall. The vodka is something that actually arrived before the gin, which always begins with a spirit. Vodka is essentially the base of all gin, and in a way the DNA of what we do.

Do you have any exciting plans for the future?

Producing whiskey will be really exciting for us, so that’s definitely in the pipeline. This year is particularly special for us, because while we’re already distilling in Padstow, our big plan is to bring the barley processing back to Padstow too along with the gin creation. We got distillery approval on 17th January, which was very exciting. The first still arrived very recently, and we’ve got more equipment arriving in the next couple of months. This means that it’ll all be happening in house, and that’s really exciting for a number of reasons. We’ll have complete control of our own spirits, which is really important, and we’ll have the development potential to make many different styles of spirits. For instance, there’s going to be a couple of citrus special editions, one of which is a lemon gin which will be available in the next few weeks actually. We’ll be able to make any number of little batches of whatever we choose in terms of experimentation, and we’ll also have the capability to make gins for other people. Imagine you’re a chef who has a lovely venue and you just think, ‘I’d love my own gin’. Overall, we currently make about 5,000 bottles a year, but now we’ll have the capacity to make closer to 40,000. That’s huge for us, and a massive step towards taking our little local brand and making it a national one.


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