Returning to the place that felt most like home, Joe and Nicki have breathed new life into a beloved family-run business.
Words by Rebecca Hawkey
There is no doubt that Cornwall is a desirable place to live. It draws people in with its golden sand beaches, unrefined clifftops, verdant countryside, and intoxicating charm. For Joe and Nicki at Elemental Cornish Gin (as the brand was previously known), they were hooked from the very beginning, and have since created a life for themselves and their family here in the heart of Cornwall. Over hurdles and through emotional trenches, Joe and Nicki have breathed new life into a well-loved brand, bringing it to the forefront of the distilling game here in Cornwall, and taking Elemental to the next level. I speak to Nicki about their humble beginnings.
Tell us how you ended up living and working in Cornwall, and what drew you here?
Joe and I met at university in Plymouth and spent much of our time surfing on the north Cornwall and Devon coast. We had already done a fair amount of travelling separately, but after university we packed our backpacks and headed East. We spent a few years travelling through China and most of Southeast Asia, Australia and then across to Canada and South America, eventually ending up back in the UK. After hopping around London and Oxfordshire for a few years we headed back down to the south west of England, where we first met, and arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world.
With a background in conservation and eco-tourism I worked in the travel industry for nearly ten years, and Joe worked in project management, and still does. This lends itself surprisingly well to running a distillery, although trying to balance this with two small children can be a challenge.
We are an outdoors family. You could just as easily find us at the beach as up a mountain. We are incredibly lucky to live where we do and have our kids grow up in the wilds of Cornwall. We try to make the most of it as much as we can.
How did you go from conservation and project management, to distilling in the Duchy?
Joe stumbled across the distillery one day and jokingly asked me if I would like a gin distillery in Cornwall. Being the gin-lover that I am, obviously I said ‘hell yes’! We knew that we wanted to make something, to be creative and work for ourselves, and we have always known that we would end up in this part of the world. After much soul searching, many sleepless nights and a few Elemental gin and tonics, here we are! We threw our heart, soul and all our money into this business so it is very much a part of us. We had found our next adventure.
Our Classic recipe was developed by Elemental’s original founders Jon and Jilly back in 2013. They wanted to create a premium quality, hand-crafted Cornish Gin back when there were significantly fewer gins on the market. Elemental was one of the first gins to be distilled and bottled in Cornwall for over 300 years, and it took months of alcohol alchemy to perfect the recipe, which for a long time was a closely guarded family secret. They wanted to create a classic gin that paid tribute to the amazing place in which it is made and was best enjoyed in good company.
Joe and I took over the distillery in early 2020. Since the beginning, we have continued the tradition of creating the hand-crafted, small-batch, premium gin that people know and love, which has been of great importance to us. That, and breathing some new life into the distillery and the brand. By continuing to pay homage to Cornwall, and the elements that surround us, we honour the land that helps craft our delicious gin.
Elemental has its roots in gin. Is this still the case, or have you branched out?
It was! But Joe has always had his sights set on experimenting with something different. We have recently brought out Norvys Cornish Moorland Vodka; fantastic, pure, extremely smooth and versatile, this is a vodka that we are incredibly proud of and have high hopes for. Norvys, which means ‘earth’ in Cornish, is charcoal filtered and blended with the finest spring water sourced from Bodmin Moor. Once again, we love where we live, and the name is a nod to one of our most valuable elements that we need to love and protect. Back in the summer of 2022 we also decided to get Elemental Gin beach ready, and released our awesome Beachside cans which are made with our award-winning Classic and Apple Gins. We have been blown away with the positive reaction to these and hope that they will be filling all Eskys around the county this summer! These exciting new products led us to re-brand as Elemental Distilling Co, a better reflection of our company as it stands today.
You took over Elemental Cornish Gin just before Covid-19 breached our shores. What has the journey been like for you?
It was hands down the biggest hurdle. The hope was that Joe and I would run the business together as a team, but unfortunately the impact that Covid had on the business, and the industry, delayed a lot of our plans and only added to the juggling act, resulting in lots of late-night bottling and labelling.
When we started out it was Joe and I, and this is still the case. Between us we run the business and make the gin, but we are now joined by Izzy, queen of all things sales and marketing. We also have Allen, who is our distilling assistant, making sure our bottles hit the road in pristine condition, as well as keeping us in line! We have a whole support crew made up of family, friends and neighbours whom we could not do without, not to mention our chaotic kiddos and furry friends. When we say we are a family-run distillery, we really mean it.
The distillery itself is a little building/big shed at the bottom of the garden – very literally. A walk to work consists of wellies and views overlooking the rolling Cornish countryside. Access is tricky and in winter we have a farmer friend who helps us bring in our larger deliveries and our pallets of bottles through the mud-strewn fields, to avoid getting our pallet truck stuck!
We do love it – it’s beautiful and quaint – but it’s not overly practical, so we have some exciting plans to move to a bigger distillery within the awesome Clearspace Hub at Dunveth Park in Wadebridge very soon, so watch this space.
Joe and Nicki have family at the heart of all they do, this much is clear. Thanks to their dedication and love for this endeavour, Elemental Distilling Co has stayed true to its roots. Crafted using traditional methods, they continue to distil the small-batch, premium spirits that have been synonymous with Elemental for all these years, paying tribute to the lands we call home.