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The seed of an idea

Words by Dan Warden

An ethos that embodies the Cornish way of life, dedicating itself to the craft of distilling and the pursuit of provenance.

Self-confessed as having a “long-standing obsession with provenance in the food and drink world”, for years, Will Herrmann felt this was missing when it came to spirits. “I wanted to set about changing this.”

© Ben Pryor

It all began in 2018, which is when Will purchased Trefresa Farm, now the home of Porthilly Spirit Distillery. “We have a long term plan to build a hotel here,” explains Will, but “when we were originally looking at concepts, we had the idea of putting a small distillery in the bar. This planted the seed of an idea.”

It was around the same time that Will set out to build the best team possible, to create the best drink they could. The first batch came in the form of a small 100-bottle run, “initially created for my 40th birthday”, he explains. A few months later in 2019, Will and his newly formed team began devoting their time to research and development, until they finally arrived at a set of spirits that now, Will tells me, “we are extremely proud of”.

It was amidst the recent Coronavirus pandemic that the first Porthilly Spirit products were launched, and as you can imagine, the changing landscape meant that the team had to quickly adapt their modus operandi. This meant that “rather than selling predominantly to bars and restaurants, we focused on selling direct to customers”. They also created a host of amazing cocktail recipes on their website, giving those suddenly with more time on their hands the inspiration to start making the most of sunny days spent in the garden.

© Ben Pryor

Always excited by an origin story, I ask how the distillery has evolved since its relatively recent conception. “When we started, we were honest beginners,” reveals Will. “We were – and still are – learning and questioning as the recipes developed, and taking feedback from all who tried the spirits.

“The products continue to evolve,” he continues, “but we’re staying honest to our founding principles of quality and provenance.” In fact, Porthilly is currently working on some exciting limited edition products, and collaborations with the amazing chefs and foodies surrounding us here in Cornwall. And it’s no wonder… The Duchy plays by a different rulebook when it comes to food. Surrounded by the ocean, with innumerable acres of farmland between coasts, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to food that’s reared, grown and caught within a few mere miles. This feeds into the very core of the Porthilly Spirit ethos, and Will tells me that “everything we do and create is influenced and inspired by our location on the north Cornwall coast. Farm, shore and sea.”

“We are driven by a passion for provenance, and love working with people who share this idea.” In turn, this drive yields products of the highest quality, and in what has been, compared to other businesses, a very short space of time, the team have nevertheless garnered a sterling reputation, particularly among those who relish a dash of quality with their chosen tonic.

© Ben Pryor

Although dedicated to the craft and keen to keep its traditions alive, Porthilly Spirit is nonetheless an innovator. In fact, when I ask Will how a new recipe is settled on, he explains that some of the distillery’s newest recipes are the result of collaboration with some of the Duchy’s most forward thinking individuals, oft from disciplines not traditionally associated with drink. “For example, we’re about to launch a limited edition rum which has been cold smoked! The recipe was created by local chef and master of smoked food, Andi Tuck.”

The result, Will assures us, is spectacular – smooth and noticeably smoky – and great on its own or in a cocktail. “I think it would work brilliantly in an old fashioned,” Will muses. For me, having spent the lockdown researching the art of barbeque, building my own makeshift smoker whilst simultaneously nurturing a taste for rum, this limited edition elixir can’t come quickly enough…

Moving on, we couldn’t talk about Porthilly Spirit Distillery without touching on the exciting and highly anticipated Porthilly Spirit Festival. May this year would have seen the festival’s ‘maiden voyage’, however, as was the case for festivals around the world, the Coronavirus pandemic put pay to this year’s event. But Will is keen to reassure that “we are doing all we can to make it happen in 2021”, and I think it’s fair to suggest that this is set to become a highlight of the season for festival goers all over the UK – a three-day celebration of the ethos behind everything the team does at Trefresa Farm.

© Ben Pryor

© Ben Pryor

© Ben Pryor

“It’s about delivering an experience for all those who share our fascination with the land and sea, bringing in local producers, artisans, restaurateurs, musicians and creatives, to create a weekend of discovery.”

And although we will have to wait until at least 2021 for the festival to get the green light, there are some exciting plans taking shape in the meantime, including a series of smaller events at the farm – “special feasts with live music” – which I for one am keeping my ears firmly to the ground for more details.

Having learned all about Porthilly’s uncertain, tumultuous, but ultimately flying start, I find myself wondering what the future holds for Will and the team. Are there plans for any new recipes, or to grow the business at all? “Our first few batches have been created in collaboration with some brilliant master distillers in Cornwall,” says Will, “but our mission has always been to create a distillery at Trefresa Farm.

© Ben Pryor

“We hope to start work on building this in the coming months, and this will be the first step in our longer term plans to breathe life back into the farm.” In fact, over the next couple of years, Trefresa Farm will be central to a grand campaign of regeneration, including the creation of a community hub and a boutique hotel, spa and restaurant, creating 85 direct local jobs.

All of this will take place alongside the growing agricultural business, the aim of which is to grow all the ingredients necessary to make their own spirits on site. And whilst self-sufficiency, sustainability and the pursuit of provenance are of course the driving forces behind this superb Cornish distillery, its ethos – the Porthilly ‘spirit’, if you like – is one of community, and a sense of symbiosis with Cornwall’s coast and countryside.


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