In early 2014, Kate Marston unexpectedly found herself in the Waterstones on Hampstead high street. Her husband Ben was in hospital nearby after a wrist operation and she needed to kill time while he recovered. Perusing the shelves she happened upon a copy of Difford’s Guide to Gin, and as a long time gin lover, it immediately struck a chord. A few hours later, she was still engrossed in its pages. Could this be the project and dream they had both been searching for? She left Waterstones that day with Difford’s Guide, The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, and a brave mission to start a gin distillery.
Since then Ben and Kate have hit the ground running. They’ve honed their skills, tasted over 100 gins, developed two stills and embarked on an ambitious crowd funding campaign. They needed £20,000 to start their business and crowd funding provided the perfect solution. The campaign garnered support from the local Chiltern community from the get go. As the first gin distillery in the area, locals were keen for it to be a success.
After nearly two years of searching the Chiltern Hills, they found the perfect location for their new business in an artisan block next to the PE Mead farmshop, just north of Tring. In November 2016 they officially launched Puddingstone Distillery and its flagship Campfire Gin. What makes it even more impressive is that they managed to do all of this while continuing their full time jobs. Kate runs her own graphic design business and Ben heads up marketing at the Tring Brewery.
At their launch party on the 11th November, it was all hands on deck as the turnout exceeded expectations. Initially anticipating around 150 people, nearly 400 supporters turned up eager to learn about this new local business and sample Campfire gin for themselves. Kate and Ben treated guests to Puddingstone Purls, a deliciously warm Autumnal cocktail of gin, apple juice, ginger and honey.
On a rainy day in February I visited Puddingstone Distillery, and despite the rain there was an air of optimism as Kate gave me a tour. After three years of careful planning, hard work and commitment, the dream had become a reality. Kate surveyed her immaculate distillery with satisfaction, and there was much for her to be proud of. Both Kate and Ben have been directly involved in every detail of building this inspiring business. From perfecting their gin, creating a brand, launching a website and nailing repurposed wooden panels onto the distillery walls; every part of Puddingstone Distillery is a direct reflection of their pioneering spirits. Their sense of creativity feeds into every element of the business.
It’s clear their passion is grounded in a love of the natural environment and the outdoors. Kate describes one of her happiest memories drinking gin around the campfire at a safari camp in East Africa. They wanted to create an artisanal gin that captures the spirit of adventure, naming their first stills after two famous female pioneers, Amelia Earhart and Isabella Bird.
On the wall hangs a copper plaque with the name of every person who contributed to crowd funding their business. Most of the supporters were from the local area. Eager to repay the favour and stay engaged in the community, Kate and Ben are determined to keep Puddingstone Distillery rooted in the Chilterns. The name ‘Puddingstone’ is after a rare type of rock found in Hertfordshire.
It seems that Kate and Ben are ahead of the trend. Experts coined 2016 the “year of gin”. Across the UK gin sales outstripped both wine and beer, with over 40 million bottles sold, and growing markets in Spain and America. This is the time to open a gin distillery. As drinking habits change, the premium gin market is one of the biggest winners, with sales growing by 16% last year. Provenance, authenticity and quality are becoming increasingly important to enthusiastic gin drinkers.
Kate and Ben have every reason to be optimistic. Campfire gin is receiving rave reviews and their business is steadily expanding. Over the summer they have exciting plans to host outdoor events, supperclubs and even a pop up cocktail bar. Their inspiring story is made more profound by the indisputable quality of the gin. Their perfectionism has seen them refine their process and create a seriously high-end product. Kate tells me of her dream that one day Campfire could be the gin of choice in the safari lodges that first inspired them, and that lucky guests will be enjoying their gin around a campfire after a long day in the bush.
Their shop is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays where you can purchase Campfire Gin. Two additional expressions, navy strength and wood aged, are planned for release in 2017, followed by a seasonal variation and some exciting collaborations.
It’s an inspirational story and I’ve definitely caught the Campfire bug. This pioneering husband and wife duo have combined their many creative talents and their long time love of gin to create a truly exceptional brand and product.
In the spirit of gin, I thought I’d share my all time favourite cocktail recipe for a Tom Collins. Traditionally it calls for lemons, but I rather fancy it with limes
1 part Campfire Gin
Juice of 1 lime
2 parts soda Water
2 tsp caster sugar
sprig of mint
In a cocktail shaker, add the freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar and campfire gin. Give it a quick shake, then add the crushed ice, and give it another shake.
Pour into a glass, top up with soda water and garnish with the lime wedge and mint