Most successful businesses people benefit from diversification at some point, but Devon based John Lawton has branched out in a big way after years of supplying his customers with a fine selection of award winning, cask conditioned ales: now distilling two strengths of gin.
John, who began his brewing career back in 1989 with the Oakhill Brewery at Shepton Mallet and the famous Firkin pubs, has been running Teignworthy Brewery within the historic Tucker’s Maltings in Newton Abbot since the nineties. While he enjoyed early success with Amy’s Ale – named after his eldest daughter – and many other beers since, the new lady in his life is known as Ethel; and she’s quite literally full of spirit.
Ethyl Ethel, to use her full name, is in fact a still which John had built to his own specifications and now forms the centrepiece to the Dartmoor Distillery; also located in Tucker’s Maltings, not far from the Devon market town’s railway station.
Demonstrating a feminine capacity for multi-tasking, Ethel is on course to supply the area’s first ever whisky in time for Burn’s Night, 2020, while in the meantime earning a strong following for both Black Dog Gin and ‘Beast’ – a Navy strength double distillation.
They not only draw on water from a Dartmoor spring, but also berries and other botanicals foraged from private land up on the moor. John tells us it’s a two day process and gives a very distinctive flavour. Black Dog has been described as rich in strong citrus notes, with hints of liquorice, and finishes off with berries. I find the unique taste of Black Dog is far better complemented with lime than lemon, and a simple Indian Tonic.
John recounts: “I named it Black Dog because I have been shooting all my life and every dog I have ever owned has been a black Labrador or retriever.
“The Beast has an image of a big cat on the label and is distilled to Navy strength; which refers back to when our warships carried cannons and the gin ration had to be strong enough that, if it ever got into the gunpowder, it would still ignite. Amazingly since we started selling our two gins in the pubs, alongside our Gun Dog bitter, the beer order from one of our biggest customers has doubled.”
He believes that the combination of spring water from near Hound Tor, hand foraged fruits and classic botanicals like orange, give of their best because of Ethyl Ethel’s characteristic ‘reflux’ – which derives from the height of the still’s copper pipework that the vapour has to climb. As John remarks: “the more the copper the clearer the gin”.
While I love the gins, I’m also looking forward to being able to buy the whisky in two years’ time, it’s bound to have plenty of character too.
Black Dog Gin can be purchased for £35 for a 70cl bottle direct from the distiller.