Papillon Gin review


Papillon – the 1spirit of Dartmoor –

Not the strength of this distinctively flavoured, small batch gin I would hasten to assure you, but the percentage from the purchase price of each bottle of Papillon Gin which the creators, Adam and Claire Hyne, donate to a charity protecting endangered butterfly species, many of which are native to Dartmoor.

The Pearl Bordered Fritillary
Launched in June this year, after three years of development, Papillon brings together a blend of local botanicals.

In particular they are concerned about the Pearl Bordered Fritillary, so The Butterfly Conservation Project is receiving quarterly donations; growing with the brand’s increasing success.

Rewind some three years, and the motivation to begin distilling came as much from a desire for a change to their life/work balance as their enthusiasm for gin itself. And although the Papillon name resonates with their fondness for butterflies, the 1974 Steve McQueen box office success is also one of their favourite films.

Based in a small Dartmoor town, planning restrictions prevent the couple opening their premises up for ‘distillery tours’, but Claire did let us take a look at both the still they imported from Portugal, and the camping stove sized version on with which they began their search for the perfect recipe.

During our interview, Claire explained:  “We wanted to start a business we could do together, in Moretonhampstead where we have lived for 20 years. We finally hit on the idea of having a gin distillery after returning to the UK, from a year-long cycling tour, landing at Inverness and staying at my brother’s place in Aviemore. He introduced us to a gin produced nearby – we realized it was a real possibility and began reading up about the subject.”

Having obtained a licence from the authorities, they began experimenting. Claire confirmed: “We wanted a wide selection of botanicals to make sure our gin would be distinctive when drunk neat, and robust enough to take tonic.”

Papillon features an impressive 17 botanicals including traditional ones such as juniper, angelica, coriander seeds and cubeb berries. These are blended with hand foraged or locally sourced gorse, hawthorn berries and rowan berries, plus camomile and Devon Violets.  Claire recalled: “We knew you can use gorse to make tea or ferment wine, so we decided to introduce it to our recipe. The approach was to change one botanical at a time, until finally we staged a tasting in the dining room of the White Hart (a local hotel) with a group of friends who like gin. We blind tested three – happily there was a consensus about the best one – and our first 300 bottles were all sold within a five mile radius of Moreton.”

The mix now goes into an Alembic or pot still and is left to steep overnight prior to the distillation process. The spirit is then allowed to infuse for a further 36-48 hours before bottling and distribution.

Dissecting the delicious taste, Claire said: “Fresh lemon and lime give the initial citrus taste, and then the floral bouquet comes through – thanks to the gorse and camomile. Then you get the spice from cumin and cardamom.”


Claire’s recommendation is to serve Papillon Gin with a good quality tonic – such as Fever Tree’s Mediterranean or Indian – but definitely not something like lemonade!

“We wanted a wide selection of botanicals to make sure our gin would be distinctive when drunk neat, and robust enough to take tonic.”

In the 1974 film, Steve McQueen plays Henri Charriere, who had a butterfly tattoo on his chest.

For myself, I would conjecture that overall, Papillon’s tantalising overtures, and striking aftertaste go a long way towards living up to the great heavyweight boxer, Mohammed Ali’s mantra regarding his style: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.