Dorset Dry Gin

Back in January 2015, in what seems like a lifetime ago, I took myself along to a Local Producers’ Show, organised by Business South at the Grand Harbour hotel in Southampton. There were of course a few familiar faces there but also some new gastronomic delights we’d never come across before.

Perhaps the most intriguing of these was a new gin, so hot off the press (if you’ll excuse the cumbersome metaphor) that its producer, Conker Spirit, had not yet been given the green light by Her Majesty’s bean counters to sell any. There were, however, samples aplenty and I had a brief chat with founder and distiller, Rupert Holloway, over my first taste of this unique spirit.

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Over the months that followed, we kept a beady eye on Rupert’s progress.  Word of his gin was spreading quickly and was highly anticipated while he waited for the go ahead to start trading. In fact, demand seemed to have built to such an extent that we wondered if we’d ever be able to get our hands on any! Only once the green light was given, did the gin start appearing in bars and restaurants across the land. It soon worked its way across the border into Hampshire, appearing in bars and restaurants a little closer to home. Hurrah!

After just 8 weeks of selling his gin, Rupert was kind enough to free up some time to let me in to his distillery in its hidden location in Southbourne, Dorset, to introduce me to his 30-litre still (her name is Aunt Fanny; we’ll say no more on that.) and talk about his fledgeling enterprise.

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Before launching Conker Spirit, Rupert was in fact a chartered surveyor, qualified to run construction projects. However, like many of us, he always wanted to work for himself and set about finding a different area to throw himself into. Inspired by a YouTube video of an American lawyer who left the legal profession to become a distiller, Rupert applied himself to learning as much as he could about the art of distillation. Not something he took lightly. While maintaining a stressful day job, he worked tirelessly – and at great personal expense – on the research and development of Dorset’s first craft gin.

There are 10 botanicals in ‘Conker Spirit Dorset Dry Gin’, 3 of which are particularly interesting. Elderberries which lend bitter blueberry notes and gorse flowers foraged in the New Forest that contribute a bright flavour. Last but not least there’s samphire, a sea vegetable that adds a certain je ne sais quoi. Perhaps it’s this that brings unusual flavour notes we’re told some people pick up such as caramel and green tea. While these botanicals are somewhat quirky it’s fair to say that this most certainly not another one of those ‘gimmicky’ spirits we see now and again. Despite the gorse flower, this is not a floral gin but it is clean and fresh. It’s been described as having a ‘yellow flavour’ and we can kind of see what’s meant by that. For me, however, the greatest pleasure is in the creaminess of the mouthfeel (Ed.- the samphire at play?). The texture, I find, is almost buttery which makes it an extremely “sippable” gin.

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I left Southbourne that day feeling most inspired by Rupert and his vision for Conker Spirit. His marketing savvy, determination and sense of community spirit suggest that there’s much more of note to come from this little corner of Dorset and we’ll be watching on keenly… with a boston shaker well within reach!

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