Meet the family who turned lockdown gin-tasting into a business. Holly Challinor, founder and director of Cheshire Botanicals, tells their story and serves up three festive cocktails based on her spirited creation.

Our family spirits business began after now or never moment.

The idea of creating a gin specially for our hometown of Nantwich was something we’d been thinking about for years. The gin boom rose in the mid-to-late 2010s and we watched (and sipped) as craft gins were launched one after the other, across the UK and beyond.

Our idea became buried under busy schedules, work commitments and life in general. Then the lockdowns hit, and with them that now or never moment.

I'm one-third of the Cheshire Botanicals trio with my parents, Paul and Deb Challinor – Paul went to the grammar school, which means he’s a true ‘dabber’.

Visiting and walking through the town with my late grandma and seeing the florals of Nantwich in Bloom was one of the earliest inspirations for this project and after returning to live here permanently 15 years ago, the history of the town continued to be of interest to us all.

Back to 2020 and the point when the pandemic hit. To our surprise, nobody had yet produced a gin in honour of Nantwich, so the lockdown months served as a nudge to get this
project going.

I’d already started to play around with recipes, but the research and development truly began in our tiny distillery at the end of the garden – and by distillery, picture two workbenches and a small column still among vertical farm growing racks.

These trays under bright pink LED lights are Paul’s horticultural domain and hosted the growth of botanicals such as lemon thyme and lavender for use in recipe development.

More than six months of 2020 were spent refining the recipe. I’d thrown myself into the deep end and was learning the art of distillation on the go. There were plenty of mistakes – but if this project has taught me anything, it’s that failure contributes to the next step forward.

Mum is a full-time matron with the NHS and worked through the pandemic. Most days she’d return home only to have a gin glass thrust at her and a ‘try this’. The early results were… 'unique', but each of them led to something better. Finally, we realised we’d created a recipe to be proud of and we were beyond excited to share it with Nantwich.

Great British Life: Deb, Holly and Paul Challinor of Cheshire BotanicalsDeb, Holly and Paul Challinor of Cheshire Botanicals (Image: Cheshire Botanicals)

As Christmas 2020 approached, the announcement that Nantwich was about to have its very own gin was made online. The hype grew fast and we began to receive messages from excited crowdfunding patrons. We quickly saw that demand was going to be too high for our small still to cope with, so we made the decision to reach out to a fantastic local distiller, who we thoroughly enjoy partnering with.

This allowed us to bulk up the batches and meet the demand for Christmas. Nantwich Gin was launched on November 27, 2020, and I was happily surprised to find customers had been ready and waiting on the website for the 9am release.

Nantwich Gin is the signature London dry of our gin range, created in honour of our hometown. The gin celebrates the stories and figures from local history, such as John Gerard, a 16th-century botanist and author of Herball, recognised as the book of catalogued plants at the time. He was also said to have been appointed as Royal Herbalist to King James I. 

Many of the key botanicals in Nantwich Gin, such as rose petals and lavender flowers, as well as lemon thyme (which we have used as an alternative to citrus peel), were studied by Gerard.

I see the gin as an alternative, unique way to share these stories from the past. With limited space on the gin label, it was very important to re-tell these tales on our website. Customers can explore snippets of local history on our Nantwich Stories pages, which we brought together this year with a lot of help from local sources.

When pulling all elements of the gin’s design together, we knew the label needed to be very distinct and reflect the town’s core personality. We worked closely with Stoke-on-Trent-based artist and family friend Jiri Borsky (, who drew a fusion of Nantwich architecture. The design is representative of the town’s key Tudor and Georgian buildings, such as the Queen’s Aid House, Churches Mansion and Sweet Briar Hall. The brilliant Chris Hopson at Paper Anchor Designs brought the artwork to life digitally, as well as creating our much-loved Cheshire cat logo.

Quality is of the utmost importance to us. Nantwich Gin is classed within the spirits industry as an ultra-premium gin, due to the high standard of elements that bring the product together. We believe Nantwich deserves the very best.

Nantwich Gin at 40% ABV is very juniper-forward, with the added twists of distinctive florals, hints of cardamom spice and herbal notes. It’s complex and warming, ending with a long finish of pink peppercorns. For the perfect G&T serve, Nantwich Gin can be combined with Original Fever-Tree tonic and garnished with a fresh slice of pink grapefruit or a sprig of lemon thyme.

We have since launched two more products in the Nantwich Gin range, the first of which is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Created in honour of healthcare professionals across the world and inspired by Deb’s hard work as a matron, Matron’s Strength was released ready for Christmas 2021. It’s a navy-strength gin at 57% ABV – many are daunted by this at first, but Matron’s Strength is very smooth and almost syrup-like in texture.

Whisky fans tend to love it, and some have even declared that ‘adding tonic is a waste’, preferring to sip it neat or over ice.

Our most recent release is Sweet Briar Gin. At 38% ABV, Sweet Briar is a naturally steeped pink gin, featuring key botanicals of blackberries and geranium. The beauty of this gin is the seasonal aspect of the blackberries, making it a suitable tipple whether it’s winter, spring, summer or autumn.

The name Sweet Briar refers primarily to bramble thickets, with a nod to both Sweet Briar Hall in Nantwich, as well as John Gerard’s love of roses and particularly the common hedgerow sweet briar rose. The gin itself is naturally sweetened by the steeped blackberries, but really comes to life when served with Fever-Tree’s elderflower tonic water and garnished with both fresh lime and mint leaves.

2022 was our debut year of being out and about. A particularly stand-out moment for me was exhibiting at the Nantwich Show for the 125th anniversary – a very special event. We’ve even been offering Nantwich Gin Cruises on board the historic steamship, the Daniel Adamson and we have plenty of craft and Christmas markets lined up for the festive season. Stay tuned on our social media for upcoming events.

Starting up a new business in the midst of Covid presented plenty of challenges, followed quickly by plenty of other goings-on across the world, and of course, these issues have affected small businesses nationwide.

It’s more important than ever to be shopping locally and supporting small. We feel extremely honoured to be working with many independent stockists across Cheshire and beyond and we’ve particularly enjoyed building strong connections locally. We'd like to raise a glass to all who have supported our small family business since its launch. Thank you.

As Christmas is just around the corner, we’ve created some seasonal cocktails you can try at home with Nantwich Gin, Sweet Briar and Matron’s Strength. 200ml tasters
of each gin can be bought via our website – the perfect size for trying out these seasonal tipples.

Great British Life: Nantwich Gin martini – an elegant festive tipple Nantwich Gin martini – an elegant festive tipple  (Image: Cheshire Botanicals)

Classic Nantwich Gin Martini
A simply elegant cocktail
50ml Nantwich Gin
1 tbsp vermouth
lemon peel
Chill a martini glass in the freezer. Combine the Nantwich Gin, vermouth and ice into a cocktail shaker or a jug. Make it shaken or stirred: agitate until the exterior
becomes chilled, a little longer if you prefer more dilution. Strain into your glass and garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Great British Life: Berry Christmas Bramble – the taste of the season in a glassBerry Christmas Bramble – the taste of the season in a glass (Image: Cheshire Botanicals)

Berry Christmas Bramble
A spiced blackberry treat
50ml Sweet Briar Gin
lemon juice
spiced syrup
crushed Ice
cinnamon sticks
For the spiced syrup: Gently heat sugar and water on the stove. Add some cinnamon sticks and heat until simmering. Set aside for an hour, allowing the mixture to cool
and the cinnamon to steep. Once cooled, the syrup can be strained and can be kept in the fridge to use again for up to a month.
Combine the gin, a generous dash of lemon juice, some muddled blackberries and syrup into a shaker with ice. Shake for 30 seconds, then strain into a tumbler over
crushed ice. Garnish with fresh blackberries and a cinnamon stick.

Great British Life: Matron’s Gin Hot Toddy– just what the doctor orderedMatron’s Gin Hot Toddy– just what the doctor ordered (Image: Cheshire Botanicals)

Matron’s Gin Hot Toddy
A warming tipple for citrus lovers
50ml Matron’s Strength Gin
25ml lemon juice
2tbsp honey
cinnamon sticks
cardamom pods
Add the spices into a pan of water. Bring to the boil, then let it simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice (to your preference), gin and honey. Pour into a heatproof glass or mug, and garnish with a lemon slice and cinnamon stick.
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