Discover award-winning gin distillery, Three Wrens Gin, in Malpas, Cheshire
- Credit: Lost in Cheshire
Many dream, few do, but Cheshire’s Three Wrens gin is one dream made real we can all be grateful for.
Nick Wadeson has perhaps followed the perfect path to being master of his own gin distillery, Three Wrens Gin, in Malpas. First a cocktail mixologist in Manchester, then a spirits brand representative and next working in brand distribution, he sees his move to owning his own distillery and making award-winning gins as ‘a natural progression, really’, but if it were, there would be many, many more gin distilleries in every county of the UK.
‘You might be right,’ he laughs, when I question his thinking. ‘I was actually inspired by working with other distillers in my last role, helping to get their products over to the UK. I realised that they’re not super-human, but just normal people with lots of determination. I decided to go on a distilling course, to master the basics, and that went really well and then when I started experimenting I drew on my experience of creating cocktails to try and pair interesting flavours – and really just caught the bug for it.
‘It was quite a big step, obviously to quit my job and it took a fair bit of planning, but I thought if I don’t take the plunge now I will regret it.’
Nick started by moving, with his wife, from Manchester to Malpas, a location they had discovered after getting married in nearby Whitchurch and falling in love with the area.
‘I’m a country boy at heart and managed to persuade my wife to up sticks and leave the city, and we love everything about it, now. Country walks and open skies, and it ties in with the gin a little bit, too, as we’re able to grow some of our own herbs for the gins.’
They started in small premises, with a small copper still, named Valerie, after his mum.
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‘It seemed huge at the time; we thought oh wow, how are we going to use this? It was 50 litres, and is still in use, though we have now got a much larger one, which makes Valerie look tiny.’
Unusually, Nick started with three gins: a London Dry, Apple Crumble, and Rhubarb.
‘I wanted to give us a bit of a better chance – the London Dry market is very crowded and hard to get going in. The Apple Crumble was the one that took me the longest to get right, six months, but it’s been the greatest success, so far.’
The gin won a Gold Medal at the World Gin Awards within months of its launch, and went on to win second place in the UK’s Best Flavoured Gin category in the Great British Food Awards 2020, and in 2021 received a 3-star award from Great Taste, one of the world’s largest food and drink awards
‘We now have six core gins,’ Nick says, ‘and each one has been developed independently – we don’t use the London Dry as a base gin. Each one starts with the juniper, of course, then we layer in the botanicals from there. We’re constantly developing new flavours, but of all the ones we experiment with, only one per cent ends up in bottles for sale.’
Since launch, Nick has added Blood Orange and Apricot, Raspberry and Bison Grass to his core range. Bison Grass? I am familiar with the name, from the Polish vodka that uses it (and I use to make apple Martinis), but how did Nick get the idea, and how does it work?
‘This is my personal favourite. I used to use the vodka a lot in cocktail recipes,’ he explains. ‘I realised it had never been used in a gin, so approached the vodka distillers to ask if I could buy some of the grass, and they said no. I tracked down a botanist with some seeds and started growing our own. We launched the gin six months later.
‘It’s totally unique, you don’t see it anywhere apart from this Polish vodka, which to me is insane; the aroma of the actual grass, it’s just wonderful stuff. We distil it with fresh limes, to cut through the aroma.’
Bison grass is rare, aromatic sweet grass, also sometimes called vanilla grass. It’s got notes of vanilla, notes of cinnamon and summer hay. It contains coumarin, which is also found in tonka beans and cinnamon, which is why it goes so well with apple juice (hence the apple Martini). Nick sees it as one of those rare, scientifically perfect food pairings, and has created a cocktail collection to showcase his gin.
‘It’s just won the Great British Food Awards for the Best British Flavoured Gin,’ he adds. ‘I’m really proud of that one, as it’s been such a personal thing. The journey of the gin is literally five minutes from garden to glass.’
You might not have been surprised by the inclusion of a raspberry gin in Nick’s core collection, after all, who doesn’t love a raspberry gin? Yet true to form, Nick’s done his a little differently.
‘If you look, all raspberry gins are a really pale pink, and they taste of sweets as a lot of distillers use raspberry essence. I just wanted to make something really dark and super fruity, but then also had some savoury notes as well, so as well as the pure fruit, we also use grains of paradise, black pepper and basil. Then we rest it in balsamic vinegar barrels for a couple of hours – it was an experiment, but with a very happy result. The balsamic taste just elevates the taste of the raspberries a little bit more – which you will know if you’ve ever dipped a strawberry or raspberry in the vinegar.’
Nick sources his barrels from a balsamic vinegar maker in Modena. Nick sends gin, the maker sends his barrels, used to mature balsamic vinegar for 50 years. It’s a pretty perfect exchange, I would say. You can see the barrels at the distillery, proudly ancient, with a thick coating of the vinegar soaking through the wood.
The most recent launch is their Blood Orange and Apricot, which Nick says cost his colleague Meg hours and hours of her days, zesting oranges over a six-week period.
‘I love citrus gins and we didn’t really have one in our range. It’s made totally naturally; we bought a ton of blood oranges, then we had to zest them and dehydrated the peel, to really intensify the flavour; it’s like next level when you do that. It’s a really nice pairing with the apricot, which softens it a little.’
Launching just in advance of a pandemic, right in time for all the bars, hotels and non-essential shops to close, can’t have featured on Nick’s business plan, so how did they cope?
‘It was certainly a learning curve. Our initial plan, when we launched, was to go into local farm shops and retailers first, then pubs and bars and high-end restaurants, in the region. When those avenues all shut down, we ploughed all our resources and imagination into e-commerce; our website and social media. It’s given us a nationwide customer base, and international too – Instagram influencers in Denmark saw the gins, asked to try it and their responses triggered a distributor to reach out. We’re sending to France and Slovenia now, too.
‘We now work to balance the retail, the e-commerce and the distillery tours, so we’re not reliant on any one thing.’
Nick has always held an open-door policy at Three Wrens; if you want to see how it’s made simply drop in.
‘It’s all about transparency,’ he says. ‘Our doors will always be open to our customers, and we are never too busy to show people around our distillery, have a chat and give people some honest insight into our processes.’
Join one of Three Wrens’ official Gin Tasting Tours, or even better, a Distilling Experience, where you get to create your very own bottle of gin, and you can see for yourself just how it all works – and taste the results.
‘These are so popular,’ Nick says. ‘It’s one reason we’re moving to larger premises next year, so we can expand the gin school and tasting experiences. We’ll also be able to grow more of our own herbs and we’re adding another still; we’re all very excited.’