Spirit of the Lakes - vodka and gin made from Lakeland spring water
- Credit: Archant
Drinkers across the country and around the world could be set to put their trust in Lakeland vodka and gin, as Sue Riley reports
Vodka and gin made from Lakeland spring water could soon be on the menu at National Trust properties across the UK. That’s certainly the hope of Vince Wilkins who has given up a full-time job to run his own company selling bespoke spirits in Cumbria. He already has an exclusive contract providing gin and vodka at Sticklebarn in Great Langdale – the only pub in the country to be run by the National Trust – and is now looking at putting the spirits on the worldwide map.
Fittingly, the idea of creating a gin using spring water and oak bark from the Lake District arose during a chat in a Keswick pub; in 2008 Bedrock Gin was born, followed a few months ago by Standing Stones Vodka. ‘We have worked quite closely with the National Trust and we are looking at other outlets and shops,’ said Vince. ‘We know we have a great product, they do not give national and international awards for nothing.’
Weeks after the vodka was launched it won a national award, which Vince was able to put in the trophy cabinet alongside the Bronze and Silver Outstanding International Wine and Spirit Competition awards for the gin.
Deborah Robertson at the National Trust is excited about the link up too. ‘We were looking at ways to tell our conservation story. We asked around and Bedrock Gin was seen as very Lake District, a company in its infancy but which carried a heritage with it.
‘We were looking at planting juniper in the Langdales. There’s a real issue with domestic juniper, we lose 40 species of insects and wildlife if we lose our juniper. A great way of letting people know how important it is is to find a cyclical story and, in everyday life, most people would know juniper as the basis of gin,’ said Deborah, NW Business Development Manager for the Trust which has planted hundred of junipers in the Langdale and Ullswater areas of Cumbria in recent years.
‘After a day in the hills why not have a gin and tonic! This is certainly a big story in the National Trust and there are plans afoot to sell the products across the country,’ she said.
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That’s partly the reason Vince took the bold decision to give up his job this winter – it was also sparked by the death of his wife Helen from breast cancer last summer at the age of 44 and the need to look after his nine-year-old daughter Abbie.
He is now Spirit of the Lakes’ sole director and also its only employee. He set up the business with friend Tim Moor who has since launched Langtons of Skiddaw, another brand of gin using Lakeland water and local oak bark.
‘I have always been a gin fan, I used to drink Tanqueray and I quite liked a bit of Plymouth gin,’ Vince says, although at one time he did consider creating a Lake District whisky.
So Vince started working with a master distiller in the Midlands in his spare time while holding down his full-time job as a regional sales manager for a major alcohol supplier. The result was Bedrock, a London dry gin distilled three times before the juniper, oak bark sourced from a sawmill near Bassenthwaite and other botanicals – 13 altogether including nutmeg, orange peel and liquorice root powder – are added in the fourth distillation.
Vince advises the gin should ideally be drunk with lime and a basil leaf. The spirit is also supplied to Cowmire Hall in the Lyth Valley and used to create its Damson Gin. Vince has worked with the same distiller to create the vodka with its mix of 100 per cent English wheat and spring water. ‘The vodka is a simpler process, it does not have the complexity of ingredients,’ says Vince, 49. ‘But the water we use is unique, it’s quite acidic.’
Last year he and fellow investor John Davidson collected 5,000 litres of the spring water at Ennerdale in West Cumbria, to mix with the gin and vodka concentrates at the bottling plant in Chorley. At the moment it’s still quite a small operation, they produced about 6,000 bottles of gin last year, but one Vince is looking to expand. One new development is the miniatures of both spirits which are proving popular, particularly with Lake District tourists.
Vince also hopes 2014 is the year his products go global as there’s been recent interest from export companies. From his new office in Braithwaite near Keswick, he adds: ‘It’s always been a goal to do this and a combination of circumstances means the time is right. I have massive confidence in the products. The Lake District is an international brand, known around the world. There’s no reason why we should restrict it to Cumbria.’