Evoking images of bobbing boats, wind-whipped walks along the beach, flappingly fresh seafood and sunshine-yellow ice cream, Cornwall, on England’s rugged south-western tip, is also home to flora-teeming countryside hedgerows – something that’s been fully harnessed by one of the UK’s rising-star craft distilleries, Trevethan.
The distillery is named after Norman Trevethan, a chauffeur-turned-brewer who was inspired by the gin cocktails that were finding fame in 1920s London and at the parties where he was delivering and collecting his high-society passengers. He tried his hand at making a bathtub gin that captured the essence of Cornish hedgerows. Keen to honour his grandfather’s legacy, in 2015 engineer Robert Cuffe joined forces with chemist John Hall to revive the Trevethan brand, which is now helping to put high-end Cornish spirits on the map.
‘It needed to be a sensory experience that made you feel like you’d been transported back to a 1920s cocktail bar in your finest clothes and with the finest company,’ says Hall of Trevethan’s flagship gin. ‘This meant we had to control every aspect of our production, from the traditional copper alembic stills through to the filling and labelling of every bottle. We knew that the experience we gave customers had to start in the distillery, with the botanicals, the process and true craftsmanship.’
A taste of West Country terroir
It’s this attention to detail that sets Trevethan apart from the influx of cookie-cutter gin brands on the market. ‘Only a small proportion of the so-called “craft” spirit brands that have recently launched have developed their own products,’ says Hall. ‘Most are made by larger distilleries on behalf of start-up brands. The word “craft” has become another way of saying “new”, and that’s not what it’s about. Craft is about skill that has been honed over a number of years,’ he adds.
Made with Cornish spring water, the distillery’s flagship drop – Trevethan Original 1929 Gin – is a bold, bright, juniper-forward gin with subtle citrus and floral notes, featuring aromatic botanicals like cardamom, orange peel and vanilla alongside gorse flower and elderflower handpicked from the hedgerows of Pentillie Castle Estate in Landulph. The range also includes a navy-strength Chauffer’s Reserve Gin, which dials up the 10 botanicals in the Original Gin, creating an earthy and spicy sipping gin to be savoured.
Hall is particularly proud of Trevethan’s small-production Honey Oak Gin, which has become a cult favourite among fans of the brand – so much so that Hall describes the expression as ‘the Napoleon Dynamite of the gin world’. Taking the Original Gin as a base, the liquid is aged with virgin Cornish oak that’s grown within miles of the distillery and soaked in Cornish black bee honey. ‘There have been a number of gins that have been aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, but I’m yet to find one that has used locally grown oak, cured and toasted on site, local botanicals and local honey, which give the spirit the true taste of the Cornish terroir,’ says Hall.
Craft to the core
Last year, Trevethan was named Producer of the Year at the IWSC awards, an honour that left its founders in shock. ‘We thought maybe they had sent the email to the wrong address. Then the pride started to take over, and a real sense of accomplishment,’ Hall recalls. On the back of its awards success, Trevethan has just won a national listing at Waitrose and has been taken on by leading supplier Enotria & Co. Setting their sights beyond the UK, Hall and Cuffe will be taking Trevethan to Canada and Florida next spring, with the view to cracking the North American market. In addition to making a splash abroad, the pair are planning on growing their dark spirits range with the addition of a Cornish whisky to add to their rums.
Keen to champion traditional production methods and local, seasonal produce, the distillery takes a ‘step by step’ approach to sustainability. ‘It can’t be a gimmick or a good marketing story to tell. Sustainability has to be something you believe in; but it also can’t bankrupt your business,’ says Hall, who advocates making incremental changes that add up to something significant over time. ‘If we can’t afford to put wind turbines in the car park, or solar panels on the roof, we can recycle our packaging, we can work with local farms to take our botanical waste and compost our cardboard, we can develop a new, lighter-weight bottle using 30-per-cent less glass, that’s manufactured in the UK.’
His ultimate goal is to build a carbon-neutral distillery and visitor centre in Cornwall that will serve as an education and innovation hub. But Trevethan’s roots will stay the same, says Hall. ‘I passionately believe that using skilled crafts people, traditional methods and the highest-quality sustainable ingredients produces the best results.’