Last week I posted about Highclere Castle gin (if you missed this, you can catch up here). I wanted to learn more so snagged myself a quick Q&A with co-founder Adam von Gootkin…
Can you give us a quick introduction to yourself
Hi, I’m Adam von Gootkin, co-founder of Onyx Spirits Co., an award-winning craft distillery producing New England’s first whiskey. In 2017, I partnered with the 8th Earl & Countess of Carnarvon, the owners of Highclere Castle, creating the Highclere Castle Cigar Company. This partnership grew and in 2019 we launched Highclere Castle gin.
Why did you decide to enter the world of gin?
Highclere Castle has had centuries of hosting the most fascinating people over gin and tonics. The botanical gardens that surround the castle give fruit to the exact recipe components we needed to make the perfect gin. Gin is quintessentially British, and gin presented the most perfect challenge – to make a gin so good you can sip it on the rocks. Based on our 74 international awards, I am incredibly proud of the recipe and flavour profile. Highclere Castle gin is quickly becoming recognized as the best gin in the world.
You named your gin after the Carnarvon family home, how important is Highclere Castle to your brand?
I chose Highclere Castle because I intended to create a brand that was authentic and incredibly genuine. Brands should have a “reason to be.” In our case, with the history, pedigree, and terroir of Highclere, it almost seemed inevitable to me that a gin should be produced from this magical place.
How did you come up with your blend of botanicals?
We spent over a year trying over twenty recipes to get the mix right. We quickly decided to make Highclere Castle gin citrus-forward, and back down the juniper for a modern twist that would appeal to a new gin newcomer. The botanicals are influenced and sourced from the castle gardens. The juniper is at the heart of the gin, before adding a touch of lavender inspired by the Monk’s Garden planted in the 9th century by the Bishop of Winchester. This is followed by lime flower and orange peel. As an unusual but delicious twist, Highclere’s acclaimed estate-grown oats have been woven into our botanical blend to give an exceptionally creamy and smooth finish to the gin, almost like a fine whiskey.
You distil your gin to 43.5% ABV which is very specific – how many experiments did you have to do to find this exact point?
Finding the perfect ABV is a very important flavour profile factor. The higher the alcohol, the more flavour that comes through. The lower amount of alcohol, the more water. It is a delicate balance to find the right ABV for a special spirit flavour profile. In our case, I tested a broad range of ABV for Highclere Castle gin and we concluded that 43.5% was the perfect flavour-to-water ratio.
I love your bottle, it’s really eye-catching. What inspired the design?
The bottle is produced in England, as is the gin. Purple is associated with the Bishops of Winchester who resided at Highclere before the Carnarvons. Purple also aligns with the pedigree of Highclere Castle, as it is traditionally associated with nobility and royalty. The colour was custom designed for us, and the tall square shoulder shape of the bottle was inspired by the main tower at Highclere Castle. We are all about detail, the smallest of details as you will note the barcode on the back of our bottle.
What’s your favourite way to drink your gin?
This is difficult because the cocktail should be determined based on the mood. I mostly enjoy Highclere Castle gin on the rocks with an orange or grapefruit wedge. However, I also love it in a dry martini, preferably served by Luis the head butler at Highclere Castle. He serves the martini exactly how it has been done for a century. If I had to choose my favourite cocktail; I certainly would go with the French 75 because champagne makes everything better.
I agree, and you must have been celebrating with fizz as you’ve won a LOT of awards since you launched, congratulations! What do these mean to you?
The awards are an honour. It means that the industry’s leading mixologists and experts recognize the work and passion we put into this glorious spirit. This is a testament to the hard work of our team and validates our spiritual journey.
I saw that you just launched a new gin, what can you tell me about it?
The limited-edition barrel-aged Highclere Castle gin is designed to commemorate and honour the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb by Lord Carnarvon’s’ great grandfather in 1922. For the past two years, our gin has been sleeping in Armagnac, scotch whisky, and American oak barrels. These have imparted a luxurious, smoky, vanilla profile to the gin which is aged to the colour of champagne. It is presented in a custom gold bottle and only 2000 cases are being released through our website. We also have plans for another line extension next year but that’s top secret now!
You work with the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust as your official charity partner. What was it about their work that made you want to get involved?
It is a real honour for me to serve as an advisor to her late Majesty’s Queen’s Commonwealth Trust. I had been searching for three years seeking a charity that fit our virtues and was in line with our brand. Seeing that Lord Carnarvon was Godson to her late Majesty, it felt even more fitting to choose a piece of her legacy to benefit from our financial contribution and those of our partners. The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust prioritises the assistance of young men and women among the Commonwealth countries to support young leaders and entrepreneurs in the community. The support of young entrepreneurs is very near and dear to my heart; as I am a lifelong entrepreneur, who started with very little.
Finally, Highclere Castle is instantly recognisable to any TV fans as the home of Downton Abbey – will we see a bottle of your gin in the background in any future films?
Downton Abbey has played a wonderful role in bringing Highclere Castle to screens around the world. It has catapulted Highclere Castle as one of the most recognized castles in the world. There will be no Highclere Castle gin featured in the movie because Highclere Castle does not exist in the Downton universe and therefore, could never be featured in a film. Otherwise, a black hole might open, and the entire universe would be destabilised!
On that world-ending revelation, we’ll wrap things up!