Thrings meets...

Paul Bowler, founder of Winch­ester Dis­tillery

Hampshire Life - - Odiham -

The Hamp­shire vil­lage of Old Al­res­ford has been home to Winch­ester Dis­tillery since 2015 af­ter launch­ing from a do­mes­tic kitchen a year ear­lier. Here, founder Paul Bowler tells Thrings part­ner Mary Chant why he swapped soft­ware de­vel­op­ment for a ca­reer in gin.

How did you come to be dis­till­ing gin?

A mid-life cri­sis! I had re­cently turned 40, I’d spent 20 years in IT and I wanted a ca­reer which would en­able me to spend less time trav­el­ling and more time with my fam­ily. I’d seen the law change to al­low craft dis­tillers to pro­duce gin in the UK. My first job af­ter univer­sity was with a cider man­u­fac­turer, where I learned about the back of­fice side of the drinks in­dus­try, but gin in par­tic­u­lar had al­ways fas­ci­nated me. I was sure there were gin drinkers like me in Hamp­shire who wanted some­thing lo­cal and a bit dif­fer­ent to the main­stream brands and that’s where the idea started to form.

How did you get started?

I ap­plied for a li­cence from HMRC. I don’t think they had li­censed a Hamp­shire gin dis­tillery be­fore, so it was a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for both of us. I had to pro­duce a busi­ness plan which proved I was a le­git­i­mate busi­ness and not one which cre­ated moon­shine as a hobby. My kitchen was my dis­tillery. I had a small still, but it al­lowed me to pro­duce ex­per­i­men­tal batches. And ev­ery­thing grew from there.

What about de­vel­op­ing your cus­tomer base?

In the early days I would walk or drive to pubs, restau­rants and ho­tels in Hamp­shire to gauge in­ter­est in my gin. I was for­tu­nate that Toscanac­cio, a wine and spir­its re­tailer in Winch­ester, stocked Twisted Nose im­me­di­ately. Then I started sam­pling and selling at Hamp­shire food and drink fes­ti­vals. Find­ing those first few clients and cus­tomers took a lot of hard work but thank­fully they are still sup­port­ing us sev­eral years later.

Where did the idea of us­ing water­cress come from?

Gin is all about ex­tract­ing flavours from nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents, col­lec­tively re­ferred to as ‘botan­i­cals’, and must in­clude pre­dom­i­nantly ju­niper berries. Hamp­shire is fa­mous for water­cress, but work­ing with it seemed crazy. How­ever, pep­per of­ten fea­tures in tra­di­tional gin recipes, and us­ing water­cress as a sub­sti­tute worked well. So we were not only cre­at­ing some­thing that was made in Hamp­shire but some­thing that con­tained Hamp­shire in­gre­di­ents.

Where did you go af­ter Twisted Nose?

As a craft dis­tiller, I wanted the Hamp­shire coun­try­side to in­spire us to broaden our range. I also wanted to work with lo­cal busi­nesses to cre­ate new recipes, so our Hamp­shire range of sea­sonal gins was cre­ated: Win­ter Was­sail uses Bram­ley ap­ples and quince from lo­cal or­chards, Spring Meadow uses hand-picked cherry blos­som from Hil­lier gar­dens near Rom­sey, Sum­mer Gar­den uses New For­est straw­ber­ries and blue­ber­ries, and Au­tumn Hedgerow uses hedgerow fruit from nearby farms. I love ex­per­i­ment­ing with new recipes.

How do you re­flect on the past four years?

It’s been a bit of a roller­coaster. Some­times it feels like it’s four days since I started, oth­ers more like 40 years. I’m proud of our prod­ucts and how we never com­pro­mise on qual­ity. I’m proud of my team of pro­duc­tion, sales and events spe­cial­ists. And I’m proud that we will al­ways be Hamp­shire’s first-ever craft dis­tillery. But for me, the fu­ture is about growth and diver­si­fi­ca­tion.

I love rum so maybe that’s the next thing.

It’s cer­tainly go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing coup le of years.

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