The views in this review have not been influenced by any of the companies mentioned in our write up. They are all our own views and we have not been paid for this post.
After meeting Malcolm and Xavier from the Isle of Wight Distillery at the Spirits Show in London, we were delighted to be invited to come and visit their distillery. We looked for the very first opportunity to visit and booked a trip during February half term with the kids. It was our first time visiting the Isle of Wight and we planned our long weekend well in advance with some activities that the kids would enjoy, to ease the guilt of taking them on a gin trip! We booked our ferry from Southampton to East Cowes with Red Funnel. Typically the price would be around £90, but if you use the code 25OFF before 3rd May, you'll be given 25% off your travel, which then gives you a little more cash to spend on gin (You can thank us in the comments). The journey takes about an hour in total and while on board you can have a bite to eat, or if you're anything like us, you can have a G&T.
Once at East Cowes, we headed straight to The Wishing Well Pub in Ryde where the distillery is based - the journey takes about 20 minutes by car. On arrival, we were greeted by Sales Director Malcolm McClellan, who welcomed us with a G&T each. He gave us a tour of the distillery, talking us through how the distillery has grown from the original batch selling just 6 bottles, to supplying their wonderful gin to bars and restaurants across the UK. We also got to see the work in progress on the extension they are building at the back of the pub which will house their new 1000 litre still being installed later this year. We also got a sneak peek at their gorgeous new bottles and a taster of their soon-to-be-launched strawberry gin which you can read about in our Q&A below.
If you are planning on visiting the Isle of Wight, we can recommend some other activities and places to visit. Whilst at the distillery, Malcolm recommended that we check out The Artisan Bar and Kitchen which is a restaurant/bar in Ryde. The downstairs is a bar and restaurant, but if you head upstairs you'll enter an impressive Gin and Cocktail lounge with a great range of 80+ gins.
As we had the mini bandits with us, and children were not allowed in the bar, Malcolm kindly agreed to meet us there so that we could go up one by one with him and check out the bar. He introduced us to their great mixologist called Benny who made us some amazing cocktails. Mr Bandit went for an unusual cocktail which was a mixture of gin and whisky with citrus flavours – a gin and whisky combination was new to us, but they worked very well together. Mrs Bandit went for a blueberry based gin cocktail with lavender and cream – both cocktails were AMAZING. Benny is very knowledgeable about all spirits and has some great stories – it is definitely worth paying him a visit. (For more information on our trip to the Isle of Wight, mainly the family activities, scroll to the bottom after the Q&A.)
Q&A with The Isle of Wight Distillery
Before we get on to the most stunning gin bottle we have ever seen, we would like to give our followers a bit of insight into the Isle of Wight distillery. Can you tell us how the business was born and who the team behind the brand are?
The Distillery was born out of a collaboration between a local Brewer (Xavier Baker) and a local winemaker (Conrad Gauntlett) who have been friends for many years and saw a distillery as the natural progression from their backgrounds. Another long term friend, Malcolm McClellan, was roped in to manage the sales function alongside Xavier – Conrad’s role being mainly production. Over the past four years, our dedicated team has grown from a couple of part timers to 18 loyal and devoted staff members.
Mermaid Gin is currently a BIG favourite of Mr Bandit’s. The flavour profile has a distinct earthy flavour to it which we really love. Can you tell us about the botanicals you use and who came up with the recipe?
We use 10 botanicals – ethically-sourced Juniper of course, Angelica, Orris, Liquorice, English Coriander and including island grown Boadicea Hops, island elderflower, and our signature Rock Samphire – foraged from the chalk cliffs on the south of the island. These give the Gin its earthy and very slightly salty signatures – a hint of sea air! These local botanicals are complimented with grains of paradise and lemon zest. Xavier is the recipe maker. We all taste and approve, but he came up with the botanical combinations initially.
Now that you’ve said it, we can definitely taste the Sea Air. Being the only distillery on the Island must have its benefits, we think you have a great product and we have seen it in prime position on shelves as the go-to gin in many bars and restaurants across the island. What has the reception been like outside of the Isle of Wight?
We are, as you say, the only island distillery now, and historically, and it is safe to say the island took us to their hearts from day one. Expansion into mainland UK and in fact globally has been swift and breath-taking. Our new bottle is aimed at a more global market and is also loved by islanders although we think there will be a gradual transition from old to new locally. Change is never generally welcomed on the island!
You currently have two or three stills running here at The Wishing Well and we can see the building work which is happening to house the new 1000 litre still you have arriving, how will the new still increase production levels?
We currently run two x 100 litre stills and our 300 litre. The 1000 litre still will be commissioned as soon as its new home is completed. Working all the stills, 5 days per week, we reckon production will double with a full potential of some 400,000 bottles per year.
The distillery is based in a pub which we think is really cool as you only have to look through the viewing glass to see exactly where your gin comes from. Do you have any plans to start serving food on the premises?
We have taken on two warehouses just up the road. This will give us much greater storage and will enable us to move a lot of our packaging and other bits and pieces from the pub. This will in turn free up space for a planned small kitchen allowing us to offer food. We expect this to be available in time for the season from April.
Mr Bandit recently had the HMS Victory gin at the G&Tea Lounge in the Marriott, Canary Wharf, and again like the Mermaid Gin, we think it’s fantastic, especially with the Aromatic Fevertree. How does the distillation process differ from the Mermaid?
HMS Victory Gin is exactly the same distillate as Mermaid. The only difference is the amount of dilution with our island water after the resting period to take the distillate down to sales strength. 57% ABV for HMS Victory and 42% in the case of Mermaid. Apart from that, it is the same liquid produced by the same process and could indeed share a batch run with Mermaid. The difference in taste is purely down to the effect of different dilution levels on the botanicals.
How did you come up with such a strong name for HMS Victory Gin, are there any links to the Navy in the team?
We were approached by the National Museum of the Royal Navy and HMS Victory trust, as a local solent and maritime distillery, to produce HMS Victory Gin and Rum – both Navy strength (gunpowder proof). Our arrangement includes a rebate from sales of both products back to the NMRN and Victory restoration project.
Now to the AMAZING new bottle. We have seen some really good looking bottles recently, but yours is hands down the best we’ve ever seen, it is stunning. Mr Bandit has been raving about it since he first saw it at the Spirits Show. It is said that people shop with their eyes first and we think you’ve really come up with a bottle that also complements the liquid in it, so we think you’re on to a winner.
Thank you for your comments regarding the new bottle. We wanted to come up with a design – eye catching as you say - and which complemented the spirit in the bottle. We knew what we wanted, and hoped it would be well received globally which is proving to be the case. The design had to refer to our island heritage, and incorporate Mermaid features – the scales for example. Practically, as well as being eye catching, the balance of the bottle, shape, flange and taper are designed to make bar staff/ mixologists lives easier when handling the bottle.
Who came up with the design and how long did it take to become reality?
The final designs were achieved by award winning design house JDO, and the branding was produced by Perfect Day in London. The whole process has taken nearly two years. The bottles are produced in Venice, and decorated in Poland. Various colours will follow for a Pink Gin, Spiced Rum and of course for our Mermaid Vodka.
Whilst at The Wishing Well, we were lucky enough to try your Pink Gin (Strawberry Gin) and see the pink twin of the new bottle. When I first heard it was a strawberry gin, my automatic reaction was to expect it to be a sticky, sweet gin, but you have succeeded in making a subtle flavoured gin, which still tastes like a gin. We think it would pair brilliantly with Merchants Heart’s Pink Pepper tonic. That’s our go-to tonic for strawberry gin, or even a cucumber tonic would work well. Was there a demand to make a flavoured gin?
We recognised that the demand for Pink and Flavoured Gins has been growing apace. Some say 50% of the forecast growth in Gin Sales will come from this sector. Having tasted most, if not all, of the new pink and flavoured gins, we decided that on the whole, the sweetness and strong flavours masked the fact that the liquid was gin based, and in the case of Liqueur Gins, reduced the Abv to a level we did not wish to explore. Mermaid Pink is still a gin inescapably (ABV38%) and whilst it does have sweetness and strawberry hints, neither is so overpowering that the consumer loses the Mermaid Gin base. Thanks for your comments – we are delighted that our recipe appears to have worked so well.
I know we’re “The Gin Bandits” and we try not to cheat on gin, but we can’t help asking when we will see Isle of Wight Distillery’s Whisky hit the shelves?
Our Whisky is, as you know, now legal. A combination of the pressure to get the new bottle out, and the premise that the longer the spirit stays in the barrel, the better, has meant a delay. We should have some out by the summer. The first ever Isle of Wight Whisky – using 100% Isle of Wight barley, island wash production, island distilled and aged.
If it’s anything like your gin, then roll on summer for the whisky fans out there. We’d like to thank you for your time today, it was great to hear about your gin. Before we go, we would like to let our followers know where they can purchase a bottle of your gin?
All sorts of outlets now – Amazon, 31 Dover, from us online. In retail stores such as Marks and Spencer, Waitrose, Co-Op, although all still reasonably local regionally. It is also available at Majestic and all good wine merchants (or at least the ones we have got to). As every week goes by, there are more buying opportunities developing across the country. If customers contact us, we can guide them. There is also a link on the website. It is also available at airports in World Duty Free if flying anywhere ….. the list is endless!
A big thanks for the warm welcome we received at Isle of Wight Distillery - we can see this gin growing massively and wish them all the success.
Isle of Wight - Our trip continued....
We also visited The Garlic Farm in Newchurch for The Garlic Farm Breakfast (Smoked bacon, garlic & pork sausage, garlic mushrooms, Isle of Wight tomatoes, baked beans, free range fried egg, sweet potato wedges and thick hand cut toast). Once you've finished your breakfast, you can check out their tasting zone and farm shop and purchase everything garlic from different sauces and mayos, black garlic cloves and they even have their own Garlic Vodka and Garlic Beer which is brewed on site. There are also some farm animals and a play area for the children to explore.
Another place we recommend visiting is the Monkey Haven in Newport. The Monkey Haven is an award-winning sanctuary for various breeds of monkeys, reptiles and birds which have been rescued from all over the world. We booked our tickets with our Red Funnel before we travelled and received £10 off the family ticket price which worked out £27 for us all. A highlight for our children was the "singing monkeys" which we think were the Lar Gibbons - very amusing.
Lastly, we recommend visiting Brook Chine for a fossil hunt with the kids where we discovered dinosaur foot prints which have been cast into large rocks on the beach after years and years of being submerged in the seabeds and also within the cliffs.
It's a great day out for the kids. We booked a 2 hour group tour with Dinosaur Expeditions C.I.C. which worked out at about £14 for a family of 4. Our tour guide Oliver was very knowledgeable and Mr Bandit left finally believing in dinosaurs, something he has always believed was a myth. Definitely worth checking out, we will be booking again when we return in the summer.