Silent Pool; an astonishingly good gin from a true master of potions on the Albury Estate
I didn’t think I liked gin. But that was before I sampled some at a farm shop last May. I had heard of Silent Pool a new local distiller in Surrey so I put my previous prejudice aside to give this one a try. I was bowled over; its aromatic, full of flavour notes, lavender, juniper, coriander, chamomile, rose and so many more. It’s also drinkable straight, in sips. Meeting James their sales manager at Milford farmers market at Secretts convinced me that I had to find out more. As a born again gin drinker, I’ll tell you all I know.
When Ian McCulloch (a former commercial director at ITV) decided to start a distillery producing craft gin in 2013 he can’t possibly have foreseen its success. With a commercial background he understood that branding and product were of equal importance and worked hard from the outset on both. For him his journey started out by searching for a great distiller, a path that took him to Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh. There they run the only MSc in Brewing and Distilling in the world, as you might expect from the home of Whiskey. The stars were clearly in his favour, as whilst he was there he was introduced to Cory Mason a graduate of the course who was undertaking some research. From their first meeting Cory and Ian decided to work together and enlisted a current student Tom Hutchings who for his dissertation then worked on gin botanicals (the flavour enhancers) helping to put together a blueprint for what is now an award winning gin. Most London dry gins (which Silent Pool is have 3-4 botanicals but this one has over 20) Remarkably this gin has achieved the sales in months that most new brands take years to reach.
Cory Mason must be one of the coolest guys I have met in a while, a native Californian he had been running art and music venues in New York. He is a person who stands out, in so many ways. Tall in stature with a trademark moustache, twisted at the ends and fixed with glue, perfect portrait material. Dabbling in restaurant ownership, cocktail mixology and bootleg distilling on the way. At this time there was no venue or distillery. So while Cory and Tom started to develop the gin (a complicated process if you want to be top of your game) Ian headed back to Surrey to find a venue.
Hearing of a building available on the Albury Estate owned by the Duke of Northumberland, Ian a Surrey Hills resident took Cory and Tom to visit. They were all enchanted by the name Silent Pool, which locals know as a beauty spot for a walk in the summer months. When there is good rainfall and the pools are full they have a lovely blue hue. They really started to get excited when they were told there was an underground source of spring water fed from an artisanal spring supplied from deep in the chalk downs. Cory and Tom also found wild chamomile growing on the site which they immediately added to the recipe.
In addition to the location the site also carries a legend. Apparently a woodcutter’s daughter was bathing in the pool when a nobleman on a horse spotted her. Concerned by his advances she moved further into the centre of the pool but he followed her on his horse and she drowned. When her father found her body he also recovered the horseman’s hat, which had dropped into the water. Embroidered onto it was the crest of Prince John. Ever since that time locals talked of eeriness around the ponds. This intoxicating story, the fabulous location and name sealed the deal ending in an easy decision to build the distillery at Silent Pool. Today the distillery at the back opens up onto a deck overlooking the pool where the team keep a BBQ to cook their lunch.
The distiller itself is remarkable too. Built in Holstein in southern Germany from copper it was bought to the UK in parts and built on site. Cory says it’s not the Rolls Royce of distillers but the end results better as the process can be more flexible. Without getting too academic here Silent Pool gin combines infusion and vapour techniques for building its unique taste. Many gins use either technique but rarely both. The distiller is powered by a reclaimed and renovated 1970’s Barford Invicta Major wood burning stove which sits in the wood shed next to the distillery. Fuel (wood) comes from a sustainable source on the estate. Cory and Toms first job in the morning is to chop wood and fire up the stove. The wood, Cory says affects the temperature rise in the distiller and because it varies each batch of gin is slightly different. This he says is a hand made product in every way; there are no computers or digital timers just skill. Cory and Tom love their job they feel it gives them a chance to perform magic with a perfect mix of science, art and craft.
Silent Pool took a year to develop and by the time Cory and Tom had completed their 35th test run Ian decided it was time to stop experimenting and drinking and go to launch. They used an artist to come up with their bottle design which features the botanicals used and decided on the blue glass to represent the summer water at the pool.The bottle also comes with a blue glass stopper which is so much classier than a plastic screw top.
The bottle is distinctive standing out from competitors, which is essential in a crowded marketplace. By default of its location Silent Pool has a fantastic brand story and name too. Exceeding sales by 1000% in its first year Silent Pool Gin is a core product sold internationally (even in China) but the creativity doesn’t stop here. Cory and Tom also produce Albury limited release which is made in small batches and gin cordials. The fruit cordials are only made when local fresh fruit like strawberries and blackberries are in season. Fruit is macerated in gin and the pulp discarded once the juice has been extracted. In addition they currently have a plum and apricot eau de vie a (clear fruit brandy) again small batch and seasonal. Because they have all their skills in-house and run their own distillers this company can diversify easily and respond to seasonality. This James Shelbourne says they do because as a small company they can. In the future they are also contemplating vodka and whisky but pointed out gin was better to start with as its ready to drink immediately whereas whiskey has to mature.
In addition to creating their own product range they recently worked with Raymond Blanc to create a gin to celebrate the 21st Anniversary of Eurostar. For a new brand to gain such notoriety in its first year is testimony to the tight professional team behind the creative force here and impressive. It’s clear with the founding partners skill mix and the ability of their team they are a company to watch. I can’t wait to see what they will produce next.
Their current product range is available directly from them in person at the distillery or online shop or from suppliers nationwide. Check the website for stockists. If you are interested in meeting the team and seeing gin being made which I highly recommend, why not buy a distillery tour (details on the Silent Pool website).
This article first appeared in the December/January Issue of Essence Magazine 2015
As a footnote: I asked Cory what tonic he recommended as the rise in craft gins has also elicited a rise in tonic waters. He says that since Schweppes is most commonly available they did much of their testing with it. He does suggest that any good tonic will do but steer away from lite versions which are made with artificial sweeteners.