Meet the Distiller
Fiona Boyd-Armstrong: Rademon Estate
The Rademon Estate is one of Ireland’s oldest and, thanks to husband and wife team David and Fiona Boyd-Armstrong, it is now the home of Shortcross Gin. We talk to Fiona about their exciting journey.
THE GIN GUILD: What made you set up your own distillery?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: “I had always wanted to open a distillery at my family home, Rademon Estate, but when I first proposed the idea many years ago, everyone dismissed me!
When David and I got married in 2011 the idea came back into focus and so began our journey to create Rademon Estate Distillery and Shortcross Gin.
What truly inspired us was the sheer quality and passion that craft distillers put into each and every bottle. We wanted to build a solid foundation for our distillery from selecting our bespoke still – which is a mix of old and new technology creating an exceptionally aromatic and smooth spirit, to our local botanicals. We are very much hands on and as distillers we need and like to be involved and understand all aspects of the distillery.
THE GIN GUILD: What challenges did you come up against when setting up the Rademon Estate Distillery?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: Setting up a distillery was a huge challenge. We had to source copper stills, boilers and pipework even before we started to think about distilling a gin. For two years whilst working full time, we visited distilleries around the globe, embarked on distilling courses, both hands on and theoretical. One of the biggest tasks was developing our palate and the ability to pinpoint flavours and aromas. We do all of our heads, hearts and tails cut points by taste and smell alone.
THE GIN GUILD: I imagine when building a business such as this there a times when things don’t go so smoothly. Do you have any anecdotes you can share?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: Although we didn’t find these funny at the time, we can look back now with a smile. For our first delivery of Shortcross Gin we had to borrow cardboard boxes to ship and another time our pumps failed and we had a flooded distillery with buyers arriving in an hour.
There were times when we were ready to start distilling and the steam boiler didn’t want to start, and of course the time we were melting our wax and the smoke filled our packing area, setting off the smoke alarm, which led to the fire brigade turning up!
THE GIN GUILD: Starting your own distillery is a real challenge. What advice to give to those looking to open their own?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: Be prepared for every eventuality! What can and will go wrong, does go wrong, but remember to have fun being a distiller.
Owning a distillery is the greatest job in the world, whilst it has been and will continue to be a steep learning curve, it is also very rewarding seeing something you have developed being created and then enjoyed across the globe.
THE GIN GUILD: What makes Shortcross Gin unique?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: We have built our distillery at our family home, Rademon Estate, one of Ireland’s oldest estates. Our stills arrived in summer 2013 and after commissioning we undertook recipe development for six months. We maintain full control over all our processes, from distilling only one gin in our copper pot still to hand picking our botanicals. We are the only gin in the world to use wild clover and our local water source is mineral rich and distinctively different.
With such rich heritage on our doorstep, Shortcross Gin was created to be reminiscent of its surroundings, with a great botanical playground allowing us to forage elderflowers, wild clover, elderberries and apples from our walled garden. We have created a classic gin with a modern twist that offers an uplifting floral bouquet reminiscent of the gardens and forest.
THE GIN GUILD: How would you describe the taste?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: It is juniper-led, with a balance of citrus fruits, combined with elderberries to give a big sweet oily mouthfeel before transcending into a long smooth finish.
All in all it makes a fantastic G&T with a simple orange zest garnish, but is so smooth that it can be enjoyed as a sipping gin, and of course makes a great martini.
THE GIN GUILD: How did you come up the name?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: The name of our gin is special to our location. Shortcross Gin is named after Crossgar, which is the village where we are based in Northern Ireland. In Gaelic, Crossgar is An Chrois Ghearr, which means the “Short Cross” and we are very proud to have the name of our village on each and every bottle of gin!
The label also features a Shortcross Penny, which was one of the first coins to be minted by Henry III as a way of exporting silver. For us, as we want to export Shortcross Gin around the globe, it was a perfect coin to feature on our label.
THE GIN GUILD: How many bottles of Shortcross Gin do you produce each year?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: We distil each single batch in our 450-litre copper pot still, each single batch creates between 300-400 bottles and the number of cases is increasing year-on-year, we are delighted with what we have achieved so far.
THE GIN GUILD: What’s your favourite way to enjoy Shortcross Gin?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: As summer is coming it has to be the ultimate Shortcross Gin and tonic, served with elderflower tonic, orange chunks frozen and used as ice-cubes and garnished with a sprig of mint, simple but amazing! David loves a Shortcross Negroni.
THE GIN GUILD: As a married couple, what’s it like working together?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: David and I have built the distillery together and being a husband and wife team was a distinct advantage as we were able to immerse many hours day and night into the project and still be together.
We share the same drive and determination and we bring different skills, thoughts and ideas which is key to driving our business forward and building it for the next generation.
THE GIN GUILD: What’s the plan for 2017?
FIONA BOYD-ARMSTRONG: 2017 is well underway and with lots of projects on the go, it’s difficult to pinpoint what we will release next, all product development is completed in-house which takes time to research and perfect.
Later this year we are launching our new visitors centre, where we plan to conduct tours, masterclasses and welcome people to enjoy and see our wonderful surroundings, here in County Down.”