Meet the Distiller
Silent Pool Gin
It was not clear which was more popular at the recent Chelsea Flower Show, blooms or booze. Traditional favourites of champagne and Pimms were definitely being challenged this year by gin. Guild Member Silent Pool were showing their stunning show garden, inspired by their Silent Pool Distillery, located in the beautiful Surrey Hills. A raised, infinity-edged … Continue reading
Ian McCulloch, Silent Pool Distillers
The words ‘English Gin’ are at the heart of the Silent Pool Distillers brand, but this is not the England of bowler hats and tweed jackets, it has a far more contemporary feel.
The location of the Silent Pool distillery couldn’t be more quintessentially English. Deep in the Surrey Hills on the Duke of Northumberland’s breath-taking Albury Estate, the spring-fed Silent Pool was the perfect spot for founder and MD Ian McCulloch to establish his business.
Ian said: “A lot of Scottish distillers have a fantastic palette to draw from when making and marketing their gins; stormy seas, clear skies, rolling mountains, granite, moorland smells. We wanted the English equivalent.”
Ian knew a thing or two about brand marketing after a near-30-year stint as Commercial Director for ITV and a spell as a media advisor. He decided gin would be his future after witnessing the creativity of Scottish brands.
He said: “I met co-founder James Shelbourne who happened to be in Guildford, near where I lived, through a mutual friend at Global Brands.”
“James knew a lot about marketing and distribution, so I talked endlessly with him over whether there was a gap for high-end English gin inspired by contemporary England, such as Vivienne Westwood and Aston Martin, and there was.”
Ian mentioned the idea to friends and family and through word of mouth, amassed a team from graduate students to local dads with the experience to deliver the vision.
The marketing focus meant Ian could already picture what the business’ premises would look like, so he got in touch with Northumberland Estates’ property arm to describe what he had in mind.
Ian laughed: “I asked for something with a log cabin, veranda, lake, chimney, classic back-country stuff, and all they could offer at the time was an old piggery on the Albury Estate.
“Fortunately, the estate had a beautiful disused milking shed and various dilapidated farm structures. We asked to rent them and Northumberland Estates was very good in helping us convert them into functioning buildings.”
The team considered naming their brand Surrey Hill Gin to evoke their surroundings but eventually settled on Silent Pool Distillers because the natural waters of the adjacent Silent Pool are vital to their gin production.
Ian said: “Silent Pool Gin is a series of layered flavours with 24 botanicals, using water from the Silent Pool.
“This means it’s not juniper-heavy or focused on just one flavour – different people derive different tastes.”
After spending months experimenting with different distillates in the local pub, Silent Pool Distillers developed a unique four-stage process for its balanced approach to gin making.
It begins with base botanicals such as Bosnian juniper berries, liquorice root and cassia bark being steeped in a Holstein still for 24 hours, while a basket of fruits including lime peels and oranges are hung in its neck.
Ian continued: “Delicate botanicals that won’t survive the distilling process, such as rose petals and elderflower, are then steeped in neutral for 24 hours to make a ‘tea’. This strips their oils and aromatic compounds without the negative flavours, these are also added to the pot.
“Finally, the spirit is carefully put through a multi-chambered fractioning column, resulting in a perfectly balanced spirit.”
Breweries far outnumber distilleries in Surrey, so after launching Silent Pool Gin Ian found local residents couldn’t get enough of the intriguing new drink.
Ian remembered: “We really got caught out when we started. We sold out very quickly and were struggling to meet demand.
“Brewing is largely farm-based while distilling is more like alchemy, which is something the community wasn’t used to and was excited to try.”
Surrey’s love for Silent Pool Gin grew rapidly, bolstered by the company becoming a significant local employer and sponsor of local charities and music festivals.
Ian said: “There is a level of ownership from Surrey residents for our brand which is fantastic. They know our distinct bottle even with the label turned away.”
The bottle’s popularity resulted in Silent Pool Distillers offering its own refill service, not least to help protect the environment.
Ian described: “A lot of local pubs and businesses were hoarding our bottles for decoration, so we offered a way to be sustainable for the environment and make the most of their purchase with discounted refills.”
Silent Pool’s signature gin isn’t the only product it offers, however. Its small batch range of fruited gins was mainly conceived in response to the food scare that swept Europe in 2013 by using only local ingredients.
Ian explained: “People were very sceptical of food from overseas when we started, so our small batch range used only what local farmers cultivated.
“In other words, when British strawberries ran out or didn’t do well one season, that was it, we’d move on to something else.”
The initiative has seen Silent Pool Distillers create everything from blackberry and plum to strawberry and pear-flavoured gins with the help of local farmers.
Ian said: “We capitalise on good seasons. One April we got about four tons of apricots to make gin with until they ran out in winter, when new ingredients like plums were harvested instead.”
“We have regulars such as a lady in Kent who sends us blackberries every year, which makes our small batch releases easier to plan.”
Silent Pool Distillers’ innovation both in brand and product saw the business take gold at the Spirits Business Gin Masters 2019, a win Ian attributes to judges seeing more than just the bottle in front of them.
He said: “You’ve got to become visible. That includes strong marketing and advertising but also getting involved with your audience.”
As well as creating award-winning gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show and hosting BBQs and charity events, Silent Pool Distillers attracts attention with public tours of its distillery. The tranquil Albury Estate makes for a memorable visit by itself, but the business goes the extra mile for its guests.
Ian said: “Transparency is really important to our business. This applies quite literally as our stills have windows in them, which are lit for evening tours, so everyone can see what goes in and out.”
“Our distillery is at the heart of our brand and we want people to get on-site and become a part of it.”
Whether it’s innovative gin production or marketing ideas, it seems Silent Pool Distillers has explored every avenue to make its brand distinct, but Ian says it’s really just getting started.
“We’ve just dialled up one of the botanicals in Silent Pool Gin to release Rose Expression, using a rose tea infusion. We’re currently making a very distinctive flavour but without lurid colours and gimmicks. Watch this space.”