Gin Guild Member

The Marstons, Puddingstone Distillery

The Marstons, Puddingstone Distillery

Keen to embark on a new creative journey, Kate and Ben Marston made the decision to establish Hertfordshire’s first gin distillery and haven’t looked back since.

From the distillery’s inception in 2014 to its launch on 11 November 2016, the Marstons travelled the length and breadth of the country to establish relationships with distillers and industry professionals to make their gin dream become a reality.

The Gin Guild talks to Kate about Puddingstone Distillery’s journey.

The Gin Guild: What made you decide to set up your own distillery?

Kate Marston: We were looking for a new creative outlet that drew upon our love of food and drink, the outdoors and a growing desire to create something ourselves. We’d both been actively involved with groups working to drive tourism to the region, promoting the Chilterns and a growing food and drink movement – contributing to this by being the first ever gin distillery in Hertfordshire just seemed to slot in nicely. Of course, we would not have done it if we’d not been partial to the odd G&T!

Ben trained as a furniture designer but has had various marketing roles, with his most recent being customer experience and marketing manager for Tring Brewery. He became full-time at the distillery in April 2017. I still run my own graphic design business four days a week although probably put in full time hours at the distillery too.

GG: What challenges did you face setting up the Puddingstone Distillery?

Kate: There were many challenges – the major one being we didn’t know how to distill! But with a lot of reading, a bit of practice and sitting an Institute of Brewing and Distilling course we finally overcame that challenge.

Finding a suitable distillery location that suited our budget and plans to have an on-site retail space that would also be large enough to have distillery events, with good road access, was also quite difficult. But we persevered and have a great space next door to a beautiful reservoir and a farm shop/café. Visitors can access via foot, car, canal boat, bike or horse.

GG: Tell us more about the name Campfire Gin?

Kate: We were lucky to have travelled to some amazing places prior to setting up the distillery. Quite often days on our adventures, especially in Africa, culminated in time spent round a roaring campfire. Closer to home time spent camping and sitting by the firepit all reinforced a connection between relaxation, conversation and collaboration.

GG: You have travelled to many countries; would you say any influenced your gin’s flavours?

Kate: Well one of our ingredients is rooibos, the South African herb that is most often enjoyed as a tea, but I wouldn’t say our flavours are influenced by our travels. What we do enjoy is hearing where people are taking Campfire on their own travels. It’s definitely travelled more than we have!

As we have a shop in the distillery, customers will tell us they are taking it to family and friends around the world to try their local spirit, or they will bring family and friends in to take a local present home.

GG: How long did you spend perfecting your Campfire Gin recipe?

Kate: We first licensed our kitchen at home to start test distilling individual botanicals and then we started combining different ones to get close to something we liked. It was about two-and-a-half years later that we finally moved onto the distillery site and could upscale the recipe to Isabella, our 50 litre still, and perfect the recipe. We’ve since upscaled again to our 200 litre still, Amelia.

GG: How much Campfire Gin are you producing and do you export it?

Kate: We don’t export as yet but since our opening at the end of 2016 we’ve produced over 15,000 bottles across our three core Campfire Gins (London Dry, Navy Strength and Cask Aged), our Campfire Special Edition No 1 summer release, PUD PUD and PUD PUD Cask winter seasonals and Domestique.

GG: Tell us more about your project with a wildlife trust to use non-native invasive botanicals?

Kate: Our distillery is next door to a reservoir managed by the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust and we were both keen to collaborate on a project using gin as a driver to raise awareness of the work of the Trust.

Our main contact at the Trust, Josh, came up with the idea of using Himalayan balsam as a botanical. This appealed to us because it would be neither a farmed or foraged botanical. We’re not ones for foraged botanicals for use in commercial products as we believe it takes food away from native animals. However, the balsam is an invasive species that the Trust has to clear each year.

It grows close to rare chalk streams in Hertfordshire and blocks them, stopping the water from flowing. It is also very attractive to bees which stops them pollinating native plants. By using the balsam in our Special Edition No 1, we are not only raising awareness of the damage the plant does but we help clear the balsam to reduce re-growth the following year and £2 from the sale of every bottle goes back to the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust. Eventually we will get to a point where all the plant has been removed. This year we’ve raised over £2,000 through bottle sales and Puddingstone Distillery tours with ticket sales going to the Trust.

GG: What’s your favourite way to enjoy Campfire Gin? 

Kate: I like to keep G&Ts simple: a nice, heavy rocks glass with a couple of ice cubes and a ratio of 1:2.5 gin to Indian tonic water, usually with our Campfire Navy Strength. When it comes to our Campfire London Dry my favourite serve is a bone-dry martini.

I like to drink our Campfire Cask Aged neat over ice. Our Navy Strength works amazingly well in a Red Admiral cocktail too – gin, clear apple juice, orange bitters and ruby port. One of our new cocktail creations is called ‘Grandma’s Apple Pie Eyed’- a concoction of Campfire London Dry, apple syrup, caramel syrup and Advocaat, delicious!

Ben: Like Kate I like my gin-based serves simple. Our preferred format for a G&T is shared, as is our love for a bone-dry martini. I’m partial to our Cask Aged gin signature serve the “Fireside Manhattan”. Essentially it follows our methods for a martini but replaces dry vermouth with a sweet alternative, usually Carpano Antico Formula and our bourbon barrel Campfire Cask Aged Gin.

GG: As a married couple, what’s it like working together?

Kate: Ben works predominantly at the distillery all week while I work from our garden office doing my graphics work and finding time to do distillery accounts, HR, marketing, product packaging and many other tasks. I’m officially at the distillery Fridays and Saturdays when our shop is open which is when Ben might be out delivering or setting up events. It’s not often that we’re actually together unless it’s breakfast or dinner time. So, whilst we run the business together, we’re not together all day.

GG: Starting your own distillery can be a real challenge. What advice would you give to those looking to open their own?

Kate: For us it’s all about connections, to create a strong brand and, importantly, good quality liquid inside the bottle that people will repeat purchase. These are key areas that should be considered at every stage of conception to launch and day to day running of a distillery.

GG: What’s the plan for 2019?

Kate: We’ve some new products in the pipeline and we will be introducing some new events at the distillery. All a bit top secret at the moment!