Meet the Distiller
Toby & Jane Whittaker, Whittakers Gin
Translating a passion for chemistry into award-winning gins
The date is etched in their memory – 23 July 2015. That was when the first batch of Whittaker’s Handcrafted Yorkshire Gin was delivered to Majestic in Harrogate.
Toby and Jane Whittaker had established careers in property management. It was when Toby was helping their children with their GCSEs in science and maths that his passion for chemistry – which he studied at university – was re-ignited.
He enrolled on the Brewing and Distilling course at Heriot-Watt University with dreams to start a micro-brewery. But, with Jane a gin lover, Toby’s appreciation of the finer points of gin grew quickly and the couple embarked on a gin-tasting journey to determine the ingredients that would complement the traditional flavours of juniper, coriander and angelica to make their perfect gin.
They found inspiration in their Yorkshire heartland with bilberries abundant at nearby Brimham Rocks and hawthorn berries brightening the landscape of the Dales. Bog myrtle, garden thyme and fresh lemon peel also made the cut as their Original Gin was born.
Four years on, with several international awards in the bag, the Whittakers are about to move out of their original, slightly ramshackle former pig shed into a new purpose-built distillery on their farmland.
They can hardly contain their excitement. Not only will they be able to build up distillery tours, they intend to make their own neutral grain spirit from locally-grown barley. Toby also plans to fulfil a dream to start producing whiskey.
They have travelled to America to source new equipment, which arrives in June ready for opening the new distillery at the end of the month. Toby said: “It’s exciting when new equipment arrives, I’m like a child in a sweetshop.”
Their iconic label, styled on eighteenth-century naturalist and artist Thomas Bewick’s wood engraving of a hare, was inspired by Jane’s love of animals – including the hares which gave their home, Harewell House Farm, its name.
The future looks bright as their Pink Particular, Navy Strength and highly successful seasonal Winter Solstice Gin is complemented by their latest launch – Summer Solstice Gin, flavoured with pink grapefruit and pomegranate.
Toby says: “We are still learning. We have a team of four people and the challenge is whether to stay small and build up our followers and sales direct from the distillery or to increase volumes and look to export markets. The most important decision we face is to get that balance right.”