Meet the Distiller
Tom Warner, Warner’s Distillery
Gin industry pioneer brought colours and flavours of the British countryside to the category
Growing up on a farm not only instilled Tom Warner’s legendary work ethic but arguably was the inspiration behind the explosion of flavoured gins which brought thousands of new consumers to the category.
Tom’s journey to making gin started as a practical approach to farm diversification. After toying with using the floral crops to create essential oils on his Northamptonshire farm, he hit on the idea of making gin.
He nearly changed his mind back in 2012 when he realised a couple of other new kids on the block, including Sipsmith, had started to make waves in the industry.
Fortunately, Tom persevered and, as he worked to create his London Dry gin in the farmhouse kitchen, the innovation that transformed the industry took root in the most mundane way.
“My mum came into the kitchen and she’d put elderflower into a bottle of London Dry. It changed the colour and the flavour. It seemed like a small thing but, at the time, no-one was doing it.” Tom explains.
Within a year of launching their Harringtons London Dry gin, Warner’s used the farm’s fresh elderflower to make their first flavoured gin.
“It went off the shelves at Marks & Spencer like a rocket,” Tom recalls. “It became their fourth fastest-selling spirit almost overnight.”
When Warner’s were offered a special crop of rhubarb from Queen Victoria’s rootstock, grown on the Crown estate in Lincolnshire, that captured the zeitgeist. Warner’s Rhubarb Gin, with one third of every bottle being pure rhubarb juice, saw the market go crazy for pink gin.
“It was a great innovation that brought a lot of new blood into gin,” Tom says, “but unfortunately it opened the doors of Pandora’s box to a lot of synthetically-flavoured, highly sugared, versions which has done some damage to gin and confused the consumer.”
Bringing change and innovation has been Warner’s hallmark. “We weren’t from the industry and we weren’t blinkered by category norms,” Tom says. Not every experiment worked though and Tom chuckles at his attempt to make gooseberry gin, which smelled and tasted terrible!
“We’re up against some global giants so we have had to work harder, innovate faster and try to make better quality products to carve a niche for ourselves,” he says.
Plus, Tom is a natural showman, and has made a name for himself with his inspirational talks and tastings which have set many a heart and mind on the path to launching a distillery.
Tom loves his life-consuming, 24/7 job and, luckily, he runs the business with his wife Tina who, as a farmer’s daughter, shares his passion and his work ethic.
“Gin is for foodies and chefs, it is the greatest spirit in the category, because you are creating the recipe. It’s for creatives to stamp their mark on the liquid,” he explains.
As a lover of cooking, and the son of a home economics teacher, Tom sees his gin as “like a home-cooked meal for the world, because of the pride, care and quality that goes into every single bottle.”
The team’s latest initiative, after achieving coveted B-Corp certification, is launching Warner’s Nature Marque.
“In 2021, we decided to put nature positivity at the top of our pyramid as a business. Our gins are flavoured by the British countryside and we need to look after it or we won’t have a business in the future.
“We started doing all we can to reduce and offset carbon, grow our own botanicals and create nature positive space on the farm. But we wanted to change the world beyond our borders.”
That led to Nature Marque, which will be awarded to pubs across the country which make room for nature in their gardens. From growing wildflower meadows to putting up bird boxes or bee hotels, Nature Marque aims to create more nature friendly habitats.
“We consider the UK our green and pleasant land, but it is one of the most nature depleted countries on the planet,” says Tom, now a champion of nature positivity.
Warner’s status as an industry disruptor – along with Tom’s natural sociability – has led to the industry’s latest talking point and products: Warner’s Harrington Shiraz Gin and Australian pioneer Four Pillars’ Green Apple and Rhubarb Gin.
Collaboration between the distillers from opposite sides of the globe started with an ingredient exchange and Tom is excited by the outcome. “We sent them some rhubarb juice, they sent us some shiraz and we both had a play around at making products.
“I think we’re going to see more collaboration in the category – it’s a friendly and sensible way to drive some excitement in a market that has got a lot harder.”
Tom’s ten years in the industry has been a blast with many highlights, from meeting Her Late Majesty The Queen at Warner’s successful Chelsea Flower Show Garden to distilling live at Chelsea alongside French celebrity chef Raymond Blanc who was running cookery demonstrations. Distilling live has also taken Tom to Blur bassist Alex James’ Big Feastival in the Cotswolds.
But, he concludes, finishing the day drinking G&T with his hard-working team in the farm’s botanical garden on a summer’s evening takes some beating.