After a summer of distillery tours and brewery visits around the East coast of America, I decided it was time to check out a few operations slightly closer to home. The first place to be ticked off the to-do list was Silent Pool Distillers in Surrey, an exciting new distillery based just outside of London that is currently focusing on gin but will eventually release whisky too. It’s an easy 45 min Zipcar drive from South West London, or perhaps a 5 mile cycle from Guildford station if you are that way inclined.
Silent Pool is both a magical and practical location for a distillery. Legend has it that a nobleman, thought to be King John, drowned a woodcutter’s daughter in the pool after she rejected his advances, and that the ghost of the maiden can still be seen at midnight. Many also feared that Agatha Christie had drowned there when she infamously disappeared in 1926, until she was found staying in a Harrogate hotel under an assumed name. The water is crystal-clear, fed by a chalk spring from the North Downs – perfect for distilling! Unfortunately, an invasive weed was recently introduced accidentally, but work is well underway to eradicate the weed and restore the waters. Silent Pool Distillers currently pump the water up to their converted farm buildings and filter it before any botanicals are introduced.
A witty and informative 90 minute tour (followed by tasters) will set you back around £15 – find more info here. After a quick introduction by the lake, we were introduced to The Major – a temperamental vintage wood-fired steam boiler that they lovingly restored to power the hand-built Holstein copper still (not your standard Ikea flat pack purchase). The Major seems to hold all the power in a testing relationship with the distillers, but he will certainly come into his own if the National Grid goes down.
After a toasty few minutes in the steam room, we moved through to the stills to learn about their distillation processes. Their method is more complicated than your average approach, as they seek to introduce 24 carefully chosen botanicals in a variety of ways. Here’s Head Distiller Cory Mason to explain:
“A portion of our botanicals, including Bosnian juniper berries, liquorice root, cassia bark, orris, and bergamot are bruised and macerated in base spirit before being transferred to the still. These give depth and mouthfeel, the rich and heavier flavours. The lighter botanicals such as rose petals, kaffir lime leaves, linden and elderflower are separately macerated in a process that we’ve called the ‘Gin Tea Infusion’. This adds the oils and aromatic compounds to the distillation, which lend the gin its ethereal high notes of perfumed lime and floral essence.”
The final touches are included in the gin basket infusion, which hangs in the neck of our Holstein still. Fresh citrus peel, dried pears, Macedonian juniper and Bulgarian angelica, to name but a few, balance the final spirit, integrating and enlivening the other botanicals to create the unique harmony found in Silent Pool Gin. The distillation process is completed using a multi-chambered fractioning column, and through precise control over a series of plates and cooling pipes, we are able to separate the exact flavour needed from each botanical ingredient. As a result of this rectification column, and the fact that our desired molecular components are often found in small quantities, we have to use three times the amount of ingredients compared to the traditional pot distillation method, to ensure our carefully chosen flavours are realised in the finished product, holding many other flavours back.” – Cory Mason, Head Distiller.
Their signature gin already has a strong presence in London, with regular tasting events, collaborations and popups around town. The beautiful bottle design evoking Silent Pool itself helps them to stand out behind the bar, but ultimately it’s all down to that taste, and their balanced complex 43% gin doesn’t come up short. A bouquet of flowers and citrus gives way to earthy spice on the tongue before elderflower sweetness and honey help to smooth out the finish. You can definitely drink it neat with ice, but it’s a sure fire hit in martinis and G&Ts.
It’s early days for Silent Pool Distillers, with the excitement of whisky still to come, but they’ve got off to a flying start with their flagship gin, and you might come across some other limited releases such as fruit cordials, eau de vies, navy strength gin and even their Silent Pool Mist liquid garnish sprays. It’s a lovely place to grab some fresh country air outside of London, and they are great hosts, so do yourself a favour and clear some space in the diary for a boozy jaunt to Albury.
Silent Pool Distillers – silentpooldistillers.com
Silent Pool Distillery, Shere Road, Albury, Surrey, GU5 9BW
Matt The Tips : Make a day of it by dropping into Albury Organic Vineyard next door!
Thanks to Silent Pool Distillers for hosting us, and to my travel teammate Maggie Gray for taking some of the photos (where credited) above.