St Giles – The full story
Based in the village of Crostwick near Norwich, St. Giles is an award-winning gin distillery founded by Simon Melton. Inspired by his global travels during which he tried gins from many different countries, he became an expert on the spirit and in particular the botanicals used. Returning to the UK, he decided to set up a distillery himself with the objective of creating a contemporary, fresh and flavourful gin that was different to the bland, standard London Dry styles which he felt were all too prevalent. Meeting Peter Margree towards the end of 2015, a similarly well-travelled gin expert but also an experienced distiller who shared Simon’s vision, they embarked on a project to produce the best gin they could, using the finest botanicals from around the world without compromising on flavour, ingredients or equipment. Committed to sourcing the best still, Simon contacted several suppliers, but was unimpressed by what they offered and the prices they were charging. A colleague from another distillery advised him to contact Ryebeck.
Simon was struck by the professionalism, expertise and attitude shown by the Ryebeck team from the initial discussions onwards. Simon views the personalised and honest service he’s received from Ryebeck as a key aspect that distinguishes them from their competitors. “Tim was my main contact and he could easily have tried to sell us anything, but his knowledge, honesty and support were decisive factors in our choosing Ryebeck. He was clearly interested in building a long-term relationship and that was really appreciated.”
Their initial meeting was at the distillery of another Ryebeck client, who was using the same Kothe still that Simon eventually chose. After having compared different still types and prices, they then discussed the size of still required. Simon wanted to follow the Sipsmith model, as he explains. “I’ve always admired their marketing, presence and refreshing style of gin, so I looked at their 400L still Prudence. While this remained in the back of my mind, at first I was really only considering a 100L size, but through Ryebeck’s honesty and guidance, I made the jump of faith to go with the bigger still. Tim detailed to me the advantages of the 400L size for continuity of product, especially given our future plans, as it would allow us to scale up our operations at some stage, avoiding the inconsistencies and other problems that daily batch runs on a smaller still could cause. We wanted the best equipment and Ryebeck made it clear that they would work with all our objectives.”
Construction of the distillery began around Easter 2016 and their first gin, St Giles, was produced a year later from a four metre-tall Kothe K900N 400L copper pot still named ‘Anna’ after Simon and Alison’s eldest daughter. This handmade German still, built for them under Ryebeck’s direction, has all the features that the St Giles Distillery requires for its current and potential future needs. Superbly engineered and straightforward to operate, it’s also “a stunning-looking piece of artwork which wows people whenever they see it for the first time”, according to Simon. “We said to Ryebeck that the still had to be right for us and we have not been disappointed. It’s so cleverly thought out and fantastic fun to operate and to look at. Everything about it is brilliant and the guidance I received from Tim was first class, For example, he showed me how the agitator stops micro-boiling at the bottom of the still, so that the quality of botanicals is uniform all the way through, while the way the burner works means that there is no direct heat to the copper.”
Among the many user-friendly features, cleaning is made particularly easy by the intelligent design. “We looked at other stills and saw how labour intensive the process was and we also had issues with how chemicals were being used, which alarmed me.” Simon is full of praise for the ease and effectiveness of regular cleaning as a top design feature of the Kothe K900N. “As soon as distilling is finished, half to three quarters of a ton of boiling water is there ready to clean the still, which it does remarkably well and very quickly in roughly 30 minutes. The copper comes out perfectly shiny again and the whole procedure is not labour-intensive at all.”
Currently producing a range of three gins, Simon is investing in the future by doubling the size of the distillery. This will create more space, not just for distillation and the bonded warehouse, but also potentially for a bottling plant, as bottling and labelling is at present all carried out by hand. Ryebeck remains very much part of the business’ development plans, as Simon explains. “They will always be our first port of call should we need extra equipment. I regard Tim now as a friend, not just a business colleague. That’s how I feel with all the support Ryebeck has given us and continues to provide. I can phone them up with questions and I don’t just get salesmanship, but a genuine interest to help my business. It’s an easy relationship and I don’t need to look anywhere else.”