To mark Ableforth’s eighth birthday, we pinned down global brand manager Jen Meredith to talk spirit production, ‘everyday success’, and challenging preconceptions both inside and outside the industry…
“Our creative process stems from the desire to create something truly distinctively delicious – whether that’s rum, brandy, gin or something else!” Jen Meredith, Ableforth’s brand manager, is emphatic. Ableforth’s has just turned eight, and as well as celebrating, she and the team are reflecting. “Our founders wanted to create products they wanted to enjoy themselves – full of flavour and using the best ingredients,” she continues. “In that sense, we haven’t really changed at all.”
Yes, Ableforth’s has come a long way since it was established by four friends, Justin Petszaft, Ben Ellefsen, Joel Kelly and Tom McGuinness, in 2011. The plan at the outset was to create a range of “really bloody tasty spirits”, inspired by drinks and styles from the past with robust, fresh and unusual flavours.
From gins, rums, brandies, liqueurs and more, Ableforth’s has had in its fingers in many boozy pies, establishing a following for its signature products such as Bathtub Gin and Rumbullion!, and in the process collecting more awards than Meryl Streep. The secret to its success?
“We create tasty things! Really genuinely tasty things,” says Meredith. “Like a complex spiced rum rather than a pure vanilla and sugar bomb; a sweetly zesty gin, a Cherry Brandy which is made with actual real-life brandy and real cherries. It’s this approach which ensures we stand out from the crowd.”
And it’s now become quite the crowd. As of last year, England now has 166 registered distilleries. Stiff competition is part and parcel of the industry. But it’s also worth remembering that the landscape was quite different when Ableforth’s first started out. Back in 2010, England had just 23 distilleries. Ableforth’s made its mark right at the outset of the craft spirits boom.
Fundamentally, Ableforth’s approach to production has enabled it to stand out. This can be seen in its willingness to embrace time-honoured techniques such as cold compounding, which is utilised in the creation of Bathtub Gin. “The base gin is produced in a copper pot still with ten botanicals,” says Meredith. We take this, reduce it down to 45% ABV, and split it in half. One half we put to one side and the other half is where the cold-compounding, or botanical infusion, happens.”
This is the crucial bit. “Into this part of the gin, we infuse our six botanicals [juniper, dried orange peel, cardamom, cloves, coriander seeds, and cassia bark] and leave them in for at least one week. During this time the gin must be sampled and tasted repeatedly to ensure the right concentration of flavour is being achieved.” The aim is to create a gin that is highly botanically flavoured, where the flavours have been extracted at ambient temperatures to capture those which don’t survive traditional, high-temperature distillation.
There’s an obvious hue, too. “Imagine a tea bag left in room temperature water for a few hours,” Meredith explains. This gin can now be carefully blended back into the original, 10-botanical copper pot-distilled gin.”This process enables us to deliver perfect consistency on a suitable scale with the colour and exact flavour of finished Bathtub Gin. Once this is done we simply make sure that the abv is at the correct bottling strength of 43.3%, and fill the beautiful bottles”.
An appreciation of distillation techniques is just one element, however. When it comes to ingredients, “it’s less about the ‘where’ and more about the ‘what’,” according to Meredith. “We only use exceptional ingredients, no matter where in the world they come from; from the fresh botanicals we lovingly infuse into our copper pot gin, to the XO Cognac that we put into our Cherry Brandy.”
Meredith also explains that Ableforth’s don’t make compromises during the production process. “It helps us be exact in our recipes and thorough in our quality control. We don’t cut corners, and we never take shortcuts. If it takes a little longer to make it properly tasty, that’s time well spent in our opinion,” Meredith says. “You saw an example of this with our Bathtub Gin. We don’t just pop a load of fruit in with gin and let it sit, we have a precise seven-day infusion process at ambient temperature which we use to make a flavourful concentrate which we then blend back into our copper pot distilled gin. This is tested throughout the seven days, so we never miss the sweet spot.”
The recent installation of a larger infusion tank is a result of the success this approach has brought. “Our infusion tank makes this process even more precise, but mostly it enables more to be made to meet the growing demand in global markets,” says Meredith. “The process, the infusion is still a full seven days, checked and tested to ensure the very best flavours are coming out.”
Meredith does it make it clear that there’s a desire for Ableforth’s to remain grounded, explaining that the brand values ‘everyday success’. “It’s not just about reaching long term sales goals. We’ve seen success in our Global Award Wins, such as our recent Gold for Rumbullion! at the San Francisco International Spirits Competition. But we also absolutely love getting good feedback from the people who buy and drink our products in an email or on social media,” Meredith says. “For us, when someone takes the time to send us a little note to say they enjoyed an Ableforth’s drink that’s up there with the award wins because really, that’s what we’re all about!”
Challenges still rear their head. That faux brown paper bag wrapped around the bottle, hand pleated, twined and waxed by hand, has become increasingly recognisable, particularly on a back bar. But the style can lead to misconceptions, as Meredith explains. “Some people think that our packaging means we want to be seen as an ‘old fashioned’ brand, or that we have recipes which have been passed down for generations, which isn’t the case.” She adds, “our packaging is actually a little nod to methods of the past, back when ingredients were always the real deal and products were made with time and effort, which is exactly what we do today.”
Equally the perception of compound-style gin, which is used to create Bathtub Gin, can be a cause of frustration. “There’s a lingering misconception that this is an inferior way to make gin. Which is definitely isn’t,” Meredith says. “We’d love to be a brand that can help change people’s minds within and outside of the industry, and show that using the compounding method can create a sensational gin when done right, and we think we do it pretty damn well.”
As Ableforth’s celebrates its 8th birthday this week, it’s clear the drinks producer has no intention of slowing down. The demand for delicious, bespoke spirits isn’t going away, something Ableforth’s knows all too well. “One of the most exciting things we see happening at the moment is the shift in trends,” Meredith explains. “People are much more discerning with what they buy, they want higher quality products. And that’s exactly who we make our drinks for”.
“What’s even more exciting is that this is a global phenomenon, so the UK trend which inspired our founders in Kent eight years ago, is now part of the global zeitgeist,” says Meredith. It’s been quite the ascent for Ableforth’s. World domination does seem like the next logical step…
To help you celebrate its 8th birthday in style, we’ve listed a few suggested serves below so you can make the most of some of Ableforth’s most popular products. Enjoy!
Bathtub Gin Southside
Ingredients: Bathtub Gin, fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup and mint leaves.
Method: Shake 50ml of Bathtub Gin, 20ml of fresh lemon juice, 10ml of sugar syrup and mint leaves over ice. Then fine strain into a coupe glass and top with soda.
Rumbullion! Mai Thai
Method: Shake 40ml of Rumbullion!, 20ml of Triple Sec, 25ml of lime juice and 20ml of Orgeat over ice. Then strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with squeezed lime wedges.
Summer Cup Royale
Method: Shake 40ml of Summer Fruit Cup, 20ml of lemon juice, 15ml of sugar syrup and 2 dashes of orange bitters over ice, then pour into a highball and top up with Prosecco. Garnish with an orange slice and a sprig of mint.