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Master Distiller: Charles Maxwell

Charles Maxwell is the man at the helm of Thames Distillers and the architect of Gin Lane 1751 in replicating a Victorian style gin for the 21st Century.

An eighth generation distiller whose family has been in the business since the late 1600’s. Whilst he was Master of the Worshipful Company of Distillers in 2008-9, Charles discovered in the Company’s archives, the apprenticeship records of his grandfather, dating back to the 1680’s.

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POT STILL DISTILLATION

We use traditional style pot stills to create our range of Victorian style gins.  Our stills are made of stainless steel and provide better batch consistency and energy efficiency than copper stills.  In the old days a fire might be lit under a still to get it going, nowadays stills are heated by steam (for energy and carbon efficiency). Pot stills are very idiosyncratic and any variation in their shape may affect the flavour of the gin. All pot stills have a name and at Thames Distillers, we have Tom Thumb and Thumbelina.

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THE PROCESS

The botanicals are introduced to the still and macerate for 24 hours before distillation occurs. This ensures the best extraction of flavour. Enough heat is applied to the still to make the alcohol boil.  As the vaporised spirit starts to rise, steam pressure is adjusted to ensure that the whole distillation doesn’t rush through too soon, this is called ‘entrainment’.

 

The vapour passes up into and through the swan neck of the still and when they reach a water-cooled condenser, become liquid again. The liquid passes into a glass box where it can be drawn off and the quality monitored. This is where the nose of our experienced distiller, Charles, is crucial.

HEADS, HEARTS AND TAILS...

The first part of the distillation is known as the “heads”, typically low quality liquid and Charles will assess when the botanicals begin to come through. This is the beginning of Charles identifying the “heart”cut that ultimately becomes our gin.

 

After around 7-8 hours the strength of the alcohol starts to reduce and the low quality, impure “tails” containing turpenes and campenes will start to come through.  At this time, both the “heads” and “tails” liquid are discarded.

We are then left with only the “heart” cut of the distillate.  We then heat the Still again so the remainder of the distillate comes through, producing our finished product at a Still strength of 82% alcohol by volume (ABV) and then we add water to reduce down to our bottle strength/bottle ABV.