Generations of gin makers: What it's like to be a master Black Country distiller
It could be said making gin is in Natalie Wallis-Palmer’s blood.
Her great-great-great grandfather, William Palmer, founded Langley Distillery in Stourbridge more than 200 years ago.
Natalie began working at the family business, which is celebrating its 100th year of producing the popular spirit, when she was 19 and is now the master distiller.
“I grew up almost marinated in gin. I am the sixth generation in a family of distillers, so it was only natural that this would be my chosen career path too.
“I started in the business when I was 19, originally covering a maternity leave role, but I have never left,” she said.
Natalie now splits her time between the company’s head office in Hertfordshire and the distillery in Oldbury.
“My morning routine starts with a cup of hot water and lemon, to cleanse the palate, and a flick through social media and online newspapers to catch up on news and new releases within the industry.
“After checking in on the cats and bees, I drive to work and on arrival, often find myself tasting any samples that have been sent to me before breakfast,” she said.
Her favourite place to work is the family distillery.
“I love my days at the distillery as I get completely submerged in all the delicious botanicals that we use in the distillation process.
“Once you come through the gateway, you disappear into a real olde worlde distillery surrounded by hessian sacks of botanicals, which smell delicious. My father, Adam is a botanical guru and has travelled the world seeking them out,” she explained.
The family sources the “very best botanicals” from all around the world for its wide range of gins.
These include juniper from Macedonia, orange and lemon peel from Spain and also star anise and ginger from Asia.
The botanicals contain essential oils, and it is the extraction of the essential oils in the presence of alcohol that gives gin its unique flavour.
Alongside the botanicals, traditional methods and the highest quality neutral alcohol are used to produce the gins at Langley Distillery.
Inside the distillery are five copper stills, all of them named after the strong women in the family’s past, with some dating back to the 1800s.
“Our oldest still, Mackay, is from 1860 and our biggest still, Jenny, is capable of producing over 250,000 bottles in one distillation,” said Natalie.
The stills also include Angela, which was made in 1903 by John Dore and can hold 1,000 litres, and Constance, also made by John Dore, but this time in 1950 and has capacity for up to 3,000 litres.
Day-to-day duties include catching up with the distilling team and checking up on botanical orders. But one of the highlights of Natalie’s role as master distiller is coming up with new recipes for her customers.
“Most days I will have a meeting with a client, or with a potential client wanting to make their own gin.
“We make about 75 per cent of the artisanal gins in the UK, so spend a lot of time developing recipes based upon customers requirements.
“This could be anything from a traditional London Dry recipe to a new superfood or some foraged fruit.
“Once we even got asked to try a chocolate gin – sadly, that one didn’t work out,” said Natalie.
“It’s really rewarding to help people turn their gin dreams into reality, especially when it’s something that started off as a few notes on a piece of scrunched up paper, which grows into a national, or even global, award-winning spirit brand.
“Even over the last 20 years, the team have created more than 300 gin recipes for customers around the world.”
“I was responsible for launching our first own name gin brand in 2017 – Palmers London Dry Gin. We produced it in memory of my late granny, Angela Palmer, who was an incredible role model for me.
“She loved gin, so as a nod to her, we released Palmers into the global market after more than 90 years of solely making gin for others.
“It was a real privilege to create a brand for our 200-year-old company, and to take it into the next chapter of its story. I often pop into our stockists such as Selfridges or Master of Malt to catch up on sales. It’s like watching over your children!
“About once a week, I will host a gin tasting for consumers. I always make sure to include our Palmers London Dry (£28, 70cl, Master of Malt), as it’s a gin that is very close to my heart and I love hearing what people think of it.”
And how does a master distiller like to spend their evenings after a busy day at work? With a G&T of course!
“I’m normally finished work by 7pm and, unless I have an evening tasting event, I tend to head home for a bit of relaxation time. My husband is a great cook, so if I’m lucky he will have whipped up dinner for me.
“If I can have a bubble bath, with a G&T, then an hour or so watching some of my favourite box sets, that is pretty much my perfect evening,”said Natalie.
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