Try Betty's gin, the brand new gin from Heart of Suffolk Distillery in Bacton
PUBLISHED: 14:40 27 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:40 27 July 2018
© Justin Minns
Martyn Luke is a bit of a risk taker but that’s how he came to be one of the county’s flourishing artisan gin makers | Words: Linda Duffin | Photos: Justin Minns
We went on holiday in the north of Scotland four years ago,” Martyn Luke recalls. “We came across a small gin distillery. We went in, had a look around, came back out and I sat in the car and said ‘I’m going to do that’.”
His wife Karen is rolling her eyes. She’s the first to admit she thought it was a mad idea, just a temporary enthusiasm that would soon fizzle out. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
A short time ago the couple opened the doors of the Heart of Suffolk Distillery on a small trading estate in their home village of Bacton. People were queueing to get in.
“The reaction has been phenomenal,” Karen says. “Our local pub in the village, The Bull, started selling it the day we launched so they could launch it alongside us, and other pubs are stocking it too.
“People have been so supportive. They’re so excited that there’s a local distillery and they can see us here making it on site. There’s been such a buzz, such a huge response.”
Their London Dry style gin is named after Karen’s late mother, Betty. “She lived in the village, just half a mile from where we have the distillery,” she says.
“She was an avid gin drinker herself and introduced me to gin when I was only just old enough to drink it! We’d been trying to find a name for ages and Martyn came home one day and said ‘I know exactly what I want to call it’. It seemed a fitting tribute.”
Martyn is a plumber by trade, Karen is a business manager at a local school and the couple set up the distillery with their own hard-earned money. It hasn’t been an easy journey. “There have been difficulties, we’ve been up against some hideous deadlines, getting licences through,” Karen says.
But first, Martyn had to teach himself how to make gin. “I visited a lot of distilleries and there’s so much information available on the internet in this day and age, but a lot of it is trial and error. Learning how to cut your alcohol as it comes off the still is an art in itself. I spent four years trying to get it right.”
Like a lot of small artisan distilleries Martyn buys in a neutral grain spirit which he then distils again with a range of botanical flavourings.
Gin comes off the still in four stages. The foreshots, which Martyn says are basically nail varnish remover, have to be discarded. The heads is where the bulk of gin’s juniper flavour is concentrated but is too strong to drink uncut. The heart is where the additional botanicals come in.
Finally, the tails, when the alcohol content drops sharply and which Martyn says smells like wet dog or wet cardboard. Not terribly appealing.
The heads and tails can be re-used in the next distillation. Martyn uses a reflux still, which makes the process a little easier, but the art lies in blending the flavours to make something smooth and palatable.
“I started by inflicting my experiments on friends and family,” says Martyn. “My first attempt was really good. My second attempt was terrible, absolutely terrible!”
Betty’s Gin contains nine different botanicals, with top notes of liquorice and aniseed and an orangey finish.
“You actually get those flavours by using other things like angelica root, cassia bark and star anise combined in certain quantities, plus bitter orange. I knew what I liked in a gin and it was about getting the flavours right for me.”
A growing band of customers is testament to his achievement but the husband and wife team have taken a big gamble. They are not only competing with the big multinationals, but with well-established, well-off Suffolk companies such as Adnams. Do they ever think they’ve bitten off more than they can chew?
“He’s a risk taker,” says Karen. “I’m not. I’m the level-headed one, the one who sometimes has to put the brakes on. But you have to listen to the risk-takers sometimes, don’t you?”
And Martyn, who is already busy planning new limited edition blends for summer and winter, says: “I’m a great believer that if you put your mind to it, anything’s possible.
“If you want to do something in life you’ve got to get off your backside and do it.” I’m sure Betty would have agreed.
Where to get it
You can visit the Heart of Suffolk Distillery shop at:
Unit 4, Finbows Yard, Station Road, Bacton, IP14 4NH
Betty’s is also stocked by several local pubs. Check the website for details.
How to drink Betty’s
Styled on a London Dry Gin, Betty’s has a slight orange undertone and is best served with a slice of orange, a handful of ice and a premium tonic water. This complements the nine carefully chosen botanicals.
- Take a slice of orange peel and gently squeeze it into a glass to release the oils.
- Add some peppercorns (pink if available, or black if not).
- Pour in a 25ml measure of Betty’s Gin swirling to infuse all the flavours - this is most important.
- Add lots of ice and a generous serving of premium tonic water (Fever Tree or Fentimans).Finally add the orange peel.
- Alternatively, pour into a glass a 25ml measure of Betty’s Gin. Add lots of ice with a half slice of orange and a generous serving of premium tonic water (again, Fever Tree or Fentimans).
- Add a small sprig of rosemary. Swirl, smell and enjoy.