Kirkwood Distillery: Buy-From Shropshire at Ludlow Food Festival

1. This is your first time exhibiting at the Ludlow Food Festival. What are you most excited about? 

I’ll never be mistaken for a local Shropshire boy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be proud of where I live. Shropshire is the most beautiful and abundant place I have ever inhabited, and I’m proud to call Ludlow home. I’ve attended the food festival every year, but this will be my first time exhibiting. I’m excited to interact with people and tell them about how my products are made.   

I find people are eager to talk about food and drink, probably because it’s more relevant to our daily lives than most products. People attending the food festival are obviously interested in where their food comes from and the variety of local offerings. I think opinions and ideas from the public are essential to local producers, as it gives us an outside look at how our products are being received and enjoyed. I’m looking forward to telling people about the numerous flavours that grow here and how they can be used to produce high quality spirits.

2. What inspired you to turn your food/drink product into a business? 

I’ve been a fan, some would say connoisseur, of whisky, gin and vodka for some time. So, I was surprised to find so few spirit makers in the area. An area of agricultural abundance renowned for high quality food and drink seems amiss without a good local spirit. Several years back, I was intrigued by the gin craze that was starting and all the new varieties being offered. But I was disappointed when I learned that most gin makers buy in the base alcohol from industrial factories rather than making their own. Every time I travel around Shropshire, I pass huge fields of malting barley, wheat, rye, and maize. With so much local grain available, why would local gin makers be using industrially made alcohol that often was produced halfway around the world? I think Shropshire can do better than that. I've gained access to a supply of barley grown in Shropshire and Herefordshire, thanks to my good friends over at Hobsons Brewery. I then sought and received permission from the National Trust to forage local botanicals from the Long Mynd and Carding Mill Valley. Likewise, the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre gave me permission to forage from the Onny Meadows. I've located my distillery in a converted farm building behind the church in Stanton Lacy, overlooking the river Corve and in the shadow of the Shropshire Hills AONB.  

With good local ingredients and with great care and attention to detail, Kirkwood Distillery will make a truly local spirit from the abundance of this area. We will make a good spirit, and an honest spirit.

3. Tell us about a typical working day in the life of your business. 

Making spirits, or drinks of any kind for that matter, involves a lot of cleaning. Brewers have a saying: “Brewing is 90% cleaning stuff”, and that holds true for distilling as well. When the still is running, my job is actually quite relaxing.I just need to keep track of where things are in the process and ensure it progresses smoothly. I keep a big comfy leather armchair at the distillery where I can sit and keep watch over things. 

Once the distilling ends, there are hundreds of things that need to be cleaned and maintained. Tanks are scrubbed, the still gets jet-washed, bottles are washed, hoses are flushed, buckets and drip trays are tidied.  It’s all very satisfying work knowing that the magic has already happened.
Probably the best part of the job is bottling my spirits for sale.  There’s something about putting it into the final container and applying a label with my name on it that gives me a warm feeling of accomplishment.  Seeing a sparkling clear bottle of spirit made from local grain makes me proud.  Knowing that it was made honestly and by my own hand is the greatest feeling in the world. 

4. Is there anything new & exciting happening within your business that we can look forward?  

My vodka is ready to launch at the food festival, but my gin is still under development.  I hope to have a few sample gin recipes ready for the festival for tasting.  That way local people and visitors can be a part of the process, by giving feedback and ideas about what they like.  The plan was never to make a glamorous designer gin, I want to make a gin that tastes of the local hills.  Involving the public in that process is very exciting.
This area is filled with wonderful flavours growing wild, and every change of season reveals new ingredients.  I’m excited to see where the seasons can take my products as they develop.  In terms of flavoured vodkas or gins, there are almost too many options to explore, so I’ll need to focus on a few at a time and see what happens.   

5. QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS: 

Favourite food? Anything freshly taken from the garden. This week it’s tomatoes, courgettes and beans. Next month it will probably be pumpkin and peppers. 

Favourite drink? A pint of Hobsons Best at the pub, or a dram of Ardbeg in the evening   Favourite place to eat in Shropshire? The Green Café in Ludlow for breakfast or lunch. For dinner, my partner and I always seem to choose Pizza Ten in Ludlow. 

Favourite place to shop in Shropshire? I far prefer a good open market to any shop. The local produce market in Ludlow on Thursdays is a must visit for me. 

Favourite place in Shropshire? On top of the Long Mynd with hills and countryside stretching out in all directions. The first little stopping point on the Burway after climbing out of Church Stretton is my favourite.  My buddy Kipling the Retriever is a big fan of the rivers, but I like the hills.

Discover more:

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