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Meet The Maker: Waterton’s Reserve Gin

March 21, 2022 by Joel Davidge

Nick Ord is business development manager at Nailmaker Distilling Company, makers of Waterton’s Reserve Gin.

In a wide ranging career, he’s worked in the spirits industry from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean, Lebanon to Vietnam and Laos, all over Africa and the Middle East, Russia, China, and India.

We sat down with Nick to talk about the future of gin, his advice for getting into the drinks industry, and competition from tequila.

Jump to:

The future of gin

Advice for getting into the drinks industry

The rise in tequila and whether this will rival vodka and gin

Tell us a little about your role at Watertons? What does a day in life look like?

My Waterton’s work is actually refreshingly varied (and a lot of fun), which is why I was so excited to come and work with the team at Nailmaker Distilling Company; they allow a lot for freedom for expressing and implementing ideas, within a fluid role.

We start at the crack of dawn – usually around six – when the brewery is blessedly quiet.

I write copy for the brands, including the website and marketing material (and even the bottle labels), as well as wonderful PR opportunities (such as this), and get to work with the company’s rich heritage and origins.

When not writing, or helping to find new customers and opportunities to sell the brands, or sampling our fine wares at consumer or bartender sampling sessions and trade shows, I can be found with my sleeves rolled up (and music playing) bottling and labelling all the gins, rums and liqueurs, alongside our pot still, Florence.

Waterton's Reserve Distillery copper pot

Waterton’s main offering is a stunning range of gins. Which is your favourite?

Our Dandelion and Burdock Gin is banging, everyone should try it!

We’re also proud of the Yorkshire Rhubarb expression because unlike most of our competitors, it is neither pink nor sweet, being a dry gin that still fair bursts with Rhubarb flavour, which is quite something.

Our Head Distiller, David Owens, learned his distilling trade making rum in the Seychelles, long before bringing his skills back here to Blighty (where many of our rivals have had to learn from scratch, in a fraction of the time).

Our core range of Waterton’s Reserve Gin and Vodka are this year being joined by the Famous Ginger Badger Cocktail Liqueurs (Pawn Star and The Blue ‘Un) as well as both pineapple and cherry-spiced variants of our Dr. Hudu rum, which are all really exciting products.

Where do you see the British gin scene going in the next few years?

It will be fascinating to see whether the tumult of the last two years will serve as a breaker for the previously, seemingly never-ending “gin boom”. We’ll have to see whether it will be “business as usual” once COVID-19 is as “behind us” as it is likely to get anytime soon, and the sun is high in the sky, with drinkers out in full force once again.

Trade insiders have long foreseen a gin-like explosion in spirits such as mezcal or rum, but I still just do not see this happening, and suspect that gin will return to the dominance it has enjoyed for at least the last ten years.

The chief difference is that many smaller, independent bottlers and bars have sadly been forced out of business due to the devastating damage done to the drinks and hospitality industry since 2020.

I expect those still standing to be in stronger positions than ever, with a both a streamlined category, and a customer base that is champing at the bit to get back into those bars and out into those beer gardens this summer.

Waterton's Reserve Gin Signature Range

Has the pandemic changed home drinking habits?

Experimental drinking at home has also transformed the way we imbibe, with the rise in cocktail delivery services and ingredient hampers, along with virtual mixology and even distilling sessions taking place online, during lockdown.

An honourable mention to ‘Around the World in 80 Drinks,’ here, a concept rolled out to great success by the team at Bar Events UK, who delivered all of the above.

These should hopefully translate to a growth in more obscure and challenging products.

I expect we’ll see a rise in the popularity of both high end international fare – such as the Nikka Gin and Vodka range from Japan, Boatyard from nearby Ireland, as well as products at the luxury but local, craft-distilling end, such as Spirit of Manchester Distillery and of course, Waterton’s Reserve.

Yorkshire plays a big part in your brand image. Tell us about the Northern distilling scene – how important is it that your product is “home grown”?

Very much so, thank you for highlighting this point because it means everything to us.

After our UK hospitality careers successfully ran their course, both myself and David spent years journeying to far-flung places overseas as bar consultants.

Whilst this was rewarding and filled with incredible experiences and irreplaceable memories, there came a time for the pair of us, when the call to come home and rediscover our roots was simply too loud to ignore.

I spent a stint in London, but found myself spending less time talking to friends and family than I had when I was in Beijing, crazy as that sounds!

No, I needed to come back up North and stay here.

When you have lived for years in the desert, almost been washed away by a monsoon or sweated in hundred degree humidity, you would be amazed how enjoyable a stiff Yorkshire breeze and drizzle of cool, fine rain can feel.

In terms of distilling, local provenance is crucially relevant.

Most of the biggest and “best” alcohol brands in the world wax lyrical about their water source. From Icelandic glaciers, aquifers hundreds of meters below rainforests, or from the highlands, Spey, or Islay, often touted by the Scottish Whisky Industry.

Here in Yorkshire we have one of the finest resources we could ask for, almost literally on our doorstep, The Pennines.

All that famous Manchester rainfall seeps through miles of mountains and Greenmoor rock to land on our side, pure as the driven snow. Purer. You don’t get yellow greenmoor rock-filtered water.

The Northern distilling scene has come on in great leaps and bounds in recent years. It’s easier to get licences than it used to be and hands on experience and practice has seen some really exciting new product developments come through, such as John Robert’s Botanic Request, Yorkshire Explorer, or Leeds Gin.

I am most excited by genuine distillers. Many ‘craft’ brands operate as pretty much indie-bottlers, with their liquids actually being produced-to-recipe by the likes of Thames Distillers down south, or even Diageo’s giant Cameron Bridge up North.

This can confuse customers and blurs the market. I’m all for clarity in this sense; consumers have a right to know what’s behind the label.

Waterton's Dandelion and Burdock

And I believe it was a Yorkshire explorer which inspired the brand?

Indeed, yes. The Charles Waterton story itself is a rich source of inspiration. The man’s exploits reading like some fantastical hybrid of David Attenborough and Indiana Jones. At school he was renowned as “rat catcher to the establishment” and once scaled the school’s tower.

Unfortunately, the only way down was the route he took up there in the first place.

He journeyed to Guyana (the source of our liquid for Doctor Hudu’s Rum) four times, once walked to Brazil barefoot and was seemingly an inspiration for both Attenborough himself, as well as ‘The Origin of Species” writer, Charles Darwin.

He also climbed trees to replace fallen birds’ eggs, and pretended to be a dog when guests came to his house, before biting their legs. It sounds like he was quite mad, and utterly brilliant, in equal measure.

What tips do you have for people looking to work in the drinks industry?

Building relationships in every part of the building is vital.

Always get the Chefs on side, and the door staff, they feed you and keep you safe! It also keeps you humble, which is everything (arrogance is an occupational hazard, both in drinks and hospitality).

Once you are serving customers behind the bar, be on time, be consistent and be kind. Also be disciplined and practice good lifestyle habits, especially regarding unhealthy (and sadly, industry-rife) temptations around you, and all should work out fine.

I started the hardest way, in that I began later than most (aged twenty three or so), wiping tables and cleaning ashtrays at a friend’s Mexican cantina. It was weeks before I even got to pull a pint, let alone shake a Margarita or stir a Martini.

Nothing beats rolling your sleeves up and grafting for early experience though. Even as an award winning bartender/mixologist I used to insist on working as bar-back before I did a shift on a station. It’s the best way to learn how a place works and where everything goes.

And if you want to reach the very top? Competitions.

Practice and compete, practice and compete, rinse and repeat.

It will surround you with like-minded people that you can learn from at the top of their game and will introduce you to everyone you need to know, in terms of brand sponsors and the (often esteemed) judges and your immediate peers from the best venues.

I would suggest not focusing on winning at these events, but on improving your skills and knowledge, whilst networking and showcasing yourself. Competitions are the best place to do this, if you want a career in the drinks industry at the highest level.

Waterton's Reserve Yorkshire Vodka

What do you think of the emerging trend of Vodka with botanical flavours?

Following on from the ‘gin-aissance’, the emergence of botanical vodka was something of an inevitability. I am only surprised it did not happen at least five years sooner – and well remember having conversations to that effect with industry colleagues, although whether this is a good thing is highly debatable.

In part this development has been a reaction to the gin explosion and attempt to reclaim market share and – perhaps less cynically – a natural evolution in modern distilling.

Once every possible combination of botanicals and distillation has been explored by gin-makers (and boy does it feel like they have been…) the only ripe aspect remaining is the ‘juniper’ itself.

This is simultaneously gin’s greatest strength as well as arguably a millstone around its neck.

Not everyone loves it (many do not even like it), but remove the juniper from the spirit (that can no longer legally be called ‘gin’) and what we essentially have is…’botanical vodka’.

This risk is that the category strays too far from it’s roots and repeats the trend from the 1990s and 2000s of overly experimental vodka infusions. Including beans, spices, expired reptiles, and more, these flavours are potentially best left in the past.

Love it or hate it, vodka should really remain vodka, or it becomes something else. Therein is the category’s biggest strength and curse – all that counts is the raw material, the process and the water source.

Similarly, we’ve seen a range of Vodka brands (and other spirits) launching low-ABV “light spirits” coming in at around 20% ABV.

How do you think this will impact the performance of the Vodka category?

Again, this can be seen very much as a natural part of the evolutionary drinking process, as brands follow wider market trends.

Hot on the heels of (or perhaps parallel to) ‘sustainability,’ ‘free trade’ and conversations around ‘carbon footprint’ came the lifestyle revolution that has encompassed veganism, no-and-low drinking, sugar and junk food wars and the wellness movement as a whole.

I myself am currently sober for the ninety-second consecutive day (at time of writing), my longest break from alcohol since those halycyon teenage years of the early nineties and have observed similar shifts throughout the industry and broader society.

This is potentially maudlin, but many of my industry comrades have reassessed their lifestyle habits in recent years. This process was hastened by the lost of far too many friends in a short period of time (RIP Little Danny, Tom Mullin, Douglas Ankrah, Sasha Petraske, Henry Besant, Despo’ Dunc Wilson, Gregor de Gruyther…far too many to dwell on). Not to say for one second that alcohol has been a deciding cause or even contributory factor in any of these specific cases, but such tragedies certainly can and have inspired vital introspection and change within a whole generation of the beverage industry family. We are seeing this reflected in bartending culture, and it’s no bad thing.

That is to say, the era of ‘drink less but drink better,’ has been both long in coming, and a vital part of modern drinking’s evolution.

The highest quality vodka (and indeed all of the best made spirits), will find their place within this zeitgeist of “moderation ahead of over-indulgence”.

Whether it be by consuming no-and-low, or simply by imbibing fewer sips of higher quality traditional beverages, at a more considered and respectful pace; the effect is much the same and all for the better. Healthier drinking habits.

What is one Vodka myth you’d like to bust?!

That Vodka is “flavourless”. If course it isn’t.

Even water has flavour (anyone who cannot taste the difference between vodka and water should probably seek medical help at once).

Vodka can perhaps be compared to Champagne in this sense (which I have also often heard in some quarters described as ‘all tasting the same’).

The differences in both are complex and subtle, compared to other categories and it can take an advanced palate – either innate or through practice – to appreciate the intricacies. But they are there, awaiting discovery…

Do you think (as some are predicting) that Tequila will be able to rival Vodka in 2022?

I don’t believe it will come close due to vodka’s breadth of appeal.

If any category stands a better chance it could be rum, for its adaptability within wider boundaries.

The larger your market, the deeper your reach. Tequila, for all of its lauded strengths, has up until now had baked-in limitations, in terms of flavour profiles that are simply too complex and overwhelming for many consumers.

As a small indicator of the general public’s view my mother, sister or nearby neighbours will happily drop forty or fifty quid on a bottle of gin they have never tried before, and the same for a whisky.

Perhaps slightly less for a punt on a vodka or rum. But they are unlikely to take the same risk for a tequila – if they were to buy one at all.

Hence for me, it remains within the purview of specialists and passionate enthusiasts, for now. The Tequila category is not there, at least not quite yet.

Love it or loathe it, vodka will always be seen by a majority of consumers as the practical foundation on which all other spirits are built.

If done right, it’s elegant simplicity it will always have the widest appeal, wherein gimmickry is frowned upon and the only consideration for the finest brands is production quality, husbandry and heritage.

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