Greensand Ridge Distillery
Situated in the picturesque Wealden countryside on the border between Sussex and Kent, Greensand Ridge takes its name from the line of hills surrounding the area and encompassing the distillery’s local botanicals. The hills themselves sit on a layer of greensand which was formed in the Cretaceous period and is highly acclaimed by the English winemaking industry.
Will Edge spent the first part of his career in IT and marketing, but has always had a keen interest in distillation. From a young age, Will began experimenting with homebrewing and infusing various flavours into different spirits and liqueurs. He even served homemade cider at his wedding.
As time progressed, the idea of moving out of London and establishing his own distillery became more and more appealing. Whilst planning this life-changing move, (and raising two small children) Will enrolled at the Heriot-Watt university to gain a Masters degree in Brewing and Distilling. Distance learning was the ideal way to blend family life and a career in the city with a distinct focus on taking his passion to the next level. No-one can say that Will hasn’t put the time, effort and commitment into becoming skilled in the art of distillation or that he didn’t carefully consider every aspect of building the distillery in great detail beforehand.
Finding the distillery site itself was a labour of love. Will needed somewhere large enough to house the still and distillery equipment as well as combining a space to host workshops and events. He also needed a home for his family to move into.
Fortunately, the perfect site presented itself in the form of an old Victorian coach house. The Edge family now live right next door to the distillery and the buildings are beautiful. Located in Shipbourne, Kent, the views out of the distillery stretch for miles across rolling countryside.
Interestingly, there are more ties to the area than you would first think. Will grew up in Kent so knows the area very well. However, Greensand Ridge also shares its geological profile with Wenlock Edge, an escarpment in Shropshire. It’s on this ridge that Will’s forefathers lived and from where they get their family name: Edge.
Sustainability is at the core of Greensand Ridge distillery, but it wasn’t intended to be a definitive selling point. Will believes that every decision made should consider the environment and its impact and this is how he built his vision. Whilst it has become an individual talking point, (and it can’t be bad to get people talking about the environment) Will hopes that soon other distilleries will catch up and it will become the norm.
Greensand Ridge runs an electric-powered 300 litre Arnold Holstein still, heating it with 100% renewable energy sourced from Good Energy.
Will keeps the heads cut from the gin production to thoroughly clean the still after its been steam-cleaned. All of the bottles are cleaned using high pressure air.
Will collaborates with local farmers and supermarkets, turning their excess crops or unwanted produce into brandies and eaux-de-vie. Without Greensand Ridge, this food would be lost revenue, lost opportunity and wasted.
A distillery can contribute a huge amount of waste itself from plastic wrapping and pallets to packaging and the used botanicals. Greensand Ridge have installed a biodigester, (powered by green energy) which munches all the liquid waste.
They compost the spent botanicals. When making brandies and eaux-de-vie, the pressed fruit pomace goes to a local farmer for cattle feed.
These cyclical methods of production – starting with unwanted produce, creating a spirit and then returning the waste by-products to the community/land – are a vital part of Greensand Ridge’s ethos and are well-worth shouting about. It took consideration and expertise to establish, but when you incorporate environmental aspects into every decision they become natural and expected rather than an after-thought or an additional problem to overcome. People from all industries should take heed.
The aim for any distiller is that people will buy their products because they taste amazing and are bottled in a visually-attractive way.
This led Will to gin. Gin’s ability to carry flavours and convey a sense of time or place made it the perfect vessel for showcasing the surrounding area. Botanicals which grow locally create the main structure of the gin, but it’s important to highlight that Will does source these from a reputable supplier so as not to deplete the countryside of plants which don’t grow in abundance. This also maintains a level of quality and consistency.
Grains of Paradise
Bitter Orange Peel
Will charges the still with organic wheat spirit and water and leaves it to rest overnight. Bright and early the following morning, he begins heating it up slowly. The cobnuts are meticulously shelled by hand and ground into a coarse flour. This is added to the still along with the other botanicals, all pre-weighed. It’s lucky that Will does live next door as the honey is put on the Aga to gently soften!
The only botanical treated differently is the gorse flower. Will does forage this himself and infuses it in the same organic wheat spirit immediately to prevent it from spoiling. This means he has access to gorse flower all year round rather than relying on sourcing it externally or producing his gin to coincide with the two annual flowering periods.
The spirit comes off the still at around 86% before being brought down to bottling strength, (40%) with the addition of locally-sourced water. The availability of a water source nearby is obviously beneficial for transportation reasons, but the water itself is deliberately de-mineralised and filtered so that it doesn't add any character to the gin.
Greensand Ridge’s gin packaging reflects their ethos and the integral countryside. The blues and greens on the label are designed to replicate the views of the fields and hillsides seen from the distillery. Will hasn’t mentioned it, but to me it could equally represent the layers of chalk, clay and greensand on which the hills are founded. The serene tones and organic colours subtly reinforce the environmental credentials and the copper band gives a nod to the still.
The label's arching shape directly represents the stone archway leading into the courtyard of the old Victorian coach house.
A factor I love about the bottle is that the design isn’t broken or ruined when you open the bottle. There’s an elegant band over the closure, but Will incorporated a perforated line so that the cap can be easily opened and closed without ripping the paper.
The simple, yet effective drawings of the local botanicals also highlight the gin’s provenance and sense of place.
Aromas: Bright, uplifting and evocative. Sweet almond, creamy hazelnut and deep orange peel alongside rich resinous juniper. A hint of savoury herb on the back. Complex and layered.
Palate: A rich texture; gently warming. Good juniper at the core with a touch of soft floral underneath. Sweet citrus forms a line throughout. Warm cassia depth on the finish. Gentle lifted white floral tones over-arch.
With Tonic: Aromas of bright delicate soft floral and creamy nuttiness over solid juniper. Such a full, round creamy texture. Nutty, citrussy and gently spiced. Layered and ongoing.
Garnish: Will recommends a bay leaf which does work to add another dimension. So smooth this can be sipped, but equally so complex that it can survive being mixed.
I adore the entire process and ethos of Greensand Ridge distillery and am excited to see what products emerge in the future. The use of unwanted produce means that there will be continuous experimentation and new styles to try. The gin itself is fantastic.