MEET THE TASTEMAKERS
Bountiful hedgerows were the inspiration behind a rather special sustainably-crafted and delicious gin. Master distiller and ecologist Joff Curtoys gives us the sloe-down...
Infectious enthusiasm and unflappable calm are a tricky mix to pull off, but Joff Curtoys radiates both. With a friendly gaze and owlish specs, he has the enviable air of a man totally at ease with life – and it’s hardly surprising.
On an average working day, you’re likely to find him foraging the meadows, woodland, and tangled hedgerows of the idyllic north Yorkshire countryside. He might be concocting delicious new flavours for his artisan gins, or collecting yet another foodie award to add to his impressive collection.
But what most puts a spark in Joff’s eye is talking about his family-run distillery’s green credentials. It’s a subject he clearly cares deeply about: “Our ethos of respect for the environment, wildlife, and the countryside is what makes me most proud,” he says. “For us, considering the planet in every decision we make is a way of life.”
It seems somehow natural then, that the story of Joff’s distillery began as a happy accident resulting from his lifelong passion for conservation. “Protecting the countryside has always been incredibly important to me,” he says. “As a kid with a love of birdwatching, I’d cycle through miles of featureless farmland, wondering where all the wildlife was.
“I went on to train as an ecologist, then moved into farming with a mission to help wildlife flourish on farmland. One practice I introduced on the farm I was working at was to stop regular hedge cutting. Thick, bushy hedgerows soon became great habitats for birds, bees and butterflies – and also happened to grace us with an abundance of sloes. I’d grown up drinking my dad’s homemade sloe gin, so an idea began to take shape.”
“The clean, pine-like flavour is perfect for Christmas”
Company HQ is housed in a re-purposed grain store, some cow sheds and a dairy building at Green Farm in Barton-le-Willows where, these days – thanks to Joff and his dedication to ecology – wildflower meadows flourish. “The place is alive with wildlife,” he says, contentedly. And, after more than 20 years, these hedgerows are still where the team get inspiration for their gins.
“To qualify as London Dry Gin, the base alcohol must include four botanicals: juniper berries, coriander, orris root and angelica,” says Joff. “But after that, anything goes, so we love to experiment with foraged botanicals such as rosehip, wildflower hay, nettle leaf and elderflower, to add more complex, interesting flavours. We make up batches of distillates flavoured by different botanicals, then Ian – our head distiller – blends them,” says Joff. “It’s a lot of fun sampling different flavour profiles, and when we landed on the blend for Asda’s Extra Special Botanical London Dry Gin, we knew we had a winner on our hands.
“On top of the basic botanicals, we added crab apple and gorse. It’s the first time we’ve used gorse, and it’s a revelation. Anyone who’s walked near gorse bushes will have noticed the coconutty aroma that its yellow flowers give off. Its needles give a clean, green, pine-like flavour too, which is perfect for Christmas.”
The still the team uses to produce this drink isn’t your average piece of gin-making gear. It’s a high-tech machine, specially designed with sustainability in mind. “Instead of a traditional copper still we use a state-of- the-art iStill,” explains Joff. “Because of its design, insulation and controls, it only uses 20% of the energy of a traditional version. To me, that makes it a thing of beauty.”
While you might think that making gin for a living would be like working in a sweet shop – a case of too much of a good thing – Joff still enjoys a glass most evenings, and has a favourite serving method…
“To serve the new gin that we’ve made for Asda, I like to pour it over lots of ice, top up with Indian tonic water (regular or low-sugar works) and garnish with a slice of crisp apple. Absolutely delicious.”
Joff's own recipe
Serves 1 Ready in 5 mins
Pour 25ml Asda Extra Special Botanical London Dry Gin, 25ml Vermouth Rosso, 25ml Campari and a handful of ice cubes into a jug. Stir the mixture until the outside of the jug feels cold. Strain into a glass and add fresh ice. Garnish with a slice of orange.
Serves 1 Ready in 10 mins, plus steeping
Pour 25ml lime juice into a shaker with 1 tbsp of rosemary syrup and 50ml Asda Extra Special Botanical London Dry Gin. Add a handful of ice cubes and shake for 10 secs. Strain into a tall glass over ice and top with 100ml sparkling water. Garnish with a fresh sprig of rosemary and wedge of lime.
HOW TO MAKE ROSEMARY SYRUP
Simmer 100g granulated sugar in a small pan with 100ml water until the sugar has dissolved. Add 3 sprigs of rosemary and take off the heat. Leave to infuse until cool, strain into a bottle and store in the fridge for up to three days.
Serves 1 Ready in 5 mins
In a cocktail shaker, stir together 1 heaped tsp Asda Extra Special Cranberry Sauce with Ruby Port with 50ml Asda Extra Special Botanical London Dry Gin until smooth. Add 25ml lemon juice and a handful of ice cubes. Shake until the outside of the shaker feels very cold then fine strain into a Champagne flute or coupe. Top with chilled Prosecco and garnish with frozen cranberries or redcurrants.
Serves 1 Ready in 10 mins
Spread 1tbsp chopped hazelnuts onto a board and chop into fine pieces. Brush a little hazelnut chocolate spread around the rim of a tumbler then dip into the nuts so they stick. In a large jug, stir together 1tsp hazelnut chocolate spread and 25ml Asda Extra Special Botanical London Dry Gin until smooth. Add 50ml Irish cream liqueur, 1tbsp double cream and a generous handful of ice cubes. Stir until the outside of the jug feels really cold and then strain into your prepared glass with some fresh ice to serve.