How one man’s dream has become a Winchester sensation! In 2014 Paul Bowler’s career took a turn in a new direction after he left his long-term role as a software developer and established the Winchester Distillery. Two years on, the distillery produces some of the finest spirits to ever come out of Winchester.
By distilling in small batches the Winchester Distillery creates intense, fragrant and refreshing flavours that can be found in every bottle of its Twisted Nose brand produced at the distillery. The Kit and Kaboodle talk to entrepreneur, founder and distiller; Paul Bowler, to find out just where his dream started and where it’s going next…
What led you to open your own distillery?
I spent over 20 years working in software development and felt the need for a new challenge and a change of direction away from large corporations and beyond my safety zone of information technology. As an avid gin fan I had been following the new gin renaissance with great interest and the idea of creating a craft distillery for producing Hampshire spirits started to take shape in my mind. At the start of 2014 I made the difficult decision to leave the corporate world and take 6 months off to launch my first product, Twisted Nose Gin. This was nearly two years ago and I haven’t looked back.
Why did you choose Winchester for the distillery venue?
Winchester has been my home, on and off, for the last 20 years and, being a city rich in history and steeped in tradition, seemed the perfect place for building a craft distillery. It also turns out that the people of Winchester really love their gin! Are you from Winchester yourself? I’m actually a northerner although you probably wouldn’t guess it from my accent. I was born in Sheffield and spent my youth living in another beautiful cathedral city, Southwell in Nottinghamshire after gaining a place in the minster choir. After going to university in Brighton I then started working for IBM in Hursley, just outside Winchester, and fell in love with the city – it is actually a larger and more vibrant version of Southwell. Getting back to the distillery.
Do you run tours, tastings or events at the distillery?
The distillery has just expanded into new premises a few miles outside of the city and I’m currently developing part of the building into a comfortable tasting room where I will be able to entertain visitors, run tastings, educational events and tours. This should be ready to welcome the first visitors in early summer.
What’s the most popular tipple at the distillery? Our Twisted Nose Gin is by far the biggest seller in our growing range of spirits. This was our first product and is a modern take on a London Dry Gin using ten botanicals including Winchester’s most famous export – watercress. As a matter of interest, our new distillery is actually situated within an old watercress factory and is surrounded by gravel beds where this amazing herb thrives. I only have to walk a few meters from the distillery to the beds to collect the watercress for my gin – it doesn’t get much fresher than that!
What does the future hold for the distillery?
We have many new products in development including a new range of seasonal gins using botanicals gathered from around Hampshire. We also have a new classic dry gin and a Navy strength ‘Gunpowder’ gin, which includes some very interesting local ingredients. With our reputation for quality and innovation we are also getting increasing numbers of commissions to create spirits for other businesses including bars, hotels and restaurants. For example, we recently worked closely with the Gilbert White Museum in Selbourne to use the fruits and herbs from their own botanical garden to create a unique gin for their shop. This was a wonderful challenge and the resulting product is one of which I am very proud. Beyond gin we are also making high quality flavoured vodkas and liqueurs using only real natural ingredients (no nasty’s that you’ll find in popular brands) and, in collaboration with local vineyards, breweries and fruit growers, will shortly be exploring the idea of making whisky and fruit brandies. This next year is going to be very exciting indeed.
On a personal note, what is your favourite thing about Winchester?
Winchester is fast becoming known as a top food destination in its own right. The city has a wonderful selection of independent restaurants and bars, which are really supportive of fledging producers such as the Winchester Distillery. The number of cultural events is also growing, including the wine fair, fashion week, and (most exciting for me) Cocktail Week of which the distillery is a major sponsor. Being a fan of quality food and drink I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.
You can find out more about the Winchester Distillery at www.winchesterdistillery.co.uk