Published: 06:00, 25 July 2020
You can sample a new local gin if you head to Maidstone today.
Maidstone Distillery has just opened and owners, Darren and Sam Graves, are hosting Sampling Saturday, where customers can try the company's first product - George Bishop London Dry Gin.
A first look inside Maidstone Distillery
The couple have not only managed to revive the town's rich but largely forgotten distilling history, but also provide a fresh, modern taken on a much-loved spirit.
A huge 450 litre copper still with its polished pipes towering above is an impressive sight to be greeted with upon entering the venue.
With the ceiling left at its full height and the original brick arches preserved, the distillery is both spacious and stylish.
The reception area, from which customers can collect a bottle of George Bishop, has been tastefully designed with comfy seating and a solid oak counter.
But it's the almighty still which is by far the main feature of the room. With its various copper columns glinting under the light and portholes providing a peep into the magical distilling process, it looks like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - albeit the adult, boozy version.
Hidden in a separate area behind the great mechanism is the experience room, complete with mini stills so guests can make their own batch of gin in the space of an afternoon.
Dozens of jars filled with botanicals line the open shelves, to be used to create your own, unique flavour.
Bookings for the experiences can be made via the website and start next month.
Also in the room are various panels displaying information about the County Town's spirit heritage, something which spurred Mr and Mrs Graves on to launch their own distillery.
The first Maidstone distillery was opened by George Bishop in 1785 and it gained significant notoriety.
By 1803, it was renowned for producing one of the finest gins in all of Europe, referred to as Maidstone Gin or Maidstone Geneva.
It was hugely popular due to its high alcohol volume - 47.5% - and, at the height of production, the distillery was producing 5,000 gallons per week.
Upon the death of George Bishop in 1793 the distillery was mismanaged and closed in around 1818.
But in the mid 1850s, a Thomas Grant set up a new distillery in Hart Street, which went on to produce other fine spirits including the renowned “Morello Cherry Brandy”.
However, the sale of spirits by the distillery was discontinued in about 1982 - which is where the Graves come in.
The pair's first product is an ode to the founding father of Maidstone's distilling past, George Bishop, with the spirit given the same name.
A huge mural has also been copied onto one of the distillery walls - a lively sketch of Napoleon and his wife feasting on England's assets following his invasion of Britain. Among the roast beef and plated up Bank of England stand a bottle of Maidstone gin - evidencing its prominence and popularity.
Before pursuing their distilling dream, Mr Graves worked in construction, following a 10-year stint in the army, and Mrs Graves was a project manager for Kent County Council.
Mr Graves began distilling at home in Bearsted but after learning of Maidstone's impressive links with the industry, the pair could not resist rising to the challenge of pursing it full-time.
Mr Graves said: "It had always been a day dream but the history really inspired us. It has taken lots of work and a little longer than we initially thought, as we started working on this in September 2018, but it has definitely been worth it.
"There's a real forgotten history here and we really want to champion it and create an interest by getting people to come in, have a look around, learn about the industry's past and, of course, try the gin."
Mrs Graves added: "We've got three boys and the distillery has sort of become our fourth child. It's hard to stop talking about it when we're at home but we just really enjoy what we're doing."
The married couple also say they've not clashed so far while working together.
Mr Graves said: "We've worked together before but never so closely. But it's okay because we have very different roles - I'm the distiller and Sam is more of the creative one."
He added his favourite moment during the process so far has been getting people's reactions when sampling the gin, after perfecting the flavour for 18 months.
"We thought the process might have happened quicker but we didn't want to compromise on anything and set the bar very high. So meeting people who have tried it and really enjoyed it is great. We got an email from a lady the other day about how much she loved it," he said.
Everything from ingredients storage to label design and bottling up is carried out within the four walls of the distillery, with the attention to detail reflecting the passion which goes into all aspects of production.
Maidstone Distillery's second product, Ranscombe Wild Dry Gin, will launch very soon and a liqueur is also in development.
The team hope, with time, to be producing a wide range of spirits, including vodka and whisky.
During the pandemic, they have also turned their hands to producing hand sanitiser for several companies, including Southeastern.
Sampling Saturday will run from 9am to 5pm when visitors can have a free taster of George Bishop Dry Gin, which is £39 per bottle.
Tours start at £18 and commence on Friday, August 28. They can be booked by clicking here.