Having lived in countries all round the world, it's no surprise that Justin Birch has used influences from some of these to create a premium gin, which is hand-crafted in small batches. Read on to learn more about his journey and how he came about launching his own gin brand.
In 2010 Justin was living in Singapore and whilst on holiday to the UK he discovered the gin boom. As a bit of background to the boom, in 2008, an American called Sam Galsworth managed to get the Gin Act of 1751 repealed, after having lobbied members of Parliament and taken the fight to court. Prior to this, Sam had spotted that there were only mass produced gin brands and this left an exciting space for craft and artisan gins, but it was only when he started researching that he realised the reason why there was this gap in the market. The Act banned any still that had the capacity of less than 1800 litres, which meant that only large-scale, commercial companies were able to legally distill gin. Whereas Sam had witnessed a burgeoning craft beer movement in the US, he saw a blank space in the UK for craft gin and he and his business partners set about changing this antiquated law. In 2009 the first distillery was opened in London since 1820 - Sipsmith - and since then we have seen hundreds of new distilleries and brands fill that blank space and our senses with some amazing products. Distillers are now able to make gin in small batches - some even micro batches - and this has revolutionised the gin industry. The craft gin explosion was a huge inspiration to Justin, particularly after having had a choice of drinking only two mass produced gins whilst living in Singapore. When he returned home after his holiday to the UK, he started cold compounding; experimenting with juniper and other botanicals by macerating them in bottles of vodka. He became obsessed with researching recipes and making his own gin, experimenting with every botanical and herb he could get his hands on, as well as learning about all the different methods of distilling gin. In 2014, Justin and his family moved back to the UK but his journey with juniper did not end then. Having lived and worked in Australia, Turkey, Dubai, Sweden, Malaysia and Singapore, Justin did not stop until he had perfected his recipe and created a gin which fused the best of flavours from Asia and Europe, thereby creating a botanical journey with every sip. At the heart of his gin is of course a very special ingredient, chosen for its rich caramel and spicy flavour, which helps marry all the flavours together and avoid the bitterness associated with some gins. A botanical which also shares his name - birch! Birch syrup is made by tapping birch trees in March for the birch sap. The birch sap is then reduced to make the birch syrup (100 litres of sap makes 1 litre of birch syrup). It’s incredibly labour intensive and little wonder a litre can cost up to £150. Justin sources his birch sap from a company who tap birch trees in the Pennines and Highlands, but when this is in short supply, he imports birch syrup from Alaska. Other botanicals which are included in Birch Gin include Juniper, Coriander, Rosemary, Orris Root, Lemongrass, Orange, Lime, Grapefruit, Cardamom, Ginger and Cinnamon, alongside a secret ingredient only known to Justin and the distiller. Setting up a distillery and investing in copper is a huge investment and many start-up businesses contract distill until their brand is established. Given there is so much competition and a very saturated market at present, it is a sensible way of launching a new product. With a career of many years as a boutique head-hunter for high profile companies in the technology industry and now owning his own company which specialises in recruitment for some of the world's largest companies, Justin knew the qualities he was looking for in a distiller. After conversations with many, he eventually formed a collaboration with talented Master Distiller, Andrew Parsons of artisan micro-distillery Bucknell Distillery, in Oxfordshire. Andrew now crafts Birch Gin for him according to his recipe, in batches of around 200 bottles. Those who know their gin will recognise the distiller, who has his own award-winning brand of gin - Skywave. When it came to branding, Justin ran a design contest, offering a global community of creative designers the opportunity to submit label designs based on a brief. An extremely talented Brazilian, Renata Costa, was the ultimate winner with her simple yet elegant label design. The colours and scene on the back label, which can be viewed through the gin, are calming and relaxing and the overlapping strip on the front is like washi tape hugging the bottle. It's such a clever design, with much forethought into the future of the brand, leaving space at the back to include a batch number and production date, as well as for awards stickers. After a decade in the making, Birch Gin was finally launched in August 2020. It's bottled at 42% and they also have a navy strength available at 57% ABV. Proudly British, Birch Gin has already won several awards with the medals adorning the bottle. Early in 2021 Justin opened his own small distillery at The Hub in the picturesque village of Bodiam, East Sussex, where he is currently working on producing vodka and rum. Although mostly famous for its castle, Bodiam was also in a main hop-growing area in the last century and famous for growing hops for Guinness. The world famous castle forms the perfect backdrop for the distillery, which is used as a creative lab and is where Justin works on new gin recipes, two of which he is hoping to launch later this year. If you are lucky enough to live locally, you will no doubt have come across him at local farmers markets and have had the opportunity to sample some of these new products. This valuable feedback assists in refining recipes which will go into production later this year. Justin has an open door policy at his distillery and is more than happy to welcome visitors if you are passing through on a day he is working and would like to sample any products. Ever ambitious, he is also hoping to take on bigger premises in East Sussex in 2022, where there will be space to install a full working distillery and bottling plant which will produce local vodka and rum. I am told that there is a special edition in the pipeline and which will hopefully launch in time for Christmas, but given he took a decade to get Birch Gin just right, Justin assures me that he is not one to cut corners and rush new products to market! I guess we will all have to be a little more patient and be assured that the wait will be worth it! For my first serve I've gone with a Dry Martini, so that I can enjoy the complex flavours of the gin. It's beautifully smooth and warming with a little spice coming through midway but with a fresh yet sweet finish. It's a gin that I can heartily recommend, as it has a bottle that is not only stunning to look at, but contents that are also a delight to drink. If you enjoy a gin and tonic, the recommended serve is with a premium tonic, slice of orange and sprig of rosemary. Congratulations to Justin (and of course Andrew) on a wonderful gin and fantastic achievements to date. I look forward to following your journey with spirits and seeing what else you tantalise us with! BIRCH MARTINI 50ml Birch Gin 15ml Dry Vermouth Dash of Orange Bitters Garnish with Orange Zest