A Green And Pleasant Land – Pleasant Land Distillery
Father and son team Charles and Sebastian Barnick run Pleasant Land Distillery. As well as the excitement of creating quality spirits, they’re one of the most sustainable distilleries in the country. The team deliver contracts ranging from small batches of gin, vodka, eau de vie, fruit spirits, brandy and whiskey to larger consignments including bottling and labeling. Their aim is to be fully sustainable and with their power being produced by 100% renewable sources they’re sure this adds to the flavour. Folkelife went to meet Sebastian.
White Cliffs Gin
“We are a contract distillery, so we create products for clients but we also have our own spirits too. White Cliffs Gin is one of ours. We wanted to build something that captured the flavours of this part of Kent. Our aim is to be using 100% renewable energy and sustainably sourcing any produce we use in our spirits. From December 2022 onwards our gin will be bottled in a 100% recycled glass bottle which also happens to look really smart.
“I grew up in Folkestone so it’s really nice to be back here making local spirits that have the essence of this area. I spent 6 years in the Navy travelling the world and then working in luxury spirits and wine. The more I got to know about the industry, the more I fell in love with distilling. Now I have the formal training, Dad and I set up here on the farm and I have the most amazing team.”
“The water around here is intensely chalky and some people would remove that before making the gin. I don’t. I think it’s amazing and adds to the sense of place this gin has. We’ve put local samphire in there, sea salt and sea buckthorn which is an amazing berry that grows all the way along the coast here where the white cliffs are. There’s also elderflower in there and wild cherry bark; all of these are great local ingredients.
“Unfortunately, juniper doesn’t grow here locally and in order for it to be called a gin, it has to have juniper in it. Those London Dry Gins taste predominantly of juniper and coriander. I’ve called ours a Kent Dry Gin, just adding to that place making with the local ingredients we’re adding.”
“We pride ourselves on being the UK’s only sustainable contract distillery. A little aside – there’s a huge capital outlay to building a distillery, and if you’re going to make whiskey there’s a 10 year turn around (at least) before you get to taste the goods. By being a contract distillery we can return our investments in the equipment sooner by creating spirits for other people. We have 50 kilowatts of solar panels on our roof. All our electricity comes from solar energy. We have a biomass pellet steam boiler and we’re in the middle of a project to produce all of our fuel on site. Using waste wood from local businesses, windfall etc, we chip it, dry it from the waste heat from the distilling process and pellet it and use it to fire the boiler.
“We harvest our rainwater so are able to use 90% less water than a traditional distillery. Our 30,000 litre tank harvests, reuses and recycles the rainwater from the roof and the tank doesn’t actually take up that much space. What we’re trying to do here is build a model that others can replicate across the country. “
jersey royal vodka
“What you can smell is the vodka which we’re making at the moment. This vodka is made from Jersey Royal potatoes which our customer wants and they have the royal warrant to do so. We’ve taken delivery of the potatoes, then we put them in our huge grater and they whiz round and grate them into a pulp. The potatoes then get boiled up for over a day and turn into a potato porridge. You know if you’ve boiled your potatoes for too long they go all mushy, well, we’re looking for a stage or two on from that called gelatinization when the potatoes turn into a block.
“We add a sugar enzyme called Koji which is a Japanese enzyme preparation to break down the starch into simple sugars. Then we add a champagne yeast to ferment the liquid into a high quality, premium vodka. There are two sayings in this business; with the war in Ukraine and post-Brexit issues the first is ‘It is what it is’ as there are often huge waiting times on equipment that we need. The other saying is ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it.’ Yes, anyone can make an alcoholic liquid, but we want ours to be some of the best in the world.”
recycling rain water
The sustainability of the distillery continues with their use of rainwater. The rainwater is used for cooling the stills but the heat and water gets reused in the “hot liquor tank” and for drying grain and woodchip before being returned to the rainwater tank. The woodchip can then used as a fuel.
“We’ve had grant funding from Growing Kent and Medway, their going green initiative which has enabled us to build some of this heat recovery project. We’ve been running since April 2022 and so haven’t got a full year’s data on the energy we use etc. We’re creating a baseline now so we can ensure that our systems can become carbon neutral.”
creating a journey
“Developing a new spirit is much like developing a new recipe for something. You use your learned experience to create something you think will be good. There might be some mistakes but we’re also doing something that people haven’t done before. But I think that’s the vast majority of the fun of it. What I’m hoping to do is bring people on a journey with us. Let’s see where we’re starting; once upon a time this was a chicken shed, then a food cold store, now it’s a distillery.
“Our left-over porridge from distilling – the potatoes, or grain or fruit mash – goes into the Vermicomposter. There are traditional composting worms but also a black soldier fly reactor and those break down the porridge into liquid gold that can be used on the soil as fertilizer. It can go through 3 to 5 tonnes of food a week! The farmer here wants to create the first carbon neutral egg from his chickens. That’s not been done before, but we’re in there helping!”
sense of place
“We have clients across the UK but also enjoy working with other local companies. Teaming up with Docker to create an Apricot Spritzer has been fun. This is using some of our cherry and apricot eau de vies. If you don’t want a beer, you can have something that’s been created with the Docker and Pleasant Land distillery ethos. It’s also rather refreshing.
“What we’re doing here is exciting and I’m really passionate about our work. I want to share the methods we use, particularly in being sustainable. As for our products going national? Well, I think the beauty is in the locality of our product. We sell in Folkestone and Sandgate and quite a few other places along the coast. White Cliffs Gin is inherently tied to a sense of place. It’s made in White Cliffs Country and I think you have to be here to really enjoy it.”
Photo credits: Apartphotography.com