By Leeanne Griffin courant.com
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Highclere Castle" gin will be available in 25 to 30 states by the end of 2019. The gin launches this month, just in time for the release of the “Downton Abbey” film, which graces theaters Sept. 20.
A new gin hitting local store shelves in September bears the image of an iconic English estate, one fans of a certain PBS period drama may recognize on sight.
Highclere Castle, known to “Downton Abbey” fans as the real-life setting for the award-winning television series, has launched a new super-premium London dry gin -- with roots in Connecticut.
The spirit is described as an “Anglo-American love affair” between the estate’s owners and residents, the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, and Essex-based entrepreneur Adam von Gootkin, the co-founder of Onyx Spirits.
Four years ago, von Gootkin was looking for a global spirits opportunity, and inspiration struck when he and his wife were watching “Downton Abbey.” Following the episode, PBS aired a special on the “real Downton Abbey” featuring Lord and Lady Carnarvon and their life on the 5,000-acre estate in Hampshire, England, about an hour west of London.
“They both seemed like such wonderful, entrepreneurial people that were very down to earth,” von Gootkin said. He sent an email to the couple, broaching the topic of a spirits collaboration, and within two weeks, the von Gootkins were visiting the castle as guests.
Lord and Lady Carnarvon weren’t particularly familiar with the spirits industry, but they loved the idea of producing a gin, “a very English drink,” said Lady Carnarvon.
“Since we took over running Highclere, we’ve been trying to develop a brand and a lifestyle, not just a stately home,” she said.
“The home is our passion, our love and our life ... and in order to make it sustainable, it’s looking a little bit around it to see how we can help it.”
Highclere Castle gin is now produced in England’s oldest gin distillery, and von Gootkin has headquartered a management office stateside in Essex. The gin is expected in Connecticut stores and restaurants in September.
The partners say Highclere’s flavor profile is unique, as it’s less heavy on traditional juniper than main-tier gin brands. It incorporates a botanical blend representative of what’s available in the castle’s famous gardens, including lavender and citrus, where orange and lemon trees are grown in the property’s orangery. Coriander and cardamom give it a “subtle spice and savory underlying note,” von Gootkin said.
The gin also has an individual twist -- it’s also crafted with Highclere’s estate-grown oats, used in the post-distillation process. Von Gootkin says it’s his favorite characteristic of the spirit, lending to a soft, long finish on the palate.
“The oats are pretty unique to us and we’re very, very proud of it,” he said, calling the finished product “delicate, beautiful and creamy” and suitable for enjoying neat or on the rocks.
“Super-premium gin is the fastest growing category of spirit in the world,” he said. “We couldn’t have had better timing, really.
It’s taking Europe and the U.K. by storm, and now it’s starting to come over to the U.S. I think we’re seeing a lot of millennials mature past vodka and looking for more flavor, more complexity, and even more story and pedigree in what they’re drinking.”
Von Gootkin and co-founder Peter Kowalczyk launched Onyx Spirits in Manchester in 2011, producing moonshine and aged whiskeys that became local favorites at Connecticut bars, restaurants and package stores. In 2013, the business moved to a larger facility in East Hartford, and two years after that, opened a speakeasy-style tasting room, shortly after a new law passed permitting liquor manufacturers to offer tastings on site.
Onyx closed the tasting room in May 2018, with plans to relocate to a new space, but von Gootkin says he decided to instead focus his energy and efforts on the global launch of Highclere, in part due to frustration over Connecticut’s distillery laws.
He testified in favor of the law permitting tastings, as well as another allowing for manufacturers to sell sealed bottles of their alcoholic liquor on the premises. But he says he wants the industry to grow even more in Connecticut, to be on par with local breweries and wineries, and would like to see the laws change further to allow distilleries to serve full cocktails in tasting rooms, for example.
“My intention is to relaunch Onyx next summer,” he said, but the spirits company will not open a physical distillery or tasting room, and will instead partner with another distillery to produce its moonshine and Secret Stash whiskey brand.
Highclere Castle gin will be available in 25 to 30 states by the end of 2019, von Gootkin said, and it’s also available online through reservebar.com. In Connecticut, it’s distributed throughout the state by Allan S. Goodman and Northeast Beverage. Suggested retail price is $39.99. The gin’s launches the same month as the release of the “Downton Abbey” film, which graces theater screens on Sept. 20. Learn more about Highclere Castle gin (and view suggested drink recipes) at highclerecastlegin.com. Leeanne Griffin can be reached at [email protected] ___ (c)2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.