Fords Gin is a collaborative endeavour between those with a history of serving drinks and those with a history of making drinks. The gin is a flavoursome affair whose sippable nature belies its 45% ABV.
Professional bartenders are quite often the Peter Pan’s of their urban dwellings. They’re talented, passionate drink fiends with a talent for mixing and a habit of staying up until the sun reappears. Yes, they also having a habit of being impossible to track down in the mornings too… Although the industry is improving in offering up opportunities and a level professionalism to sustain long careers – it still remains rare that someone holds the role forever, but there are ways to leave the job without really leaving…
This was something Simon Ford of Fords Gin realised many years ago; Not quite ready to exit Neverland forever, Bath-born Ford has managed to continue his career in the drinks industry while also fitting his needs, working as a brand ambassador for Plymouth Gin before ‘brand ambassador’ was even really a widely accepted thing, taking the spirit to America for its 2002 launch.
A true industry veteran, it was in 2007 that Ford, along with Malte Barnekow, former marketing director at Absolut US, cooked up the idea for The 86 Co. They were in the back room of Employees Only, a famed New York speakeasy-style bar (also known for being a mecca for bartenders to congregate in long after everyone else has gone home), when they decided to concoct a range of spirits designed specifically for the on-trade to use in cocktails.
Teaming up with Dushan Zaric and Jason Kosmas of Employees Only, Ford and Barnekow set about developing ideas for The 86 Co. That said, with all four coming from within the drinks industry, there wasn’t a great deal of external capital behind them… They needed a fifth element to bring in finances and in stepped Kris Roth, bringing both funds and a wealth of sales knowhow.
As simple as all that sounds and a certain as they were that their idea was great, The 86 Co.’s tale isn’t one of overnight success; there was no instant fix nor immediate applause. Instead, everything the quintet had, was poured into the business and though their ideas were conceptually brilliant, problems kept arising.
Perhaps the biggest sucker punch was when American labelling authority TTB rescinded their labelling approval at the eleventh hour. The pressure of debt was weighing heavily on all parties and the launch needed to be soon, before they fell into bankruptcy. The offending element from each bottle was attacked with a Sharpie, meaning that the label they’d worked painstakingly on, sat on shelves covered in ink.
All told, there was a lot more to spirit production than the founders had ever realised; Ford told listeners at the London Sessions in February 2016 that despite having worked as Director of Trade Marketing at Pernod Ricard, he realised in doing this project that he knew nothing of the economic side – he’d never even considered it in it’s totality, so the learning curve was cruelly steep.
The drive to create these spirits remained, though, and the resulting drinks – Fords Gin, Aylesbury Duck Vodka, Cana Brava Rum and Tequila Cabeza – were released in 2012. All are made in collaboration with some of the most celebrated distilleries in the world and have been welcomed with open arms by trade and consumer audiences alike.
Fords Gin was made with Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers in London. Maxwell is an eighth generation Master Distiller and has some incredible spirits under his belt, including Portobello Road, Sabatini, Oxley and Fifty Pounds Gin. He’s a man who well and truly knows his stuff (currently Charles is responsible for overseeing the production of over 120 different gin brands from his London based distillery) and who is celebrating 40 years in the industry this year.
Fords Gin is made in Thames Distillers’ two 500-litre stainless steel stills – Tom Thumb and Thumbelina. The process begins when the botanicals – Italian juniper, Romanian coriander, Spanish lemon peel, Moroccan bitter orange peel, Turkish grapefruit peel, Polish angelica, Indonesian cassia, Chinese jasmine and orris from both Italy and Morocco – are added to the stills, along with a neutral grain spirit made from English wheat, and left to macerate for 15 hours.
As The 86 Co. was designed with the on-trade in mind, there is an unprecedented amount of information available about the contents, with their website even denoting the percentage of each botanical used. For those interested, they weight in thusly: juniper 49.5%, coriander 30.5%, lemon peel, orange peel, grapefruit peel, angelica and jasmine 3.2% each, cassia and orris 2.1% each.
Once the stills are turned on, distillation takes 5 hours, producing 200 litre batches per run. Fords Gin is then shipped to Charbay Distillery in California, where it is cut to 45% ABV with water taken from a well in Mendocino County.
To create the final gin, the recipe for the Fords Gin was tested in various cocktails and tweaked until perfect, with each botanical element considered for not just the taste it provided, but the viscosity as well. Ford said: “Fords is a juniper-forward gin but with a good amount of citrus, sweet spices and florals to take the bite off of the juniper, but still add complexities and allow the juniper to be the star. It’s also a gin that works well with both lemon and lime citrus cocktails and has a really nice oil content for Martini’s.”
Fords Gin to taste…
Classically styled Gin on the nose, with juniper and a touch of citrus. To taste the core three botanicals boom loudly. There is a big coriander seed, clear juniper and slight angelica note upfront, alongside the triple hit of citrus. The cassia adds a warming spice on the finish and the overall impression is that of a traditional, “ginny” Gin. Fords Gin is one for the purists for sure and anyone looking for an archetypal gin in a cocktail would do well choosing to use it. Adding in a wedge of grapefruit as a garnish in a G&T would be our vote, but as with any balanced dry gins – there are many ways you could push Fords to suit your preferences.
Combining Maxwell’s considerable experience with Ford’s knowledge of branding set Fords Gin on a certain path right from the off. While the 86 co. approached making the spirit with a certain excitable abandon, Maxwell was on hand to rein them in. “We call Charles Maxwell the master of no nonsense,” said Ford. “We had some crazy ideas and ambitions about ingredients and distillation and he usually put us straight. Sometimes he indulged our ambitions but he never said ‘I told you so’ which was very nice of him.”
The branding is very much aimed at bartenders too; as we said before, the label is crammed with information about Fords Gin’s production and the bottle is designed to be a tool, with a measuring scale on the side of the bottle (easy for stock take) and even the shape of the bottle neck is designed with pouring ease in mind (easy to grip & fits speed pourers perfectly).
This trade focus goes further too, in 2015, the team launched a limited edition bottling in green glass (same gin, just different glass colour) and packed one green bottle in every case of Fords Gin being sold. Why? Because bartenders re-use bottles in their speed rails (for syrups and juices) and having a different colour bottle meant that it would be easier to differentiate it, should it be put to re-use and filled with lime / lemon juice etc… Clever, effective marketing to a highly focused audience and shows why both the gin and the company are loved by much of the industry.
That said, though clearly designed for professionals, Fords Gin is one that many gin drinkers and cocktail connoisseurs alike would do well to have in their cupboards, so do seek it out should the opportunity arise. It’s not all that easy to find in shops yet, but most specialist retailers will have it and many would enjoy drinking it!