An Interview with Ben Murphy: The Ginsmith of Liverpool

Like the cupboard under the stairs, sometimes the most amazing stories start in the unlikeliest of places. For The Ginsmiths of Liverpool, their quest to bring quality gin to the North West of England begins, rather unexpectedly, in the Canadian Rockies.

“Whilst living in the Banff for a few years, I ended up sharing a house with a brewer from the local brewpub,” begins Ben Murphy, head distiller at The Ginsmiths of Liverpool. “I had already had a slight interest in beer but, as I lived with him, it gave me an easy way to learn more about it.

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“Coming back to the UK in 2012, I wanted to go back to university to get a degree that had a vocation. I needed something to do with the sciences and that really interested me; it was a tossup between Medicine and Brewing and Distilling. In the end, it was the world of alcohol that drew me in.

“I applied to Heriot-Watt University to study on their Brewing and Distilling course with the aim to gain a masters in the subject. Over my three years studying there, it was studying the science and art of distillation that really inspired me.”

After his studies – with passion, ideas and the knowledge with which to harness them – Ben returned home to develop a range of gins with Liverpudlian spirit (and botanicals).

“The Ginsmiths of Liverpool was founded on the philosophy of making the highest quality gin possible in the heart of Liverpool,” he explains.

“We incorporate inspiration from the great city whereever we can into our recipes. For example, our Dry Gin has sea holly. It’s the flower of Liverpool and grows along our coast in the sand dunes and I hand pick the leaves from it each Summer when it’s in season. It brings great body to the gin and provides a bit of Liverpool.

“Our Liverpudlian identity is a massive part of who we are and what we do. All of us working with the gin are from the Merseyside area; I grew up on the Wirral and all my family live in Liverpool still. When I moved back from Edinburgh after finishing my MSc, I had an overwhelming feeling that I had moved home and was about to be part of something big in the city. “

Featured in this month’s Gin Discovery Club is Ginsmith’s Citrus Experimental Edition. Created as part of their Experimental Editions range, a series of gins that seek to showcase different flavours in gin while maintaining a balanced taste, this one is all about a subtle citric burst.

“The Citrus Experimental Edition is a great gin to enjoy as a simple gin and tonic with loads of ice, a simple spiral of lemon peel and topped up with Thomas Henry tonic,” according to Ben.

It also works really well as a dry martini but my favourite drink with it is, what we call at the Tap & Still, a North West of Eden (get the recipe on page 29!) that combines the Citrus gin with our Love Lane West Coast Ale. It’s a great long drink using St. Germain, apple juice, lemon juice and sugar syrup, finished with a garnish of cucumber slice and mint leaves. I can see it going down well in the summer.

“[Citrus Experimental Edition’s] recipe is using classic ingredients that can be found in a traditional dry gin recipe; juniper, coriander, angelica root, cardamom, orange peel, lemon peel, almond and orris root. These are classic botanicals and the idea was to showcase them in a way that brings about a familiar profile of a gin but with the level of citrus really heightened and brought to the front.”

This citrussy edition is a perfect example of Ben’s attitude towards distilling and what he looks for in a modern, craft gin: balance. He says: “My philosophy is relatively simple. I believe that if a botanical doesn’t contribute to the gin then it shouldn’t be there at all. That doesn’t only apply to the aroma or flavour profile of the gin but to the mouthfeel and overall experience of the gin. It’s about making the gin a rounded and balanced product. I look for lots of flavour that is well balanced, and it has to work in a gin and tonic.”

This philosophy extends even to The Ginsmiths of Liverpool’s more off-the-wall efforts. Alongside a traditional Dry and a Merchant Navy Gin at 51%, their initial core range features the surprising addition of a Marshmallow Gin. Though unusual, this unconventional spirit has been going down a treat.

“When we first discussed the idea, I was sceptical but have started to come round to it after seeing the reception it has had in the public and trade. The original idea came from my thesis gin recipe which had marshmallow root in it. The soft, fluffy sweets that we toast over a fire and put on top of a hot chocolate originally get their name from the plant, and its dried roots have a very heady vanilla, saccharine nose.

“As with the rest of the gins, they are first and foremost a gin and so need to work with tonic as well as being able to identify the juniper in there. I developed it as an Old Tom but with the flavour of marshmallow needing to be identifiable within it. It is by no means overwhelmingly marshmallow but it is definitely there.”

The team at Ginsmiths are aware of the crowded market they’re entering but their unique home in Liverpool, and a focus on excellence in all that they do, is how they plan on elbowing their way in and making their mark on the scene

“The gin market over the last few years has gone crazy and you could say we are little late to the party, but no one is more aware of that than us. The Ginsmiths of Liverpool is founded on a desire to produce a range of gins that really puts quality at the front of everything we do, and not just the liquid that goes in the bottle; it’s the packaging, the customer service, the experience that any of our customers will receive when they visit us at the Tap & Still in Liverpool.

There aren’t many places in the UK where you can sit and drink the products while watching them being made and enjoying a great meal, and that’s what we have. Bringing everything together has been a long journey and a lot of time has gone into to developing what we believe is a great brand that is supported by some great tasting and unique gins.

Originally published in Issue 12 of Flavourlys magazine.

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