James Oag-Copper speaks about surplus, sustainability and spirits in Sussex.
There are few things as resourceful, cunning and subtly intriguing as a fox. So, imagine how quickly our ears perked up when we stumbled across one of these dangerously cute little hoodwinkers heading up the most creative of spirit makers. No, Fantastic Mr. Fox hasn’t turned the farmlands of Boggis, Bunce and Bean into a fully operational gin distillery (although we wouldn’t put it past him, the wily old… well, fox) but it’s sustainable spirit makers Foxhole Spirits who’re adding a certain foxiness to the gin game. They’ve produced a gin with all the class, guile and cunning of the craftiest vixens, and, rather uniquely, it all starts with the humble grape.
“We decide to create a gin following a discussion between the co-founders (James Oag-Cooper and Sam Linter) during Sussex grape harvest in 2013,” explains James. “We had both independently been thinking about what could be done with the surplus grape material, realised that nobody else had made a gin from English grapes, wondered whether it could be done, and decided to take on the challenge.”
Working together with English vineyards, including award-winning English winery James Oag-Cooper speaks about surplus, sustainability and spirits in Sussex.Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex, the wineries collect their unused grape material and make a base for Foxhole before it gets shipped to the distillery and transformed into their delicious product.
Foxhole Spirits noticed that the wine industry in the UK had an issue with not utilising all the juice present in the grape. Every year the industry throws away tonnes of the stuff, with a third of each year’s grape harvest ending up on the scrapheap. The by-product, known by its French name marc, is “waste” product that still has an abundance of uses. For the brains behind the fantastic Foxhole, their gin is a sustainable and commercial opportunity to prevent waste. This innovative approach isn’t new to the area, creativity in drinks is something long associated with the world-class wines being produced in Sussex.
“For forty years, in its own quiet way, this corner of Sussex has been a veritable hotbed of revolutionary thinking; a tradition of innovation we’re proud to continue with Foxhole Gin,” says James. “Sustainability is important in all industries, not just gin production. It just happens that his is our opportunity to promote sustainability within the drinks industry. Foxhole Gin is proof that what was previously discarded can be turned into a pure, premium gin through craft, skill and resourcefulness. This vision can and, we hope, will be used across many different industries to create new and exciting products that can benefit us all into the future.
The gin is produced by fermenting the base wine for around three months at cool temperatures. This is to preserve the aromatic compounds in the wine, translating into a great flavour in the grape spirit. The wine then goes through two ‘stripping’ runs, distilling the wine down to make pure grape spirit. Distinctively, this is distilled to an ABV lower than the 96% of neutral spirit. It sits at around 85%, leaving space for that amazing grape flavour to be locked in.
The grape spirit is then blended with neutral grain spirit to dilute the intense grape spirit flavour down. The gin is then macerated in specific botanicals for 24 hours. These include juniper, coriander, angelica seed, orris root and grapefruit zest.
This is then pumped into the still and, over four runs, the high proof gin is made before being diluted with natural spring water and, finally, bottled by hand.
The gin itself has an inimitable and distinguishing flavour, but it is instantly recognisable as a London Dry. Unsurprisingly, the grape flavour base of the gin is like nothing else out there, and provides rich fruits, floral aromatics and a real viscous, full coating in the mouth. It is velvety and fragrant, balanced with grapefruit and lemon zest and a finish of bitter orange. It is the first effort by Foxhole Spirits and largely indicative of how they’ll proceed – exciting, fresh, sustainable ideas that breed beautiful flavours.
“We were triple silver medal winner at International Wine and Spirit Competition for Foxhole Gin: marc 2 – the only gin to win in every category we entered; London Dry, Contemporary Styles and Gin & Tonic,” reveals James. “We think this is evidence that we are creating consistent quality, flavour balance and versatility which is exactly what we aim to achieve with our products.
“It’s important to remember that you can make gin in 48 hours, but we need 8,760 – a full year. It takes a whole year to make a batch of Foxhole Gin. The grapes need to grow and wine to be made. Only then can we distil, blend, distil again, dilute and bottle.”
Interestingly, the name Foxhole doesn’t come from the cunning, patient and resourceful nature of their product, nor from their sustainability efforts – it’s a lot simpler than that. “It’s important to us that everything about the design and branding has a connection to the product’s origins, so the name Foxhole comes from the name of the road we are based on (Foxhole Lane),” explains James. “Established in 2016, Foxhole Spirits specialises in the creation and production of high quality, premium spirits with a focus on using otherwise unused resources, promoting sustainability and creativity within the drinks industry.”
Foxhole are as unconventional as gin makers come. Then again, foxes have always been as elusive and unique. They’re a small brand with a massive heart and place patience, tenderness, resourcefulness and sustainability at the heart of their practices. It’s about creating a product that is the envy of the ‘animal gindom,’ that the consumer revels in sampling, both for of its taste and its origins.
Sustainable, responsible, and oh-so-cunning, Foxhole Spirits have craftily concocted a grape-infused gin with all the intrigue of their furry little namesakes and we can’t wait for you to get your paws on it.
Originally published in Issue 15. Written by Cameron Willis.