An exclusive insight into the mind of Gin Farallon’s founder and Master Distiller Brad Plummer. As a distillation and production expert, Brad Plummer is a total gin wizard with something of a love affair with botanicals. From exploring different gin expressions to experimenting with new techniques and formulas, he tells us why gin production is both difficult and rewarding.
Hi Brad, can you tell me a little about yourself?
I grew up in the 70s and 80s in Arkansas, where most of my family still lives. After college I moved to Boston for graduate school, and then to New York City for a short stint before getting a job in California writing about physics. Before I started the distillery I worked as a science writer and photographer for almost a decade, working at one of the US National Laboratories, run by Stanford.
That’s an amazing accomplishment, what inspired you to get into the spirits industry and why gin?
I was fascinated with the “black art” of distilling, going way back, and always wanted to understand how spirits were made. The equipment and processes have been mostly unchanged for hundreds of years. Gin was my spirit of choice all through college and grad school, and when I started experimenting with making different kinds of distilled spirits I quickly realized gin is actually pretty tricky to make. I took that as a challenge.
So making gin is fairly tricky. What was the process like, to get your permit approved for the distillery? How long did it take?
Getting a distillery going is notoriously time consuming and expensive. I actually had my first spirit out the door in record time — just about 10 months. Usually it can be closer to 2 years. I built a very small and efficient “Nano distillery” to start out and we’ve grown from there.
What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome It?
The biggest challenge was realizing that building a distillery and launching a consumer brand is actually starting two businesses that aren’t that closely related. I work every day to overcome the sheer amount of work that challenge creates.
Gin has been considered somewhat of an acquired taste to some. What do you tell folks just getting into gin?
Good gins don’t taste like Christmas trees. And it’s not an old people drink. The explosion of the craft gin market over the last decade has brought about a huge and diverse array of creative and amazing spirits.
On that note, what makes Gin Farallon so special?
I worked hard to preserve the nuance of certain botanicals that can be overpowered by other ingredients and processes. For example: cucumbers. I use fresh cucumber, which is apparent in the aroma; but you can’t use heat to extract aroma from cucumbers. So I had to find the right combination of processes to create a uniquely balanced spirit, and that took about two years. It’s not an easy or simple spirit to make but I’m proud of it.
What type of still you use to distill your spirits?
I have a steam-fired 650 L copper hybrid still with a 6-plate side column and a botanical basket.
You recently won an award for your Holy Wood & Cask, what more can you tell us about this gin? What type of barrels did you use?
Holy Wood is the first gin to be made using Palo Santo. It’s an ingredient that I was immediately fascinated with, but on it’s own it can be difficult to balance. I use new American oak barrels with heavy char to impart a critical set of flavors that make this spirit an award-winning expression.
Do you plan to add any new gins to your portfolio in the future?
I’d like to explore single-botanical expressions next. I’ve been working on gin recipes for 7 years now, and that experience has given me some ideas for ingredients and techniques I’m eager to develop.
If you could release any type of gin you wanted (using any grain, botanicals, distillation method) without having to consider pricing, what would your dream release look like?
Probably something with saffron and wild-picked juniper, distilled from grapes I grew myself.
In your opinion, what state is the gin industry in today?
The number of craft gins on the market continues to explode globally. South Africa is a current hot spot. And the UK of course… something like 2,000 different gins you can buy there. The US is certainly catching up. Gin used to be something distillers made while their whiskey was aging, but nowadays you have shops like mine that focus solely on botanical spirits. It’s a fun time seeing the different expressions coming out, the creativity of others making gin.
With all the different gin expressions hitting the market lately, what do you think the industry will look like in 10 years?
Hard to say. Super premium brands are growing as fast as anything, so I think we’ll see more $60+ bottles gin/ luxury brands entering the market. The consumer market is getting more and more used to exploring gin and gin cocktails, which is opening a lot of doors. I also think that you’ll see a fall off of a lot of producers today. It sometimes feels like a bit of a bubble, but I still think there’s a lot of room to grow.
What is your proudest achievement in the industry?
Building my expanded distillery by hand. I hired plumbers and electricians etc. to advise and inspect my work but I designed and built my distillery entirely by hand. I even broke my toe moving in the crate with my new still (shockingly painful), but after seeing the doctor and getting X-rays and a cast I was back at the shop installing equipment within an hour.
All things gin aside, what would people be surprised to know about you?
I used to be a ballroom dance instructor. Also I’m a licensed minister, and I’ve officiated weddings.
Finally, everyone wants to know, what do you drink when no one is looking?
Vodka and Red Bull. Shhh. (My colleagues make no end of fun of me for this.)