Stephanie Whalley talks curveballs, cascades and dragon's tears with founding director, Terry Langton
It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a bit of a weird one for us all. Not least for Terry Langton, founding director of Turncoat Distillery who, just weeks before lockdown 1.0, cut the ribbon on a brand new bar in the Royal Albert Dock. Rather ironically arranging a (virtual) catch up merely hours ahead of Boris Johnson closing the country’s bars once again, we shoehorned an hour into Terry’s schedule to chat all things Turncoat.
Each Turncoat Gin has a title as intriguing as the last, all of them named after a dominant element of its own unique recipe and identity
We covered the local distillery’s humble beginnings and their aim to develop an “independent brand for independent customers”, to the recipes that went wrong and the curveballs that have been cannonballed their way courtesy of COVID-19.
Turncoat Distillery’s story starts with a bearded brewer seduced by the world of gin, an ex-science teacher with a craft for chemistry and the garage on the side of their house - barely big enough to swing a cat around in. It was really all catalysed after selling his first-born baby, The Liverpool Craft Brewery (now Love Lane) and being invited to interview for another brewing post at the BrewDog up in Scotland.
BrewDog flew Terry up to Ellon to explore his potential for the post but it transpired that the huge distills at the premises turned Terry’s head - hence the name Turncoat. So, as a non-gin drinker with experience in craft beer and brewing, Terry returned to the north with a head full of great ideas but no real comprehensive grasp on how to fulfill them. He started experimenting with various recipes and ingredients in his garage.
If you know anything about Turncoat, you’ll know that the brand offers an ever-expanding capsule of glorious gins, bitters and vodka. They’re all deliciously distilled and bottled with a cool, minimalist finesse but you don’t reach that level of sophistication without having some stories of strife to tell along the way. I asked Terry if he would care to divulge just one of his most disastrous experimentations and he told me about Cascade Gin which, even now, in all its perfected glory, is still a concoction which the creator himself describes as “just bananas”.
It wasn’t long after Terry began his garage-based R&D that his wife Joanne joined him, leaving behind a steady job as a science teacher to assist in turning concept into reality. Joanne, now Head Distiller at Turncoat, transformed Cascade Gin from a green, vegetal swill with misplaced notes of marijuana, into the smooth, aromatic, citrus nectar that it is today. Joanne realised that the mistake had been in distilling the ingredients straight and trying to infuse them, rather than steaming them in a basket as an alternative to the standard boiling process.
Cascade Gin gets its name from one of its most prominent ingredients, Cascade Hops - the original Turncoat Hop. Each Turncoat Gin has a title as intriguing as the last, all of them named after a dominant element of its own unique recipe and identity. Our Man in Sicily gin is distilled with Sicilian lemons; Dragon Tears gin is infused with the dragon tear buds that blossom on a Jasmine flower; and Bold St. Chai gin is laced with a distillation of chai tea blend in collusion with beloved Bold Street cafe and restaurant, LEAF.
View this post on InstagramWho’s in the mood for a super fresh gin? our Albert Dock has a perfect balance of classic with a twist with zesty kaffir lime😍 Buy a bottle today at www.turncoatdistillery.com/shop • • • #gin #independentdistillery #shoplocal #supportsmallbusiness #kaffirlime #zesty #weekend #weekenddrinks #liverpool
A post shared by Turncoat (@weareturncoat) on
Collaborating with other local brands and creators is something that seems to be pretty pivotal in the DNA of Turncoat’s ethos. After four months working from their domestic garage, Terry and Joanne moved into their own unit in Kirkdale. They’ve moved twice more since then, now settling in a spot in the coveted Baltic Triangle. Alongside that comes the brand new Turncoat Bar based in the Royal Albert Dock - a venue born and nurtured through a mutual circle of local love and support.
Turncoat Distillery was approached by the Royal Albert Dock with an offer that simply couldn’t be refused, as part of maintaining the Docks’ identity as a local resource and not just a tourist attraction. The space itself was designed by Terry’s cousin, an acclaimed designer branching out into freelance interior design; the walls are bedecked with beautiful botanical murals hand-painted by Liverpool artist, Jazz Stan; and as well as pouring out the Turncoat arsenal, the bar also offers a selection of beers from other local breweries on tap. Not only that, the synonymous bottle label designs with morse code motifs and uncomplicated branding are the craftsmanship of local digital designer, Coldlight who has become what Terry describes as the Turncoat “brand guardian”.
An update from Turncoat Bar; pic.twitter.com/gK9bA6O5tQ
— Turncoat Bar in the Royal Albert Dock (@TurncoatBar) October 14, 2020
(Don't worry they'll be back)
So, what does the future hold for Turncoat Distillery? Will the gin resurgence still continue with such rigour? Terry thinks so, believing that “the gin drinker is going to improve their knowledge” and that it will be this consumer education that will continue the momentum that has elevated the spirit from being condemned to those over 65 to a modern must-have behind any respectable bar.
At the bar, guests can enjoy a Turncoat gin flight which showcases the brand’s core distills with a choice of tonics and a set of tasting notes for each. Terry describes it as being “super nerd gin territory” but it has proved extremely popular with customers, alongside the repertoire of cocktails and wood-fired pizzas baked fresh on site.
As for the future forecast for Turncoat, things are looking pretty sunny, all things considered. Through being able to innovate and reimagine their offering, Turncoat has avoided having to lay anybody off over the past few months. Of course, we’re all waiting to see how the world will truly adapt to the new landscape ahead but perhaps this might be the very beginnings of entirely new realms of possibility; distilling gin at the top of a mountain or on an aeroplane to alter its flavour profile. Who knows?
If any business can emerge from the other side of the complicated renovation of a Grade I-listed building, two winter storms battering the Docks, a national lockdown, in the midst of a global pandemic and still be in pretty good shape, well then we’re expected great things to come from Team Turncoat.
You can find Turncoat Bar at 30 Edward Pavilion, The Royal Albert Dock, L3 4AF.