Salford distiller Nicholas McCance gives us the lowdown on local gin
THERE seems to be no let-up in new versions of drink du jour gin hitting the shelves, and the latest comes courtesy a distiller over the river in Salford. Nicholas James Gin has been winning fans both sides of the Irwell, with its Original and Raspberry options being revered as an “exquisite tipple”. The premium brand is the brainchild of 26-year-old entrepreneur Nicholas McCance, himself born and bred in Salford and keen to give the city something to be proper proud of. We chatted to Nicholas to find out more…
ManCon: What’s in a name? Your name is Nicholas McCance – where does the James of Nicholas James Gin come from?
Nicholas: James is actually my middle name. Originally, my mother wanted to call me James but a couple of people beat her to the mark!
ManCon: Your background is in property – seems like a bit of a leap! Explain the shift to starting the gin brand.
Nicholas: I think wherever you are in life, it’s always good to mix things up a bit. I’d been drinking gin prior to the boom and thought about doing this for the last 18 months or so, but this year I decided to take the plunge and turn my words into actions. If this process has taught me one thing, it’s how important it is to support people in whatever they do. I’ve had so much support from all angles, from bars and even other distillers and gin companies, which I’m very surprised at and so glad to find this is how this industry works.
ManCon: You’ve mentioned before that you might branch out beyond juniper – why gin to start, and what might come next?
Nicholas: There’s no ‘might’ in this, the whole business is based around offering premium spirits across the board. I’d love to do two products for each spirit, but I guess I should learn to walk before I can run… never been something I’ve had the hang of! All being well, I’ll introduce two different types of rum in the next year or so, but I want people to be able to trust us as a brand and know that whatever we decide to do, the premium quality and the grounded ethics will always be present.
I’m working my socks off to make sure this isn’t just another gin brand; the idea is to build a brand that people can place their trust in
ManCon: Your website says you’re Salford born and bred – are there any other reasons to start up a gin brand in Salford in particular… is there something in the water?
Nicholas: Like I said, everyone has been so helpful in this journey so far but I think part of this has to do with our Northern sense of community. I’ve had a good, humble upbringing and what better way to pay homage to my hometown than create a brand to be proud of right here in Salford Quays. Manchester as a whole has been making big moves in the right direction for years and the thought of adding to that is very brilliant and daunting!
ManCon: What kind of still are you using? Can you make gin in any old still?
Nicholas: We’re using a copper pot still, which is a pretty classic way of doing things. The whole brand is based on a no-nonsense approach so this was the best method for us. You can make gin at home with no distillation at all; just buy a bottle of spirit, such as vodka and flavour with botanicals, mainly juniper berries. This works for making a bottle at home for your own consumption but when it comes to making a quality product, you’re pretty far away from that!
ManCon: All gins are not made equally. What is it that makes Nicholas James Gin special?
Nicholas: The gin itself contains unusual botanicals such as lemon balm which is from the same family as mint. This, combined with the copious amounts of lemon zest, gives the gin its refreshing taste. Another one of the unusual botanicals we use is turmeric from the ginger family, which (apart from providing many health benefits) gives the gin a spicy undertone, strong enough to taste but not overpowering.
ManCon: You’re proud to use all-natural ingredients in your recipes – what does this mean, really, and how do you source your botanicals?
Nicholas: I mean all-natural in every sense of the word. There are no artificial flavourings, colourings or preservatives in either of the gins which is something that escapes the bigger names once they get to a certain size due to convenience and pressures with stocking. For me, the size of the business is irrelevant – the quality of the product won’t be compromised for anything… this is the process and we’re sticking to it.
ManCon: With or without tonic? And what’s a garnish?
Nicholas: You could honestly enjoy both with or without tonic. With the raspberry gin, it’s made with freshly squeezed raspberry juice so when you taste it neat, you’ll be able to appreciate the flavour a lot more and see how smooth the finished product is; it even works with a glass of Prosecco. I’ve created our garnish tins, which will work with most G&T combos. For our gins specifically, fresh basil or mint work well with both and adding some fresh raspberries with the raspberry-flavoured gin will enhance the flavour to the next level!
ManCon: Manchester Gin, Didsbury Gin, Worsley Gin, Three Rivers… The list of locally distilled tipples is already lengthy and keeps growing. Don’t you feel you’re entering an already saturated market?
Nicholas: It’s definitely a crowded market in the gin world and everyone is doing a great job in their fields. Having said that, I’m working my socks off to make sure this isn’t just another gin brand; the idea is to build a brand that people can place their trust in whether it’s gin, rum, vodka or non-alcoholic, the plans are going way beyond gin. To be perfectly honest, I’m sticking to my own path and not paying great deals of attention to what other brands are doing as I’m not looking to follow suit in this game.
ManCon: Finally, where can we get our hands on some Nicholas James Gin?
Nicholas: The gin is available from a newly set up online Manchester store called Uniquely Manchester. They’re doing a great job with orders and I’m delighted to be working with them. If you visit the website, there’s a link to their page along with our various stockists if you’d like to try our tipple!
Find out more here.
Download the app here to buy tickets to the Nicholas James gin tasting sessions on Saturday 1 December from 12pm - 4pm