JJ Whitley Elderflower Gin is an exciting new gin from Johnny Neill, the creator of Whitley Neill, and an eighth generation Master Distiller.
We had a chat with Johnny about his new gin, the smash success of Whitley Neill, what it’s like to come from such a rich distilling history and much more.
What inspired you to make your own gin?
I’d always dreamed of creating my own recipe. I wanted to create something that was traditionally distilled but also a gin that had some very different flavours and aromas. That’s why I started looking around the world for rather unique botanicals.
Has your family’s gin heritage been an influence?
Most definitely! I grew up with Greenall’s gin and Bombay Gin at home, at the time both were distilled by my Grandmother’s family company, Greenall Whitley. My Father was a Director of the distillery and brewery so I had an early exposure to these London/Warrington Dry Gins. The provenance and history are important but the traditional methods that we use to produce Whitley Neill are critical to me.
Whitley Neill is a firm favourite at Gin Festival; can you tell us about the gin in your own words?
Whitley Neill is distilled as London Dry Gin, using all those traditional skills you’d expect but it also carries some very unique flavours and aromas. I was looking for some different citrus elements to distil and, with my wife hailing from South Africa, I started searching there for different citrus botanicals. I have to admit that I stumbled across the Baobab tree, which is depicted on the front of the bottle, and at first I wasn’t aware that the fruit of the Baobab had a unique citrus pulp that is used in cooking but also to make traditional Baobab lemonade. It is a very distinctive citrus flavour, a little like lemon sherbet, that, along with Cape Gooseberries and the extra coriander and cassia that we have in Whitley Neill, delivers a very different citrus note and flavour profile all round. We distil Whitley Neill in Constance, an antique copper still using the method that the family has used since the 1800s.
What’s your typical day like?
I mainly spend my day in the trade visiting existing customers and trying to bring on board more. I also travel to lots of bars to talk to the staff about how we make Whitley Neill and why it is a little different. We also carry out Cocktail Masterclasses and consumer nights quite often, of which I try to get to as many as possible.
After a long, hard day at the distillery, what do you drink to help you unwind?
It’s nice to get back to the family and relax with my wife and children, not so much partying these days!
Aside from Whitley Neill, what’s your favourite gin?
That’s a difficult one! I’d have to say I enjoy a lot of the other gins out there, I do like Martin Millers Westbourne Strength a lot though.
G&T, cocktail or on the rocks?
Difficult to say – it rather depends on the environment! My Father enjoys a couple of Martini’s every night but I enjoy gin cocktails more often.
What new projects do you have coming up?
We’ve just launched the new JJ Whitley range. JJ Whitley was my Great Grandfather, he was the Managing Director of Greenall’s. He was also the son of a Vicar so we’ve tried to develop a more English range with a traditional London Dry and an Elderflower gin.
Tell us more about the JJ Whitley line, what’s the idea behind them?
It’s really a harking back to the Victorian/Edwardian era which my Great Grandfather would have experienced. He was born in a vicarage and his father was the Rector of Daresbury in Cheshire, not far away from Greenall Whitley’s base in Warrington. This is a very English range based around the botanicals you’d find in an English vicarage garden and hedgerow. So we’ve started with a traditional London Dry gin, very classic but smooth and crisp and then an Elderflower gin.
How are your values reflected in your gin?
We use all the traditional techniques and will continue to do so but we are also looking to create new, unique flavour profiles for our gins using new, interesting botanicals – one’s that you wouldn’t expect.
Where do you see Whitley Neill in a year?
Whitley Neill is growing and we are beginning to gain more exposure in some of the larger retailers this year, so hopefully you’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the UK. We’re also launching in the US soon which is going to keep us busy! I hope to launch a new gin concept in September and we’re exploring rum and whiskey too..!
What’s the best thing about what you do?
I have to say it’s the people. We have such an amazing bunch of people working in this industry and they are always willing to help each other. It’s also lovely to see the positive reactions of people when they enjoy tasting your product, it is a tremendous feeling.
What interested you in Gin Festival?
Marie and Jym had this wonderful idea to take Gin to the people of the UK and I was on board very early on. I’ve always thought it was a great idea and the way the shows are run is second to none. We’ve been really welcomed and looked after by Gin festival and the people who are a part of it and I hope that we can continue to.
What’s the best thing about being at the events?
The Gin festival crew are amazing, such fun and it’s a lovely environment to work in. We get the opportunity to get our story across to a huge number of consumers around the UK and most importantly they get to taste our gins.
If you could only have one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Probably a Negroni – delicious!
Gin Explorers can get 10% discount on a full bottle of J.J. Whitley Elderflower Gin by using the code found in their July box.