Ultra-premium Sky Wave Gin based in Bucknell near Bicester only launched 18 months ago but has already won a raft of awards.
And yet it all started as a bit of fun in the form of a 50th birthday present from a wife to her husband, which has led to the most unexpected outcome.
When former BBC newsreader Rachel Hicks bought retired army officer Andy Parsons a distilling course at gin school she couldn’t have foreseen where it would lead.
“You can taste its Oxfordshire provenance in every sip, from the hand foraged Oxfordshire blackberries, which are one of our 13 botanicals to the Blenheim Palace Natural Mineral Water which we use to create our delicious gin”
The gin they created amazed even the head distiller on the course and before they’d even reached home, they had bought and shipped a copper still online from Portugal. They had the gin bug!
As soon as the still arrived they set to work developing the recipe they had worked on at gin school. “Our friends were happy to help with tastings as they indulged our new hobby, but this was deadly serious for us,” Rachel remembers.
After 40 recipe tweaks and more than 300 tastings the couple launched their new gin Sky Wave, the name reflecting the adventures they had in their former lives as a BBC radio reporter and an officer in the Royal Signals Regiment.
Andy is a qualified army mountaineering instructor, leading expeditions around the world, Rachel has wing walked, scuba dived and driven across the Sahara throughout her BBC career. Sky Wave is also a term for a radio wave which links into their respective careers.
Having sat exams and got all the licences they needed, just 18 months later their craft gin was crowned “The World’s Best Contemporary Gin” at the World Gin Awards 2020.
The couple have now embraced their new career as distillers, and their flair for creating ultra-premium artisan gins, and are looking forward to growing the business on the back of the awards they have won.
It’s been named the Best Contemporary Gin at the World Gin Awards 2020, awarded a Double Gold Medal at the China Wine and Spirits Award 2020 and scooped a Gold Medal at the Women’s Wine and Spirits Awards 2020, judged by women spirits buyers around the world.
So what’s their secret? “Our gin is special because it is delicious!” Rachel promises. “You can taste its Oxfordshire provenance in every sip, from the hand foraged Oxfordshire blackberries, which are one of our 13 botanicals to the Blenheim Palace Natural Mineral Water which we use,” Rachel says. “Labels are handwritten and bottles are hand filled. A donation to Water Aid is made for every bottle sold.”
As for the pandemic, Rachel added that sales have sky-rocketed recently. “We are lucky enough to still be working – everyone seems to be buying gin to get through the lockdown! We have seen our sales increase hugely since March.
“We wanted to make sure that people could still enjoy a drink, without having to go to the supermarket or wine merchants, so we have worked hard on our online sales capacity and now sell from our own online shop and from other sites such as Amazon and Master of Malt.
“If people buy direct from us, we offer free postage, to help everyone at this time. We’ve also started offering same day local deliveries within a five-mile radius of Bucknell, which covers most of Bicester and surrounding villages. Importantly we wanted to say thank you to all NHS staff, Emergency Workers and Armed Forces who are working so hard at this time, so we are offering 20% discount to all Blue Light Card Holders.”
As for the future, Rachel believes the key change will be the continuation of online events. “We’ve taken part in virtual gin tasting evenings and virtual gin festivals and they are great fun for everyone involved. They offers gin drinkers the chance to enjoy their favourite gins, or new gins in the comfort of their own home, from their favourite glass, with their favourite snacks. This has caught on and it will continue.
“It’s a whole new platform for many distillers and a great opportunity for us to link directly with gin enthusiasts, and in turn for them to have access to distillers in a way they haven’t had before.”
The future looks bright for Sky Wave Gin in 2020 and Rachel and Andy have lots of new projects in the pipeline. Rachel said: “We are developing three new gins for release 2020-2021, including a cask aged one which will be really special. We have grown the team to help keep pace with our expansion and becoming better known.
“We are hosting our own Virtual Gin Tasting, called SkyWave@Home on June 13. We love sharing our gins and talking to people about gin so we will be in our element!”
More information and tickets for the virtual gin tasting events go to www.skywavegin.com