The village of Stanton Lacy is nestled against the river Corve beneath the Shropshire Hills.
Located between the river and an 11th century Saxon church, Church Farm Studios is a small collection of converted farm buildings of varying ages. It seemed the perfect place to locate Kirkwood Distillery, as it is surrounded by farm fields and has a gorgeous view of the hills.
Inside the building, under the old timber beams, sits an array of very modern distillation equipment. The main still is called Penelope, after my niece Penny.
The first thing you might notice about Penelope is that she isn’t made of copper, and that’s by design. A copper still is a thing of beauty, and always the grandest item on display at a typical distillery tour. Unfortunately, a copper still is also one of the most energy inefficient devices in the world. Penelope is made of double insulated stainless steel and uses about one fifth the energy of a comparable copper still.
Penelope was built by an engineering company in Poland and is unique in that she has two columns above the boiler, allowing me to make a variety of spirits. One of the columns is a traditional pot still and uses centuries-old technology for simple distillations. The other column uses more modern technology for high-purity distillations.
But even with high-quality equipment, making spirits is still a difficult process, in the same way that owning a high-quality track suit doesn’t automatically make someone a good athlete. It’s the meticulous use of traditional methods and great care and attention that makes a good spirit. The spirit I’ve been able to make in my distillery has exceeded all of my expectations.
Still, I try not to be too proud. Let’s be honest, farmers grew the grain, yeast fermented it into alcohol and the local hills provide the flavours and aromas. After all of that, my involvement as distiller is only part of the story.