A new craft spirit distillery, gin school, visitor experience and bottling plant, located in the cellars of a 17th century Grade I-listed castle in South Wales, opened its doors to visitors for the first time earlier this month.
After a multi-million pound investment, Hensol Castle Distillery and Hensol Castle are set to become a flagship tourism destination attracting up to 30,000 visitors annually from the UK and Western Europe – and as far afield as USA and Far East. It was originally due to launch in March 2020, but official opening plans were scuppered when the pandemic hit. Despite this set back, tours and gin-making visits totalling £65,000 have already been pre-sold in anticipation of the opening.
Visitors will be able to distil a bespoke bottle of gin made to their own specific tastes in the gin school, visit the distillery in action, learn about the history of gin and Hensol Castle and enjoy a gin tasting in the cocktail bar. Tours will be given by the castle’s team of distillers including Master Distiller, Dai Wakely, who has recently joined to spearhead all new product development.
Christopher Leeke, managing director of Hensol Castle Distillery, said:
“Hensol Castle is the only Grade I-listed building in the UK to house a gin and spirit distillery, providing a unique offering which will attract local, national and international visitors.
“It’s been a real labour of love to breathe new life back into the old castle walls and convert it into a premier tourist destination, and we’re looking forward to finally being able to open our doors and share what we’ve created with others.”
Hensol Castle Distillery is South Wales’s first full-scale gin and spirits distillery and contract bottling plant. It started production in spring 2019 and has enjoyed a successful initial two-years of trading, handling an ever-growing order book for contract bottling and launching an on-trade range of Benjamin Hall gin and vodka and an award-winning Crawshay collection of gins. During the height of the pandemic last year, it also launched TRULO – a reduced calorie range of liqueurs, which have done especially well as people have enjoyed their homemade ‘quarantinis’ during lockdown.
At the heart of the distillery is a 400-litre copper still, which was engineered in Germany, and has been affectionately named Gerald after Gerald Leeke, group chairman of Leekes.
During the renovations, a 173-year old message in a bottle was unearthed by builders as they pulled up some flooring in the main castle and spotted a dusty bottle deep in the ground.
The hand-written note, which is the work of Lord Rowland Fothergill, reads:
“Deposited under the boards of this corridor by Rowland Fothergill the proprietor of the Hensol Castle Estate during the alterations and repairs of this castle 10 March 1848.”
Rowland Fothergill was an ironmaster in South Wales in the 1800s, becoming high sheriff of Glamorgan in 1850. As the owner of Hensol Castle, he introduced a large courtyard, a clock tower and flag tower and also drained the lake to add a small mock castle folly.
The note has now been placed in a prominent location within the distillery for visitors to enjoy.
Christopher Leeke continued:
“Rowland Fothergill left this note for future generations to enjoy and it was an absolute delight to find. We have decided to do something similar in honour of what Fothergill started and buried our own time capsule as part of the building works with the help of Welsh rugby legend, Alun Wyn Jones, thereby creating our own bit of history.”
The Leeke family’s time capsule included the first bottle of Hensol Castle Gin – a new addition to the distillery’s spirit portfolio – to come off the production line together with a handwritten note from Christopher Leeke. Alun Wyn Jones buried it in the distillery courtyard as part of the opening celebrations.
Christopher Leeke added:
“The person who finds the 2021 capsule will be able to have a drink on us one day in the future and I hope our gesture provides as much pleasure to them as Fothergill’s has done for us.”
The distillery is part of the wider £7 million redevelopment at Hensol Castle, which has already included turning the once derelict castle into a first-class wedding and conference destination, which opened in 2015.
Hensol Castle Distillery will be open for visitors from Saturday 4 September. Gin tours cost £25 per person and gin-making experiences are from £110 per person. Both can be booked via www.hensolcastledistillery.com