A Family Business
Castle Freke Gin is a family business, owned and operated. The Castle Freke Distillery is housed for now in a small warehouse in a little village just miles from Castle Freke itself, the historic home of the Evans-Freke family where renovations continue today and whose location and legacy inspired the making of this world-class gin. In time the plan is to move the distillery back into a restored wing of the castle.
In the Beginning…
It was 2014. The dining room table at Rathbarry Castle was covered with nearly 100 bottles of essential oils, and beneath the table was a case of vodka. At the ready were eye droppers, scales, pipettes and dozens of glasses. The vodka served as the base, and the essentials oils would be added, drop by drop, in a dizzying assortment of combinations – each sample and every titrated amount meticulously recorded.
“It was my evening entertainment when I was in a wheelchair for some months,” explained Stephen Evans-Freke, founder of Castle Freke Distillery, whose home Rathbarry Castle sits a few hundred yards away from Castle Freke itself.
In 2014, Stephen was recuperating from yet another surgery on his heel, which he had smashed a few years earlier upon falling from a tower parapet onto the main roof of Castle Freke.
A dry martini lover, Stephen was in search of the perfect gin for his evening cocktail. It had to be very smooth. It had to have depth and complexity. It had to leave an enduring and uniquely pleasurable aftertaste long after the swallow was complete. Stephen had tried one after another of the boutique gins bursting onto the market in recent years. Some of them were interesting for the gin-and-tonic drinker, but none satisfied his palate in a very dry martini.
“I was developing my initial formula, using scales and laboratory pipettes to add very small quantities of different essential oils into samples of vodka. Every night at about six o’clock I wheeled myself into the dining room and spent a couple of happy hours experimenting,” he said with a grin.
Time to Get Serious
After a year, and with a clear selection of potential ingredients in mind as the starting point, it was time to switch from the dining room table and a primitive pot still in the garage to a state-of-the-art copper still in a commercial location. Stephen researched stills, scouted for sites and hired a small team to begin the highly calibrated and empirical process of developing the perfect gin. Week after week, he would arrive in Lisavaird, where the distillery is housed, and sit down with his team and with family members to sample the latest potential combinations to emerge from the still striving to become the perfect combination. Weeks turned into years, as he whittled away at flavors, essences, and nuances that simply weren’t right while pushing the envelope on the smoothness of the spirit. Initially the effort was led by scientifically trained West Cork youth, Sam Kingston, who curated the first year of transition from dining room table experiments to actual distilling. When the efforts shifted to a more commercial location, a bio-chemist, Haydn Mitchell of the US Virgin Islands, joined the team introducing new ingredients and a rigorously scientific and methodical approach to the development process. It then came time for someone with tested distillation experience to take over. Enter Barry Mageean from Northern Ireland, who brought his extensive knowledge and experience of gin distillation to hone the botanical formulas and process protocols into a perfected pathway to the world’s finest dry martini gin.