Sean Harrison – Meet the Expert

Sean Harrison is one of the preeminent distillers in the world. He left the British Royal Navy in 1994 and began working at the historic Plymouth Gin distillery in Plymouth England, the oldest still working Gin distillery in the UK. 

He was trained by the world’s most experienced Gin distiller, Desmond Payne, and has since travelled the globe educating the world’s best bartenders and distillers on all aspects of spirits production.

Gin with Sean Harrison

Sean played a pivotal role in turning the Plymouth Gin brand around, two big factors were increasing the proof and returning to the use of grain-based alcohol. By 1998 he had established the perfect ABV for Plymouth was 41.2%, and not only launched it in a new bottle, Sean also re-released Plymouth Navy Strength Gin at 114 proof. He has held the Master Distiller title since 1999 and has witnessed the brand change ownership three times so far. In November 2024 he will be celebrating 30 years at the distillery.

Plymouth Gin is an iconic brand with an enviable role in cocktail culture, and links to the birth of many famous cocktails such as the Pink Gin Cocktail, Gimlet and of course the Dry Martini. Thankfully therefore, the brand is in such capable hands.

Where do you think the category of gin originates from, and in what time period was this? 

I used to believe that gin originated in Holland and was based on Genever, which conceptually travelled across the English Channel and was thus converted into Gin, that is what all the marketing materials said when I became involved in 1994. Fortunately over the last 25 years numerous people have become interested in the history of gin and the level of research has increased. Interestingly the invention of the internet has played an important part, as libraries have put more and more books online and the ability to use, trace and cross reference multiple sources has become easier. 

Recipes that look like Gin can be traced back in England prior to the invention of the printing press. This would put English Gin into the 14/1500’s which pre dates the perceived origin from William of Orange in 1688. So English Gin probably comes from a small village somewhere in the country surrounded by Juniper bushes.

What is Gin made from?

Gin generally uses Wheat as its ethanol origin, and juniper berries as a primary flavouring ingredient.

In a nutshell, how is Gin made?

Gin is a fermented ethanol, from an agricultural origin, that is flavoured with plants that contain essential oils. The only legally required oil bearing floral that must be used are Juniper Berries, which must be the largest ingredient. After that it is up to the Distiller to make up their own recipe.

Why should everyone be drinking Gin?

Gin is a very versatile product. It easily takes and enhances flavours; which is why gin is the heart of many of the worlds great cocktails.

Why should everyone drink your brand? 

Plymouth Gin has one of the longest associations with cocktails. The origins of Plymouth Gin pre-dates cocktails. The Plymouth recipe has not one dominating flavour but is unmistakeable a gin which means it can be mixed with many other flavours to produce your favourite cocktail. It is why Plymouth is the most named Gin in the world famous Savoy Hotel Cocktail Book first printed in the 1930’s.

Give us at least one of the biggest miss held beliefs surrounding Gin

One of the biggest misconceptions to do with Gin is that there is only one way to drink it i.e. a Gin and Tonic.

Gin is versatile so get creative, it will reward your taste buds.

Coolest story or anecdote about the Gin category?

The reason those with an English accent are called ‘Limeys’ by people with an American accent is because we used limes to cure scurvy which in time became the Plymouth Gin based drink called a Gimlet.

Favourite cocktail made with your brand, ideally something everyone can make at home or in their bars?

My favourite cocktail to make with Plymouth Gin is the one you want. I can advise and point but your palate is yours and therefore the flavours you enjoy are yours. My pointing would be a Plymouth Collins or Rickey as a long drink or a Plymouth Gimlet or Martini as a short drink.

Can you drink Gin neat?

Gin isn’t generally drunk neat but Plymouth Gin is an easy sipping Gin. However, I would always recommend adding water at a one-to-one ratio. This releases the bouquet and helps with moderating your alcohol intake and hence enjoyment.

Over to you. Anything else you want to tell everyone about Gin, your brand or anything else?

Gin is a much maligned and misunderstood spirit that is sometimes viewed as being a poor substitute for vodka or brown spirits. Gin flavour profiles are complex and subtle. A lot of hard work and skill goes into producing a great product that can be enjoyed straight up or mixed.

Find a knowledge bartender and you will find your gin drink. Even better find a knowledgeable bartender and you will find a great Plymouth Gin drink. Enjoy responsibly!

The history of alcohol and cocktails is not only fascinating, but it can be confusing and frustrating too. Especially as it can all change without notice as historians and researchers regularly unearth new pieces of information that up-end our favourite booze stories, muddle our understanding of different categories, and even undermine our most solid facts!

As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
@Candra_Drinks  #MakeBetterDrinks  #CandraDrinks

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