Meet the Producer

It's a gin thing

One of the world’s few female master distillers, Joanne Moore helped develop Co-op Irresistible Gin using techniques that are over 250 years old. She tells Rosie Mullender what makes gin the tipple of choice now

It takes a very special team to produce Co-op’s Irresistible London Dry Gin, one that’s led by master distiller Joanne Moore, who has the distinction of being the seventh to be appointed to the role by Cheshire’s G&J Distillers since 1761. She’s also the first woman to hold the title there, and one of the world’s first female master distillers.

‘Getting this job was an extremely proud moment for me,’ she says. ‘I’m a local Warrington girl, and knew this distillery growing up. There’s a family atmosphere here that you don’t get in a lot of jobs, and I’ve been here 22 years, so it means a lot.’ In her role, Joanne oversees some of the UK’s most famous gins.

The distillery itself is a feast of sights, sounds and smells

The distillery itself is a feast of sights, sounds and smells: hissing steam billows, stills gleam in the light that pours through huge windows, and the spicy, floral scent of botanicals fills the air. ‘Oddly, you get the best aroma when we’re emptying the stills,’ Joanne says. ‘By that stage, it just looks like brown sludge – but smells amazing.’ The key notes in Co-op Irresistible Gin are citrus and spice, but it contains 16 botanicals. ‘That’s a lot for a gin, but the end result really works,’ Joanne tells me. ‘We’ve included orange peel, nutmeg, ginger, black pepper and lavender. But we always start with juniper berries – without juniper, it’s just not gin.’

Before today, I hadn’t thought much about what goes into gin. G&J sources its ingredients from around the world – including oranges from Spain, cardamom from Brazil and cumin from India – which are balanced using Joanne’s decades of expertise. ‘Master distillers have to learn how each botanical distills down, so we understand how they work individually and their different levels of intensity,’ she explains. ‘Then we can consider how they’ll work together, and start building a gin.

‘We balance the different flavours, aromas and notes, a bit like creating a perfume. That’s the exciting part, and the bit I enjoy the most – I can still be surprised by what happens when different botanicals are put together.’

Women have more taste receptors than men, giving Joanne the advantage. ‘But then, tasting is also very subjective,’ she admits. ‘What’s important is being able to describe and remember the smells, so you can think about how they’d work together.’ The gin starts with a base spirit that’s been distilled five times for purity and is 96% alcohol.

It arrives at G&J to be mixed with demineralised water, before the hand-weighed botanicals are added to a huge, traditional copper still, called Gilbert after a grandson of the distillery’s founder (its ‘brother’ is named after another grandson, called Edward). The mixture is then distilled again so that the alcohol takes on the flavour of the botanicals.

‘The bits at the beginning and end of the process, which we call the heads and tails, aren’t good enough to use,’ Joanne says. ‘We only take the best part – which we refer to as the gin’s heart and soul – and put it into Co-op Irresistible Gin.’

We only take the best part – which we refer to as the gin’s heart and soul – and put it into Co-op Irresistible Gin

The Irresistible Gin is particularly special, as our members helped choose it from a shortlist of three versions. ‘We sent out tasting kits, and Co-op Members decided which one they liked the most – the favourite became Irresistible Gin,’ Joanne says. ‘It made the gin that bit more personal. I think it was a wonderful way of choosing a recipe.’

The result is a premium spirit. ‘Gin is incredibly popular – the UK exports more gin than beef, and Brits spent £1.4 billion on it in 2017,’ Joanne says. ‘At G&J Distillery we make 160,000 bottles a day, which is a lot of gin and tonic…’ So how does Joanne like hers? ‘It’s a great long drink, and you can make hot gin toddies in winter,’ she says. ‘But my favourite is a French 75 – a gin cocktail with Champagne, lemon juice and sugar.’