As a professional drinker and gin correspondent, I do not drive. Heeding the old TV advert of not drinking and driving, I gave up driving. As a favour to other road users it seemed the decent thing to do. Admittedly, learning how to drive and getting a licence would have also helped but, as Teddy Kennedy would have said, it’s all water under the bridge.
It does, however, make my job as a roaming gin writer less roaming. So, when I was invited to the opening of the new Defiance Distillery in Lees, Oldham, it was less a matter of simply following a Sat Nav than negotiating the complexity and random punctuality of Mayor Burnham’s brave new world of public transport. So, with a sense of adventure and armed only with Google maps, I set off tramward to Oldham Mumps and from there via the 184 bus to County End where I found Unit 9 of Woodend Mill, the home of Defiance Gin.
I was met by Paul Sheerin, the amiable owner of award-winning Defiance Spirits. He was a Gold Winner at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards in 2018. Sheerin has turned his distillery, producing a variety of small batch gins, into a bar and gin academy to showcase his considerable knowledge and skill. At the heart of the enterprise are two stills, little Arwen and big Galadriel, named after Tolkien’s Ladies of the Woods, which pump out more than 1,000 bottles of excellent gin and rum a week.
The process uses pure distilled water, base spirit and 13 dry botanicals, with three plant botanicals to give Defiance Spirit its unique taste. Defiance produces Premium Gin, Navy Strength and Old Tom as well as wild rose and strawberry-flavoured gins. Sheerin also imports frozen Seville oranges to give a real zing to his newly launched Flight Club Test Pilot Seville Orange Gin. He informs me that the arrangement with Spain is “Brexit proof”. The new Flight Club brand also includes High Octane, Jet Fuelled Gin, Jet Black Gin Liqueur (Liquorice), Bubblegum Liqueur Gin and Violet Skies Gin Liqueur. A nip of the latter took me straight back to school break times with an added kick of pure gin.
I sampled his Defiance Premium and the Test Pilot gins with a splash of light tonic and a slice of orange as he talked me through his new set up at Woodend Mill. Paul is an enthusiastic advocate for his product, and I will certainly go back to experience his gin academy. I tasted espresso gin, blueberry rum and a Black Jack which I can’t recall whether it was gin or rum. It was getting late and I had been there a while. After all, it was nearly two o’clock in the afternoon and I had to find my way back to Manchester.
The wall at the distillery is adorned with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. It says: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; Only love can do that.” Words for our time for which I thank Sheerin and Defiance Spirits. To which I can only add my own words of wisdom: “Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all, only gin can do that.”
For a full range of Defiance Spirits, visit: defiancegin.co.uk