In the latest instalment of the people behind the food and drink businesses in Coventry & Warwickshire series, I speak to Richard Wilson, founder of Rugby Distillery, to find out all about Rugby’s brand new, very own gin. If you can’t be bothered to read the post, don’t worry – scroll to the bottom and you’ll find a video telling you everything you need to know
[Disclosure – Richard kindly gave me a bottle of gin as a wedding anniversary present but that was nothing to do with this.]
It’s finally happened – Rugby has got its very own gin. Over the past few years we’ve all watched watched other parts of Warwickshire and beyond get their very own distilleries producing great small batch gins and now we’ve got one we can call our own.
I guess you could call Rugby Distillery another creation to have come from the torrid period of the past 18 months. Like so many families, founder Richard Wilson and his family found themselves enduring one of the toughest times going.
They lost Richard’s brother Ian in the midst of a global pandemic, Richard himself seriously hurt his back, and found himself experiencing what he refers to as his own personal ‘epiphany’. “I wanted to create something – something that would mean something to town and community that I’ve spent my whole life in,” he told me. “I’ve lived in Rugby all my life, played Rugby all my life, and somehow I decided that the way forward was to start a distillery.”
He didn’t do it alone. From an initial idea of making rum, he and sister Emma instead decided to start with gin. They set up in Harborough Magna just outside Rugby, buying two stills from Poland and embarking on their own distilling journey. Together, with help from the rest of the family, they’ve made ‘Rugby gin’ – a range of three small-batch gins using locally sourced ingredients, inspired by Rugby’s history, and of course the sport.
They include their flagship gin, the 1823 Dry – inspired by the year William Webb Ellis picked up the football and ran with it at Rugby school, essentially creating the game. There’s a Rhubarb version too, and then the 1878 Navy Strength – the year of the first army-navy rugby match.
The whole operation is a real family affair, with Richard making the gin, Emma handling sales and customer service and her husband Rob being instrumental in creating the distillery, even making their office table from scratch.
It doesn’t stop there – Richard’s niece Millie helped paint the distillery and is now chief bottler, while Bella makes sure all the labels are on straight. We also can’t forget Lola their cockapoo who might not be that helpful in gin making, but brings a smile to their faces on stressful days.
Rugby Distillery’s catchline is ‘crafted in the fields of Rugby’ and that desire to champion the town as well as the game is rather lovely. Their first port of call has been to get their gin into places across Rugby and towns in Warwickshire, making sure you can see that bottle on shelves wherever you go in the area. The fact they’re distilling it, selling it, and seeing it drunk across the town is a lovely start to a tribute to both Rugby and the game.
“We’ve had huge support from the community,” Richard tells me, but he’s not stopping there, with tastings booked in, appearances at festivals, online sales, and big plans to get Rugby Gin everywhere from local pubs in Rugby to the Ricoh arena and beyond. From a standing start off the back of the COVID pandemic, that’s no mean feat, especially given it’s a small, family affair with him making the gin, Emma dealing with sales and customer services and other family members chipping in with everything from bottling to maintaining the stills.
I’ve tried the gins (obviously) and Rhubarb is my favourite, though Richard tells me they’ll suit every mood you’re in. Navy strength for party time, Rhubarb for something a bit lighter, and the 1823 for a relaxing drink on a summer’s day. One for everyone, you might say. Of course, he’s planning more in the future – building on seasonal ingredients where he can. Watch this space!
In Rugby Distillery’s own words, they’re about ‘paying respects to tradition whilst embracing the unconventional’. Starting a distillery with no background in it, and just a simple desire to leave some kind of legacy that’s tied to your love of your town, the game it gave its name to, and to your own personal story is certainly not the same route plenty of other gin producers have gone down, so Richard and Emma seem to be ticking that box.
Either way, they’ve created something that champions a town that’s so often overlooked, and in my book that can only be a good thing.
Find Rugby Distillery at www.rugbydistillery.com and on social media.