Standing in a converted barn at Falls Farm in Harrington, Northamptonshire, I peer over a wooden banister and down on a gleaming, space-age piece of kit which looks like it could well be part of a Doctor Who set.
But, looking around, there are no Daleks to be seen, only a few members of the Made in Northamptonshire Network who were also invited along to take a look at the latest innovation in the local food and drink scene...a gin distillery.
The whole gin making enterprise, Warner Edwards Distillery, has recently been set up by old university friends and now business partners Tom Warner and Sion Edwards.
And, as Tom explains, the shining copper still we have all been staring at is aptly named “Curiosity”.
We stare at Tom just as the children in Roald Dahl’s famous chocolate factory tale must have gawped at Willy Wonka, as he declares: “This is Curiosity, as she is really a wonderful thing, made for us by Arnold Holstein of Germany.”
The other reason behind the name is that when the new concrete floor was made in the barn a cat walked across it, leaving a trail of footprints.
This curious cat then led to the name for the piece of equipment that is behind what is believed to be Northamptonshire’s only gin distillery.
When it comes to New Year’s Eve celebrations, Champagne will often be the favoured tipple to help proceedings go with a bang.
But Sion and Tom will be hoping that people’s thoughts turn to their local gin makers as they prepare for party time.
The business has been set up at Tom’s family home in Harrington, in a barn conversion which, he recalls, was once used to stage his 13th birthday party.
Tom laughed: “We were going to make vodka in North Wales originally but now we are making gin at Falls Farm in Northamptonshire.
“We left work at the end of September and thought we would be selling gin on October 5 but how wrong we were.
“It has taken a lot of time and effort but we are there now.”
Sion, who is originally from Wales, explained: “We have worked on this for over two years now and we have visited many of the distilleries and had a lot of expert help in learning the basics of what to do. The principle is actually relatively simple, once you get your ingredients right; you have the recipe and just need to carry that on.”
The still is equipped with eight bubble plates and a patented catalyser which helps the science of gin making happen.
And each “run” is enough to create 700 bottles of gin.
As to the actual ingredients used in the beverage, Sion and Tom are playing their cards close to their chest in making sure they do not reveal the exact secret recipe.
But that is not to say they have kept everything a secret.
We are told the gin is made with spring water from the farm itself, as the Warner Edwards website describes, “the village of Harrington is said to be built on rock and water, with limestone and ironstone rich soils”.
The Warner Edwards gin also uses home grown elderflower and 10 other botanicals including juniper, coriander and Angelica root.
Explained very crudely, the rough process of gin making involves taking the ingredients, mixing them with the water, putting them into the still and letting the alcohol and botanicals come together.
But how did they come up with the recipe?
Tom said the final recipe for the Warner Edwards dry gin came about after many happy hours spent tasting a variety of samples with a group of willing helpers.
He said: “We use spring water rather than tap water so we have no problems with chlorination. Ten of us sat around the table and created lots of different gin samples. Strangely, it was the first one we made that we went back to, but we drank a lot of gin in the process, which was great fun.”
Although Tom and Sion would not advise drinking an entire bottle of gin in one day, they believe that gin-lovers should keep in mind how long a bottle has remained open.
Sion said: “If you do leave a bottle half full for a long time it will change the taste; maybe don’t drink it in one day but people should bear that in mind.”
For Sion and Tom, the idea of actually producing gin came about by accident as they were busily considering other business ideas such as essential oil production or even vodka making.
Tom said: “Vodka is something which is in demand but with gin there is more of a story and more character, particularly considering the foodie movement at the moment, we can speak more about the ingredients that go into making gin.”
As Sion explained: “Tom and I met on the first day at university and became great friends, that was 14 or 15 years ago. Starting a business was something we had always discussed and about three years ago we started seriously talking about it. We had been working in the fresh produce industry for 10 years and then the pair of us started looking at things like working with lavender and essential oils.
“Then eventually we looked at gin production and decided, financially, it was a goer.”
Now producing one bottle of dry gin, they hope to expand on their range in the future.
Sion said: “We wanted to start with one and get that right, and then expand. If you try to start with 10 things at the same time you will make a mess of everything. We are concentrating on this and we think it is beautiful.
“From that we can expand the range. In March we will have an elderflower liqueur.
“Towards the end of next year we will have a blackberry, damson and sloe gin.
“The beauty of us being an artisan and small brand, is that we might look at doing something with apples or possibly pears, anything that we really come across.”
Warner Edwards are starting to sell their gin in bars and direct to the customer through their website. To find out more about where to taste Warner Edwards gin, log on to www.warneredwards.com