When two people love gin just as much as they love each other, amazing things can happen.

From sharing G&Ts to creating Northmoor Gin to producing hand sanitiser for the NHS, John and Nicola’s journey has been one not travelled by many. Armed with their success thus far, and a few expansion ideas, the makers of Northmoor gin are only just getting started.

So, how did John and Nicola get to where they are now? How did they meet and build this artisan gin and local Exmoor Distillery? And what does the future have in store for them?

Meeting the Makers: A Lifetime Well Spent

A lot of things had to happen for John and Nicola to get to where they are today, but what back-story do these Gin-trepreneurs possess?

Nicola Smith: From Dancing Classes to Artisan Gin

When she’s not in the distillery processing orders and building the business, before lockdown, Nicola could be found hosting a local dance fitness class! Five days a week, after her working day in the distillery, you’ll find her kicking it up with the local ladies and releasing some energy. But that’s not the only exercise you’ll see her doing. When she’s not dancing, you’ll find her walking through moorland, woods and the outstanding Exmoor countryside with their two dogs, Brock and Bess.

John Smith: From Deep-Sea Vessels to Distilling Gin

There aren’t many things that seem further away from the rural, local life lived down in Dulverton, Exmoor than being aboard a deep-sea exploration vessel. But, when he’s not distilling, selling and – after months of sobriety off-shore – drinking gin, John manages a team of 80+ people in the off-shore commercial oil and gas industry. With the threat of piracy and hijacking, John runs a sober ship. For long periods at a time, John and his team are on their best behaviour, using robot technology and state of the art engineering to explore the deep seas, from Australia and Mexico to West Africa and Norway. But when he’s not riding the waves aboard deep-sea vessels, John is kept busy distilling Northmoor Gin.

Nicola Exmoor Distillery
John working in the Distillery

Meeting the Makers as they Meet Each Other

Through a shared love of fine spirits, it’s no surprise that John and Nicola actually met in a cocktail bar. Instantly connected by their shared interests, the couple soon knew that they had a future together, but that future wasn’t always set on gin distilling.

From Furniture to Gin…

The couple were first interested in going into the furniture business. John’s love of making cabinets paired with Nicola’s nack for business seemed like a good route for the couple to go down. But after a distilling course in Holland, the business-savvy pair soon found themselves swept up in the world of gin. Armed with their first state of the art Still, knowledge gleaned from their course and a whole heap of passion, the pair quickly began pursuing their gin distilling dreams!

The Making of Exmoor Distillery: Living Local

After sharing their joint passion for fine spirits, travel and the countryside, John and Nicola soon wanted to escape the rat race and settle down. So, where better than in the gorgeous rural community of Exmoor? They loved Dulverton in Exmoor from their travels there, and the beauty of the surrounding moorland and woodlands played a huge role in the branding of their gin. The name ‘Northmoor’ comes from ‘Northmoor Road’ in Dulverton, where the couple lives. Not only this, but the distinct stag with glorious horns painted across the bottle is a nod to the infamous red stag, a deer whose presence on Exmoor dates back to pre-historic times!

“Our mix is a carefully guarded secret but Northmoor Classic, made with Exmoor water from a nearby borehole contains ten botanicals including coriander, angelica root, rowan berries, grains of paradise and kaffir lime leaves” – John, Head Distiller

Producing Northmoor Gin

As most businesses owners know, Rome really wasn’t built in a day. But the hard work and determination that both John and Nicola were willing to pour (excuse the pun) into creating their gin was unparalleled. John, who terms the process of gin distilling as “very much like chemistry, balancing the ingredients off of one another”, experimented with no less than 45 variations of what is now well known as Northmoor Gin. They began doing blind tastings, letting family and friends try out their combinations until they eventually landed on the perfect blend of botanicals!

The Result of Their Efforts…

Two unique, well-balanced and beautifully refined gins (and a third on the way to be launched very soon). Crisp, mellow and highly popular, both Northmoor Classic and Northmoor Navy Strength Gin have been a hit with a loyal local and national customer base!

Northmoor Classic Gin

Northmoor Classic Gin (44% ABV) has a smooth and mellow taste, leaving a nice kick in the back of the throat. It’s made up of a carefully-chosen combination of ingredients. Including Juniper, coriander, angelica root, cinnamon, winter savoury, orris root powder and kaffir lime leaves, amongst others.

Northmoor Navy Strength

A nod to traditional strength-tests carried out by the navy where they’d soak gun powder in gin to see how well it lit – and thus how pure the alcohol was – John and Nicola went on to create their Navy Strength Gin. With an ABV of 57%, this glorious spirit isn’t for the faint-hearted!

Northmoor Classic Double Gold Award SFWSC
Northmoor Navy Gold Award SFWSC

Lending a Helping Hand in a Global Pandemic

But these two love birds haven’t just created spectacular gin flavours with their fully-fitted, tech-filled distillery, at the request of the county council they’ve been creating hand sanitiser too! In a state of national emergency, John and Nicola knew that they needed to do something to help.

“We had the means to create hand sanitiser, so we did. Being able to help not only our immediate community, but also the National Health Service was an honour” says John.

Take a look at some of the amazing things that Exmoor Distillery have done through the pandemic!

Not only have the couple been providing hand sanitizer to the NHS, but they’ve also been adapting to post-pandemic life. Recently, they’ve been retailing free mini bottles of hand sanitiser with their gin!

So, What Else is in Store for the Markers of Northmoor Gin?

Looking ahead, John and Nicola have no plans to slow down. Before the pandemic, they took a trip to the Caribbean. They didn’t relax back on a sunbed though! Instead, they investigated the rum market! The result? A new line of rums fermented and distilled in house that will make its way to the shelves soon. Watch this space!

Meeting the Makers Question Time!

Now it’s time for a few questions! We’ve asked John and Nicola to tell us personally about their business. Check it out:

“ I love being able to create something that so many people like to drink. Even while using such technically sophisticated equipment it is always a challenge to achieve consistency and I relish that challenge. Seeing the end result on so many selves in so many outlets is what gives me the greatest pleasure” 

John, what’s your favourite part about the distilling process?

Nicola, how did you come up with the gin bottle design?

“I had a vision to design something truly unique that reflects both the quality of the product and the beautiful area that we live in. The design, I hope, captures both. It was a team effort which I think works really well”

John, what’s your favourite way to drink Northmoor Gin?

“I prefer a classic style G&T. A highball glass, lots of ice, big slug of gin with a slice or twist of lime”

Nicola, what’s your favourite thing about Exmoor Distillery?

“A never ending supply of world class gins created by John and I and loved by an ever increasing customer base.”

Where do you both see your business in five years time?

“I see us in a purpose built distillery on Exmoor with a much larger product line and a visitor centre where we can entertain and show around tourists and local customers alike”

John and Nicola have been on one amazing journey with their Dulverton-based distillery and Northmoor Gin, but the game won’t stop there. These two people are velcroed together by a shared love of fine spirits, a passion for the beautiful Exmoor and, of course, a love for one another! They’ll keep building their business and, indeed, Exmoor Distillery.

We look forward to seeing what the next few years bring!