Spotlight Series – River Test Distillery

Since the start of the year, thousands of businesses like ours have been feeling the affects of COVID-19. Not only sales, but on missed opportunities. We wanted to create a place which puts the spotlight on other independent producers to give them an outlet to champion their amazing produce.

Welcome, to the Spotlight Series.

The first artisans we’re talking to are Sarah and Jonathan Nelson of River Test Distillery. We talked with them about lockdown, their recent award, inspirations and the industry at large.


  • Where are you isolating?

At home. Luckily the distillery is a 10metre walk from the front door which provides a useful escape now we have all 4 teenage daughters back home!


  • What were you enjoying pre-Covid and how have you adapted this into your new routine?

The day before lockdown looked imminent, we had just appeared on BBC South Today in an interview celebrating our win of’England’s BEST London Dry Gin 2020′ at The World Gin Awards in London and were enjoying a huge amount or orders and enquiries. Now we are continuing to try and spread the message about our award-winning gin to a wider audience on social media, and increase sales online at our website

In my other role as an Exams Officer I had just planned the entire Summer Exams series and so was looking forward to a 3 week Easter break. I always use the holidays to start baking bread again. I’d just ordered my fresh yeast to coincide with the Easter break, but now find myself unable to get flour as rest of the nation seems to have decided to bake bread too. I have the yeast but no flour!Whilst on lockdown, check out Richard Bertinet’s Instagram @bertinetbakery for tips on making brilliant bread with great videos to help.


  • We thrive on positivity and, we’re interested to know what positive impact you see stemming from this for the future of your industry?

Thank goodness, people still seem to be drinking gin and Off Licences are not closed! Offering tastings to people is now obviously a challenge as we can’t do face-to-face events. We have found the industry to be incredibly generous and sharing, and I think a great example of that is shown in the way they have rallied to the plea to diversify into producing hand sanitiser and have been sharing tips and knowledge on how to do this.


  • What’s the latest artist, museum, or gallery that has inspired you?

I enjoy going to Art galleries and museums, but hardly ever do (not great for a family day out with 4 youngsters demanding to be entertained) I love the paintings by Lisa Stokes who is quite successful, but I imagine not that widely known. I passed a piece of her work hanging in the window in a gallery in Bath (near the Bertinet kitchen) about 7 years ago and was drawn to it in a way I’ve never been drawn to art before, so started to follow her work online. I would have loved to have bought the Bath picture, but there is no way Sarah would have sanctioned it and she would never have let me put it on a wall (as Art taste is very individual). It would have been a bit of a waste having to hide It in a cupboard. A couple of years later I was in an Art Gallery in Chichester helping out on a school Art Department trip and as we were walking down one of the corridors I turned and instantly recognised one of her pictures. I was able to turn to a teacher and say ‘that’s a Lisa Stoke’s picture’. I went from being a trip helper (counting heads), to knowledgeable expert!


  • Planned books / current books you’re reading?

Our friends Mike and Roz are great sources of brilliant books. They read them and then pass on the best ones. Sarah and I joined a Book Club together about 2 years ago, but had to give up as we couldn’t keep the pace up. I don’t know where people get the time to read! Reading more is a definite ambition. For a quick read,I enjoy the Jack Reacher books (that is not from the approved Mike and Roz list, but I like them and only need a couple of days to read them).


  • What channels do you turn to for research and inspiration?

I’ve been watching far too many programmes on the History Channel relating to finding gold or treasure which infuriates the rest of the family. I am convinced I am going to dig up some really important item of historical interest or monetary value and so bought myself a metal detector about 7 years ago to scour our field. I have recovered most of the iron that has fallen off various pieces of farm machinery over the last 200 years. Still searching for the illusive treasure and unfortunately, the children (who used to tag along with the shovel on promises of untold riches) have given up, so it’s quite a lonely pursuit now!


  • Top podcast recommendation?

I haven’t really discovered podcasts, but I always download Dad’s Army from the BBC Sounds App. The Dad’s Army radio broadcasts are better than the TV episodes in my view.


  • How are you staying informed with what other producers are doing?

Hampshire Fare are doing a brilliant job of not just sharing what others are doing, and looking for ways to help promote the producers too. Instagram Is always a point of reference for us and it’s interesting to see what creative things are being done by similar producers.


  • How do you think the industry will react to our current circumstances?

I was talking to a distiller recently who was speculating about how these circumstances might play out in the gin industry. His view was that those craft distillers that are really passionate and committed may in time benefit as some of the people who have entered the market on a whim or to try and ride the gin craze,may decide it’s not for them. He might be right as running a distillery is a hard slog!


  • What Is the biggest challenge you’re currently facing?

Getting out there and selling to people. We were gearing up to a number of important events having just won the Country Winner at The World Gin Awards. We were excited to get our gin out to a wider market and were making ambitious plans for that and then this all hit!It’s possible that we’re only going to be able to properly leverage this great accolade for just a few short months of the year now, but we are doing our best to reach a wider audience on social media while we are all in lockdown. If you are reading this, please follow us on Instagram @rivertestdistillery and tell people about us.
We feel really privileged to have won this award as it definitely helps differentiate our gin from the huge amount of other very nice gins out there.


  • Do you have anything exciting coming up that you want to shout about?

We have recently been added to the online Fever-Tree Pairing Guide and are now listed with Master of Malt, which means our gin can be shipped internationally to many parts of the world. This is a great boost to morale as it has been a real struggle to be stocked by a distributor – we keep getting the same answer that they already have too many gins in stock and so can’t take on any new ones. This in turn, means that the majority of pubs and restaurants are reluctant to take us, as all their ordering is done through distributors, so that is proving a real challenge for us. With our prestigious award news,we hope that more people will start hearing about our gin now and the word can spread that way.


Make sure to check out River Test Distillery online and follow them on all social media channels.



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