Five minutes with Tom Warner
Tom Warner is co-founder of Warner’s Distillery, alongside his wife Tina Warner-Keogh. Born and raised in the Northamptonshire countryside, Tom Warner’s mission to create 100% natural gin that showcases the flavour of the British countryside arguably triggered the flavoured gin craze that we have seen in the UK over the past 10 years.
We caught up with Tom to find out what inspires him, how his brand is working towards environmental sustainability, and what’s new for Warner’s this summer.
What’s your very first memory of food?
Sat on the kitchen side with my mum, aged about 3 or 4, making a cake in some sort of Kenwood mixer, and me getting to put my finger in the bowl. Or my grandad racing me to see who could clear their plate quickest when eating a roast dinner.
Who or what has been the greatest influence in your life when it comes to food and drink?
The golden thread in my business is my mum, who was a home economics teacher. I was blessed to live in a home with food cooked from scratch. My mum was a phenomenal host and that flows through me. When we have people over for food, the lengths I go to and the lack of compromise drive my wife crazy. I show the world my love through what I cook and what I produce.
What’s the first cocktail recipe you properly learned to make?
One of the simplest cocktails to make, but actually the hardest to make amazingly well – it’s the martini! If you use great ingredients you end up with a great result. There is a bit of skill: you’ve got to bring 2 liquids together at the right temperature and in a glass that is the right temperature. Our Warner’s London Dry makes a cracking martini.
What’s the one ingredient that you’d take to a desert island with you?
It’s probably got to be a forerib of beef. A never-ending one that doesn’t go off, like Willy Wonka’s everlasting gobstoppers.
You can have a one-off dinner party on your island… who would you invite?
Keith Floyd, because, my god, he would be great fun. And we could cook up that forerib together. Elvis Presley, I’d do a bit of karaoke with Elvis. Terry Wogan would be great banter at the dinner table. And Bing Crosby because a duet with Elvis would be quite interesting.
What’s the one cocktail you couldn’t live without?
Again, it’s a martini. There’s nowhere to hide with it. As Dorothy Parker said: “I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host”.
Your connection to Northamptonshire and the land are part of what makes Warner’s gin special. What’s your favourite thing about the local area?
I was born in Kettering General Hospital. I played for Kettering rugby club, and I’m man and boy in the country. It’s a fantastic county – the countryside is quite Cotswoldsy – a lot of people use it as a corridor to get to somewhere else, but it is beautiful. Where Warner’s is produced is the same family farm that I grew up on. You’re a custodian, when you’re a farmer’s son. It’s a wonderful privilege but it’s also an enormous responsibility. I’ve luckily managed to diversify what we’re doing on the farm, which is the modern day challenge for a farmer.
You’re well on your way to becoming a B corp at Warner’s. Can you tell us about how you strive for sustainability?
Warner’s gin has a focus on the conservation of the countryside, through protecting natural habitats and promoting biodiversity at Falls Farm. The elderflower gin that we launched in 2013 was kind of a ground zero of flavoured gin in the UK. It came about when my Mum came into the kitchen and put elderflower from the farm into a bottle of London Dry Gin and transformed it. We only use organic materials to flavour our gins, so it’s 100% natural. We try to grow as many of the ingredients that we use as we can at the farm, which is good for biodiversity.
We hired a beekeeper, who has been our conservation and sustainability manager for the last 5 years. We strive to become the most nature-positive drinks business in the world. B Corp certification is one part of that, we’re in the process of it and should be evaluated imminently. 1% of our above-the-line turnover also goes to Green ACTION. We don’t just pay lip service to these things, it’s what we do everyday.
What’s been the best drink or dish you’ve had in a restaurant recently, anywhere in the world?
We went to Lake Como for three days and I had a risotto there that was a saffron risotto, made with a white wine beurre blanc. They put a piece of square gold leaf on top. It was quite an extravagant dish but the acidity from the white wine in the beurre blanc was great.
What do you like to do to relax?
I love making sourdough bread. I started a mother in 2018 and I’ve loved doing it ever since. I enjoy cooking, walking the dogs (we’ve got 2 Newfoundland/ Poodle crosses). I like to run, I don’t do it as much as I should…
What exciting plans are on the road ahead for Warner’s? Can you spill any secrets on product launches?
We have a bar in Covent Garden in London coming up for the month of June. The idea is to bring a taste of the British countryside to the capital. Visitors will be able to pick their own farm-grown garnish to top off the perfect G&T, be one of the first to try our new series of cocktails and learn how working in harmony with nature tastes delicious. We are always looking at what we can do better, from releasing new flavours to the way that we operate, so watch this space
What’s been your proudest moment at Warner’s?
The first time we won a double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits competition was awesome. All of our gins have had golds in competitions around the world which is amazing. But for me, it’s the smaller things, like seeing 3 of our employees owning a meeting with a major retailer and talking so passionate about what we do.
Describe a day in the life at Warner’s distillery?
If you’re distilling at the farm, you’re in at 8 in the morning filling the stills and getting ready for the first distillation of the day. Depending on the time of year and the gin that’s being made, we might have to go and pick the botanicals that morning – such as for our lemon balm gin which is really seasonal and made using fresh ingredients straight from one of the botanical gardens from the farm. So we get that going in the still.
We also have another load of people who are putting on gloves and going out with secateurs to pick elderflower. In the morning we chop the elderflower and in the afternoon we shave the blossom into bowls. We’ve got three weeks every year to make our elderflower gin for the year. So in everything we do, we’re working with Mother Nature at the farm.
Are there any dreams you are yet to fulfil in your career?
I’ve never particularly planned my career, but I think taking the spirit of the British countryside to the world is the next stage of what we’re doing. Letting people taste how awesome the products are that we grow and distil in the British countryside. I think I’m always going to be in food and drink, I may want to open a restaurant; the extrovert in me would like to start a podcast or a YouTube channel, but that may be something for the future… a modern day version of Keith Floyd, maybe. I’m on it.
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