• Sarah Marshall

A chat with Dr John Walters...




I managed to catch up with Dr J for a bit of a chat. Never easy as he's always so busy! Either in the distillery, creating our amazing products, or whizzing up and down the motorway from one side of the country to the other.

So grab a glass of your favourite English Spirit, and enjoy finding out a bit more about our very own Master Distiller, and founder of the company.


What made you choose Biochemistry as your profession?

I've always had an enormous fascination with Chemistry. So it came down to making a choice between Chemical Engineering or Biochemistry. I already had a long-standing interest and love for long-distance running, so the metabolic bit is what swung me into choosing that as my field of expertise.


You're affectionately known as 'Dr John'. How did you come about gaining that title?

I went to Corpus Christi at Oxford where I did my first 4 years and gained a degree in Biochemistry. I then stayed on and gained my Doctorate which was primarily on drug resistance in MRSA. At the time there was some connectivity to yeast genetics because the chap who headed the micro-biology unit, Professor Paul Nurse who subsequently became a Noble Laureate, had a big interest in that field.


What's your favourite part of the distillation process when you're creating a new product?

Probably the bit where I'm removing all the crap that I don't want in the end product! You've got this circumstance at the beginning and end of the distillation where you've got 2 boundaries. Where the good starts and the bad fades. And that is always a soul searching challenge. You've got to make the decision that if you were blindfolded the next day would you make the same decisions. And I think that's a really good place to focus and I enjoy it enormously.


In the last 10 years since you founded the company, what's the thing you are most proud of?

Oddly enough within the business, you don't tend to sit back and feel proud. You always think, did we get it right or did we get it wrong? And to my mind, I think it was Rum. When we made the decision back in 2012 to start making rum, that's something that really makes me smile when I think about it. We had so much fun as a result of that decision and that's the most important thing.


And where do you see English Spirit 10 years from now, when you're celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the company?

I think I'd like us to be back at the core of the broader context of it. In the sense that it's a full-force experience to get the most out of life, and I don't see us confined just to things that we might drink. I have a large driving passion for putting booze and food together. Because booze grabs flavour, and that's what food is. So I think that the mundane things that we have to do every day, finance and resource permitting, you should make the most out of. Making mundane things glow makes for a much better and more fulfilling life. So if we can carry on with that sense of drive, a genuine wish to improve, that would be a lovely thing to reflect on.


You divide your time between Essex and Cornwall. Do you have a favourite place in each county?

Coastal areas are really important to me, having been brought up on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. So in Essex, it would have to be a place called Holland on Sea. Not many people have heard of it, so it's quiet and peaceful and actually breathtaking with its scenery.

Down in Cornwall, it has to be Trebarwith Strand up on the north coast. It's hauntingly beautiful and the scale of it is astonishing with so much going on geographically.


A bit of a random question for you now.

You're having a dinner party. Who are your guests, living or otherwise?

Ok, starting with the guests I'd invite Roger Penrose the mathematician, who I just think is astonishingly interesting. He worked out a mathematical geometry that with a particular tile, in a set shape, if you clustered these tiles together in another set shape, that groupage would never repeat again throughout the infinity of time. He's been very instrumental in developing and beginning to understand how consciousness might emerge from physicality, so if you've got nerves in a brain, what makes it conscious? He would be amazingly interesting to have around for dinner!

The next guest would be Christopher Hitchen. Who although a Polemic ( someone who is skilled at arguing very strongly for or against a belief or opinion.), was a remarkably funny if contentious man. He would bring a bit of fire and spice to the conversation at the table.

And then finally I'd invite Joni Mitchell. Not only for her musicality which I think is breathtaking, but having listened to her in an interview I think she's lived such an incredibly interesting life. So between those three, it would be quite a dinner party!

And to eat.... well sometimes I think when you're looking at food, some of it can be so simple yet utterly delicious. I would do a very simple Grapefruit and Gruyere Souffle to start, which I think is one of the most amazing dishes ever. It's light and gorgeous and the flavour combinations really work for me .

One of my favourite dishes of all time is Beef Bourguignon, so that would be the main course. A piece of beef skirting, properly done with all the necessary reductions. Served with green beans with butter and parsley, and a nice piece of garlic bread on the side. And for pudding, it would be really simple. A gorgeous Honey and Vanilla Ice Cream.


One final question, and one I'm going to ask everyone who does these blog interviews.

If you were any English Spirit which one would you be?

I would probably go with Dr J's Gin. And the reason I say that is because when I first made it Sipsmiths had just launched their gin. And I remember going along to a bar and buying a G&T and thinking "Oh dear god please don't let it be better than mine". And so I sat down with the glass in front of me, full of true trepidation. And I thought, if mine had been crap in comparison would I have carried on?

Thankfully it wasn't. And I have.