Eat cake and make your own gin at new Suffolk distillery 

Gary Wilkinson and Jonnie Dowding of Suffolk Distillery

The Suffolk Distillery has a new premises at Stoke By Nayland, where they can produce the gin and also have tastings. Gary Wilkinson and Jonnie Dowding - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Visitors to south Suffolk can sample hand crafted gin, vodka and rum, make their own unique drink, and maybe indulge in a few nibbles too at the Suffolk Distillery. 

The business, which makes premium drinks with pure, natural ingredients, was started by Gary Wilkinson in 2016 after many years working in the industry for big-name brands. 

Suffolk Distillery has become so popular in the last seven years that Gary outgrew his premises, recently taking over a building at Munro’s Orchard Barn in Stoke By Nayland, where gin-lovers are welcome to pop by for tastings Monday to Saturday. 

“Visitors can come and see how the distillery works,” says Gary. “We’ve got six mini stills so they can book to make their own gin, and we’re hoping to do walks around the local area, putting a patio outside so we can host events. It’s such a lovely lovely spot here. We’re really pleased to be here.” 

A line-up of spirits made by Suffolk Distillery

A line-up of spirits made by Suffolk Distillery - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Gary originally qualified as an industrial chemist, overseeing large-scale distillation of 20,000lts plus, and natural botanical extraction, saying it was “cutting edge stuff”. 

He went on to work for one of the largest gin distilleries in Europe, and was travelling in excess of 35,000 miles a year, when he posed the idea of going it alone with wife Melanie. 

“I said I wouldn’t mind making gin at home. I thought it would be nice. The name Suffolk Distillery wasn’t being used, so we registered the company in January 2016.” 

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Gary started with a 25lt still to begin with, making a few bottles a week. By December 2021, that had upped to 2,000 bottles, all made from his home-based distillery.

Suffolk Distillery stoke by nayland

The Suffolk Distillery has a new premises at Stoke By Nayland, where they can produce the gin and also have tastings - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Some of the botanicals used at Suffolk Distillery

Some of the botanicals used at Suffolk Distillery - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

 

“We had no room to move,” he says, explaining that he managed to get money via the Business Recovery Resilience Scheme to fit out his new distillery. 

From the premises Gary has loads more room to craft his growing list of spirits, which can be found in shops, restaurants, bars and hotels throughout Suffolk. 

A must-try is the signature gin. 

“Our Suffolk Dry Gin is made with 10 botanicals, and it’s citrus based,” Gary says. “We use sweet orange, sweet lemon, nutmeg, juniper, coriander, angelica and orris root. It’s very high quality and it’s my own recipe. I’d say it’s very smooth, so you can sip it on its own. Add a slice and ice and off you go. It’s really nice and it’s our best seller.” 

The mandarin and cranberry gin, made as a Christmas special, has also taken off, to the point it’s become part of the permanent range, alongside a couple of other fruity numbers. 

“I started making strawberry and cucumber gin using strawberries from Suffolk Fruit Farm. That’s a really refreshing spring/summer drink with lemonade or tonic. You can really taste the strawberries – a lot of strawberries go into making it. 

“I was encouraged to do a rhubarb gin as well. It’s got over 30% rhubarb in but, unlike others, it’s not sweetened with sugar. Any sweetness will come from the tonic or lemonade or ginger ale. You could then add a cinnamon stick to garnish.” 

Gary also makes a 57% navy strength gin, blueberry and vanilla vodka (with Suffolk blueberries), salted caramel vodka which he says is delicious with coffee poured over ice cream for a decadent affogato, and a Bolivian chocolate spiced rum. 

“It goes through three separate distillations with extracts of Bolivian chocolate, Brazilian coffee and things like blood orange and vanilla. That’s my drink of choice.” 

There are plans to go into the whisky and brandy markets in the future too.

Gary Wilkinson and Jonnie Dowding at Suffolk Distillery

Gary Wilkinson and Jonnie Dowding at Suffolk Distillery - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

 

“We’re on a fruit farm so it would make sense to make apple brandy. And Polstead was famous for cherries so there could be a cherry brandy. We’d like to make two whiskies as well. We’ve got the grain ready for a single malt and we’ll make a sour mash whisky too. 

“We’re hoping to start on the brandy later this year. That can go into production pretty quickly – probably within the next month!” 

The distillery is open to visitors from 10am Monday to Saturday, with tastings and a tour costing £15 per person, and the ‘gin laboratory’ costing £95 per person to create your own, unique 700ml bottle. 

“It’s so exciting,” says Gary. “I can’t wait to see us grow further. There’s so much more potential here. It’s just a gorgeous place.” 

Suffolk Distillery supplies The Crown at Stoke By Nayland, Stoke By Nayland Hotel, The Angel hotel in Bury St Edmunds, Cobblers in Hadleigh, all the Gusto Pronto pubs, Snape Maltings, The Salthouse Harbour Hotel, Bistro on the Quay and Mariners in Ipswich, and The Boot in Freston. 

You can also buy the spirits at many shops, from Friday Street Farm Shop, to Hollow Trees, Suffolk Food Hall, Willow Tree Farm Shop and Baythorne Hall. 

Find out more at suffolkdistillery.co.uk