#SheSociety sits down with Co-Founder and CMO of 44ºN Gin, Joanne Birkitt.
Q: Joanne, where are you from originally and how did you become involved with 44ºN gin and when?
Originally I am from the U.K. I grew up in Hertfordshire and spent the first part of my career working in London. In 2011 I moved to New York where I lived and worked until 2016, my last role there was Vice President of Bulldog Gin after which I decided to move back to Europe to set up my company. Bhagath our CEO had, in his words, ‘stalked’ me on LinkedIn for 2 years after seeing my profile in a Bulldog investor deck. Realising I was back in the U.K. he sent me an In-mail, detailing his project vision he asked if I would consider joining him in setting up the company. I came on board fully in April 2017 and here we are today.
Q: Tell us about the company and what role do you play in it?
Comte de Grasse is our distillery in Grasse. Grasse is historically known as the heartland of perfume and is nestled amongst the hills of the Côte D’Azur, in the South of France. My role as Co-Founder and CMO means I am involved in all elements of running the business but my day to day focus is the sales, distribution and marketing side of the company. We are a start-up so in reality we roll up our sleeves and we all do a little bit of everything.
Q: Do you produce only gin?
We launched our gin, 44ºN, in France and the U.K. in Nov 2018, at the moment we are only distilling 44ºN but we have multiple new products being launched over the next 3 years. Right now I can tell you our next product will be a dark spirit which encompasses the artistry, science and innovation we have at the heart of Comte de Grasse.
Q: You have launched here in Australia, do Australian’s love gin?
It would seem so! We all know that Australians love their beer and wine and then we see dark spirits – whiskey, bourbon, rum – at the top of the spirits tree but Gin is there in a solid 4th place and if you consider the number of new, tasty Australian Gins available I think the upward trend is here to stay.
Q: Grasse in the French Riviera, where your distillery is situated, is better known as the fragrance capital of the world. Why is this and what are the benefits of 44ºN being made in the same place.
Grasse is where perfume began and has been known as the world’s perfume capital since the 16th century, when scent was used to hide the awful odours from its burgeoning tannery industry, and to produce fragrant gloves for the king. We have a saying at Comte de Grasse “We came for the heritage. We stay to create the future”. We were drawn to Grasse to learn from the innovative extraction processes the perfume industry uses and to apply those to making luxury, sustainable spirits whose ingredients and flavour are of the highest standards. Also, there is the stunning terroir of this region – with precious botanicals such as Rose Centifolia and Bitter Oranges specific to the region being grown here it was hard to not fall in love with what this region has to offer.
Q: The CEO and founder of Comte de Grasse, Bhagath Reddy, has been quoted as saying 44ºN is the company’s first product, adding that the environmental factors that go into making a products like 44ºN “is more than just the soil from which plants grow, it is the wider environment in which fine ingredients are produced in France.” Could you elaborate on this, please?
Sustainability is a journey that we have weaved into our DNA since day one and is at the core of everything we do. Yes, we have natural resources in abundance here – the light and micro-climate of the region is unique – but it is how we work with these natural resources that is important to us. We work with fantastic farmers and suppliers from the region to grow, dry, peel and prepare our ingredients and it is their passion which imbues 44ºN with its quality and flavour.
Q: Is 44ºN really your first product and was the distillery purpose built for this? When did it begin production?
We are incredibly lucky in that we discovered an abandoned 19th century perfume distillery in the heart of Grasse which we are lovingly and sympathetically restoring into our Comte de Grasse distillery. We have been on this journey for over 3 years and we are renovating the distillery in phases with Phase 1 being the development and launch of 44ºN. Yes, it really is our first product and we first produced for launch in France in November 2018 but we have something new coming in 2020 which is very exciting.
Q: Mr Reddy also said you utilised practices from the perfume industry for producing your gin which has resulted in a flavour like nothing else tasted. What are these ‘fragrance practices”?
The specific perfume making know-how is the authentic signature of 44ºN. Now for the nerdy part:
We start with ultra-sonic maceration. A low energy technique where microscopic bubbles are made to form in the liquid containing our botanicals. They implode and explode, creating near-imperceptible shockwaves able to de-structure plant cells. A high extraction over the shortest time is optimal to get the best out of each botanical. The scientific word for this is cavitation.
The next step: rotary vacuum distillation, which is indispensable as it further extracts aromatic compounds from the macerate while still concentrating the alcohol level. We make sure it happens at a very low temperature and pressure to preserve the fragile flavour molecules that we want to retain at all costs while ensuring an energy efficient process.
The combination of these 2 processes are unique in the creation of spirits but then we go one-step further and this is truly where the perfume influence plays its role:
In simple terms, we pump a high-pressure plasma of CO2, at a specific temperature and pressure adapted to each botanical in order to extract targeted flavours without damaging the molecule. This is then layered onto the vacuum distillate to create the exact flavour profile we are after. This is called CO2 super critical extraction
By combining modern distilling methods with traditional perfuming extraction techniques, we arrive at a pretty spectacular end result
Q: How would you describe the flavour?
In three levels
The first thing that hits your nose is crisp hint of lemon peel and grapefruit. The aroma of a marine breeze, samphire, is punctuated by touches of mimosa. Cade adds woody, piney facets. These are the top notes.
Once you sip it, you get the body notes, a blooming floral body with hints of Grasse’s rose centifolia and jasmine. Jammy facets of bitter orange are countered by the herbaceous punch of angelica. Hints of warm pepper round out the middle notes.
Finally, you get the base notes, with the tangy warm notes of alexanders. Orris and honey ensure a sweet yet musky long-lasting effect on the tongue, holding their end as floral and citrus notes mingle nicely together.
Q: How important in achieving the quality you seek is the local Alps water?
Water is a massive part of the distilling process, you usually hear water being talked about in the context of whiskey but we wanted to ensure every element of 44ºN was considered and so we analysed the 3 water sources found in the region and choose the best for our gin.
The water we use for our gin is coming from a spring, La Foux, which has been providing potable water to Grasse for more than 200 years. The water is running through the karstic plateaus and massifs right behind Grasse.
Drainage is mostly subterranean, giving a high content of bicarbonates and calcium as it flows mainly on limestone and clay, still the water is fairly low in minerals.
We are not saying that our water is the best, however this topography makes our water special in taste, sustainable and consistent with the soil on which our local botanicals grow.
Q: A lot of work has obviously gone into the marketing of 44ºN, especially the distinctive bottle colour and shape. What was the message you wished to project? Why the special blue? Does it have a name?
The bottle design is inspired by the region and the brand colour palette reflects the blue and yellow of the Mediterranean. We wanted every element of 44ºN to transport you to the Côte d’Azur.
The closure represents the sun, with its rays on the shoulders of the bottle beating down on the blue of the Mediterranean Sea and reflecting light to bound around on the waves at the base of the bottle.
We wanted to create an iconic silhouette of the Côte d’Azur and our blue colour is ‘Le bleu de Klein’ created by Yves Klein, a native from Nice.
Q: How will 44ºN be marketed in Australia? Through retailers or on-line?
We have just launched here and so we are very happy to say that 44ºN can already be found in the following shops:
– The Wine Emporium
– Malt Traders CBD & South-Bank
– Sense of Taste Portside & Coorparoo
– Tb’s wine beer Ferry Road
– Corker Cellar Sanctuary Cove
You can also enjoy a glass of 44ºN neat or in a cocktail at the following venue:
- ZA ZA TA
- Proud Henry
- Eleven Rooftop bar
- W Hotel
- Death & Taxes
- Savile Row
- Finney Isles
- Le Bon Bar
Also from beginning of next year you will also be able to find it at the Calile Hotel and the Westing Hotel as well as other exciting hot spots around Brisbane and also Sydney and Melbourne.
Q: Do you personally drink 44ºN straight, with tonic or in cocktails?
I like to savour 44ºN straight, over ice with a strip of lemon peel. Although I‘ve been seen enjoying a Gimlet too.
Q: Are there any cocktails (with 44ºN) in particular that you would recommend?
Q: How has 44N been received in Australia so far?
Our visit to support the launch in Brisbane has been fantastic, I can’t thank everyone here enough for their warm hospitality and support of 44ºN, our distributor partners here, Fontayne Selections & Noble Spirits, have achieved superb listings across numerous hotels, bars and bottle shops and I am excited to see how we can grow here and support our partners further.
Q: Any feedback from the men and women who make the cocktails?
The main feedback we get is that the gin is complex, delicious and unlike anything else within the category. Given our unique taste profile we are seeing bartenders using it in a Gin & Tonic but also playing with 44ºN to create twists on classic gin cocktails.
There are some pairings that work very well like with Champagne in a twisted French 75. Emanuele Balestra from Le Majestic in Cannes created his version of it with 44ºN gin, a floral champagne, his Purpurascens Basil cordial and a spray of his Pelarfonium Rosat and Moroccan Verbena perfume, perfect balance.
Jared Thibault from Za Za Ta actually created a very similar cocktail with 44ºN gin, Lemon Verbena and a delicate champagne, it tastes delicious.
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