If Gin’s Your Thing, Then Get Yourself to Guernsey
April 8, 2019
The only hotel with a commercial gin distillery in the British Isles is Guernsey’s luxurious Bella Luce; the home of Wheadon’s Gin and the perfect destination for a spirited stay.
The house gin served at the bar of Guernsey’s Bella Luce Hotel is indeed ‘house’ in almost every sense; it’s distilled in the hotel’s cellar lounge by the hotel’s proprietor Luke Wheadon mere meters from the bar, in a beautiful big copper still named ‘Old Nick’. What began in 2015 as a side project for the chef-turned-hotelier, producing house gins featuring locally foraged and grown botanicals, has quickly developed to become the toast of the Channel Islands. Mr Wheadon’s gin is now also winning fans and awards further afield; recently Wheadon’s mandarin lime and hibiscus infusion was Highly Commended in the fifth annual Craft Distilling Expo Signature Botanical Gin category, held in London this October.
Guests and visitors to the Bella Luce, a luxury small hotel sited in a leafy parish just a short stroll from Guernsey’s south coast, can enjoy a range of gin experiences at the hotel from “ginformative” tasting sessions through to a bespoke “distil whilst your dine” evening at the end of which participants are able to round out their dinner with a glass of gin (and a small bottle to take away) of their own design.
“I’ve always been fascinated by flavour, and gin stands head and shoulders above other spirits in terms of the depth and breadth of flavours that can be achieved through the choice and combination of botanicals used. That’s what drew me to gin initially, and what continues to drive Wheadon’s Gin forwards.”
The first batches of Wheadon’s Gin were distilled in 2015 in a small copper still that sat atop an antique French dresser at the back of the Bella Luce’s public cellar lounge, and fascinated visitors to the hotel were soon asking to find out more about both the product and the process. After much experimentation, Wheadon settled on a recipe that featured rock samphire foraged from the nearby south coast cliffs and fresh pink grapefruit, but continued to develop and distill very small batches of bespoke infusions.
The small still was soon replaced with a larger version as demand for the house gin soared and local bars, restaurants and hotels asked if they could stock it, and a second infusion was added to the range in 2016 featuring mandarin limes cultivated in one of Guernsey’s formerly abandoned glasshouses (a relic of the island’s market gardening past when tomato vineries covered 10% of Guernsey) paired with hibiscus. The provenance of Wheadon’s headline botanicals makes for a great story, but it is the total dedication to flavour that is responsible for this Guernsey gin’s popularity beyond the Bailiwick’s borders.
This summer, with demand threatening to outstrip supply, a 230 liter copper masterpiece, specially designed and hand-built in Germany, was installed in the Bella’s atmospheric cellar lounge allowing the commencement of small-scale commercial production and serving as a focal point for the Bella Luce’s transformation into the gin hotel. Guests and visitors will continue to enjoy the hotel’s signature brand of understated luxury, it’s award winning restaurant and spa, and proximity to the beach at the bottom of the lane made famous by French impressionist painter Renoir, but they can now also enjoy a G&T whilst learning about gin’s fascinating history and why their favourite gin tastes the way that it does with an uninterrupted view of the production process. One half of the Bella Luce’s copper-topped bar, divided by one of the historic building’s original granite walls, is dedicated to a collection of over 160 gins and the hotel’s experts (who guide guests and visitors through their gin experiences) use this selection to tailor gin tasting sessions to inform, awaken, and perhaps even challenge guest’s palates.
“It was important to me that the production of Wheadon’s Gin remained in the Bella Luce, which is why our new still sits in the exact same spot at the back of the cellar where I started experimenting with a small copper pot still in 2015. Moving production off-site would have taken away from the Wheadon’s Gin story; 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of my family’s involvement with the production of fine alcohol on Guernsey, which I am very proud to be carrying on, and the Bella Luce is a family owned and operated hotel. There was no question of outgrowing that legacy and association, now matter how tight a squeeze it was fitting the new still into the historic building.”
Whilst gin continues to enjoy a resurgence in popularity in the UK and new distilleries and gin brands enter the market on an almost weekly basis, the Bella Luce Hotel and Wheadon’s Gin are offering something very special: An experience. Nowhere else in the British Isles can you enjoy all of the perks of a break in a boutique hotel with an award winning distillery under the same roof, and that is just one reason to book a break at the Bella Luce and get yourself to Guernsey.