Dave Owens, product development at Nightingales Gin, has been named The Manufacturer’s Employee of the Month April 2018.
What are your main roles and responsibilities?
My job is product development: tasting, sourcing raw ingredients and distilling. Based in Wakefield, Nightingale’s Gin is one of almost 800 boutique gins currently being made in the UK.
We launched in December last year, taking inspiration from the story that the last thing naturalist, Lord Charles Waterton of Wakefield heard before he died was a nightingale.
All our botanicals, which give Nightingales its unique flavour are either locally sourced or inspired by Yorkshire. There are eight ingredients including cocoa, plus citrus fruits that all relate to the local area.
The Mulberry and Rhubarb Gin uses fruit inspired by the Mulberry bush that inspired the nursery rhyme and which is in the local prison, plus Wakefield is the heart of the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle.
Key technical skills
I started off training to be an aerospace engineer; that attention to detail remains with me to this day and was reinforced by my work in the hospitality industry, where I developed training standards for top-end hotel groups.
My current position demands I continually develop my distilling skills. My first distilling experience was rum, which was very pure. While rum is made from raw ingredients, in gin distilling you use an existing spirit and add botanicals.
I work with natural ingredients that are affected by harvests, climate and soil. I draw on my scientific training to understand how ingredients vary and deal with each small batch accordingly.
When distilling small batches of boutique gin I have to remain focused throughout the whole six-hour process. It isn’t about turning up and flicking a switch – each part of the process demands an ordered methodical approach and attention to detail. Everything has to be done in a strict order and everything has to be in the right place.
You only know how each distillation will work once you have started to add the botanicals. Some might not react properly, and you must be able to figure out how to fix problems.
Biggest personal success
My career has been very varied and each milestone has had its own significance. I pioneered bar training for a leading hotel resort, and when they won an award that meant a lot. Now, I embrace each new challenge and celebrate quietly.
We launched St Abbs rum based on the story of the 19th century cargo ship that left Teesside and was lost with all crew in the Indian Ocean in 1845. Within months of launching it won eight major drinks awards.
Taking Nightingale’s Gin from initial concept to being on sale has been another major highlight of my career. To stand in a bar and see people try it and like it gives me a great deal of satisfaction. Now that it has been successfully launched and has a following I want to develop the brand, while retaining our unique, boutique-made ethos.
Building Nightingales and St Abbs into a legacy brand is really important to me. I’ve been in the drinks industry for most of my life – I have seen the ups and downs – and the recent explosion of passion for taste rather than volume hasn’t come soon enough.
I had a lot of help launching both brands, and I want to create really sustainable jobs for Nightingales and continually improve it so that it is recognised for its taste and quality. Ultimately, my ambition is to consistently distil the best gin in the world.
Education: I took A Levels then went to Bristol to study aerospace engineering before dropping out to work in the drinks and hotel industry.
Career: Joined the drinks industry at the bottom, but my apprenticeship taught me discipline, attention to detail and gave me a passion for perfectionism. Everything must be just right. I worked in Beirut, Lebanon, and South Korea before ending up in the Seychelles.
Hobbies and interests: With so much time spent distilling – developing the flavours and sourcing the raw materials – any down time is spent with my five-year-old son.