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Still on the Move: the UK’s first mobile distillery

Still on the Move: the UK’s first mobile distillery

by Great British Chefs 09 March 2018

Mounting a gin distillery on the back of a 1973 vintage VW pickup truck might sound like more trouble than its worth, but Cosmo Caddy’s leftfield idea has paid off – and restaurants can’t get enough.

With the UK’s ever-growing thirst for gin, perhaps it was only a matter of time before someone decided to build a distillery that could travel the country. Then again, it’s such an ambitious idea that most distillers would see the issues associated with a mobile gin still and stick to something more static.

That didn’t stop Cosmo Caddy from giving it a go. After founding Devon Distillery in 2013 – which produces the UK’s first version of the Italian spirit grappa (called Dappa) – he started looking at the thriving gin market. Not wanting to do things the traditional way and go into competition with the large number of gin distilleries already operating in the UK, he borrowed from his experience in events management and decided to mount a small gin still on the back of a 1973 VW pickup truck (named Ginny) and founded Still on the Move. But, as you can probably guess, there were a few issues to iron out before he could tour Britain making gin in the great outdoors.

‘It took two and a half years of grappling with HMRC before we could actually start making gin,’ explains Cosmo. ‘We were the first to do anything like this, and because governmental departments like everything to fit in a tick box – something a mobile distillery certainly doesn’t – it took a lot of negotiating. I was confident I’d get my way in the end, though, so while all this was happening I got everything in place for when we finally came to an agreement, and three weeks after HMRC gave us the go-ahead we were up and running.’

Still on the Move on the FoodTalk Podcast

Hear Cosmo talk about his mobile distillery on the FoodTalk Podcast by clicking here.

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Once the legal and tax complications were sorted, it was time to actually stick a gin still on the back of a vehicle. Cosmo sourced the still from Italy, which was only slightly modified to make it a little lighter. The vehicle – a beautiful green VW pickup truck – came from Ebay.

‘The truck was in surprisingly good condition when I found it online. I knew I wanted something vintage rather than a modern pickup and I wanted it to be something we could actually drive around rather than tow. I looked at all sorts – fire engines, hot rods – but when this lovely green pickup appeared it just fit perfectly. There was plenty of nervous bidding to make sure I got it!’

In April 2017, Cosmo and Still on the Move were finally ready to hit the road. After a few maiden voyages to local gin festivals, he reached out to some of the restaurants which stocked his grappa to see if they’d be interested in a house gin. Word of mouth spread, and soon enough he was touring the country, producing gins for restaurants, bars, weddings and parties. ‘I originally thought we’d be doing private events more than anything else, but the number of restaurants and bars that wanted a house gin was a lot larger than I expected.’

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Cosmo’s mobile distillery can make 100 litres of gin per session (roughly 133 bottles) in as little as six hours – provided it’s not too cold outside. ‘The speed at which gin is made surprises a lot of people,’ says Cosmo. ‘Restaurants like it because we can start making gin during lunch service and by the time dinner service starts, it’s ready. We use a vapour infusion for our botanicals, which is faster than steeping, and the finished gin trickles out of a spout into a bucket; if it’s raining we have a very high-tech solution of placing an umbrella over it.’

The appeal of Still on the Move is that whoever hires it can customise the gin to exactly what they want. And while Cosmo carries twenty-six of the most common gin botanicals on board the truck, he’s happy for people to include whatever else they want – provided it isn’t illegal or poisonous. ‘We are on-hand to help guide whoever we’re working with towards making a good gin, especially when it comes to the ratios of botanicals. People know we’re not setting out to make the world’s greatest gin; instead, we’re there to help make a gin that suits what they want. A seafood restaurant will be after a gin that pairs well with seafood, and if someone likes citrusy gins over spicy gins, we can help them with the recipe. It’s completely customised to what they want.’

Some of Cosmo’s most interesting gins include Sidmouth gin, which included locally harvested seaweed, and a spring detox gin for a farm shop that contained pink grapefruit and pink peppercorns. To date he and his mobile still have created eighty-five different gins, all unique and different from each other – with plenty more on the way.

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