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Meet the makers: the couple behind Manchester Gin

Seb Heeley and Jen Wiggins have taken their gin business from their dining room to a shiny new distillery – and picked up awards along the way.

Published 25 Nov 2019, 18:00 GMT
Seb Heeley and Jen Wiggins launched their first batch of gin in 2016.
Seb Heeley and Jen Wiggins launched their first batch of gin in 2016.
Photograph by Manchester Gin

Seb Heeley and Jen Wiggins met on a miserable, wet February night back in 2013. They were in the same Manchester bar when Seb, having caught Jen’s eye, asked, “What are you drinking?” Jen replied, “A gin and tonic.”

Fast-forward a few years and many G&Ts later, and the pair hit upon the idea to start their own distillery. “We didn’t know a great deal about gin-making at the time,” Seb says, “and the only space we had in which to set up a micro-distillery was our dining room. We spent four months working away, trying to perfect our recipe before finally launching our first batch in May 2016.”

Since then, Seb and Jen have quit their day jobs, gone on to produce 100,000 bottles in the past year alone, and picked up international awards — including gold at The Gin Masters 2017 and bronze at the World Gin Awards 2019. This year, they’ve moved from their dining room to the brand-new Spirit of Manchester Distillery, a state-of-the-art distillery set in six Grade-II* listed arches in the heart of Manchester’s city centre. The new place is home to Wonder Wend, a 1,000-litre copper still capable of producing a million bottles per year, named after Jen’s late mum and presiding over the adjoining cocktail bar.

The branding is an homage to their love for the city; it’s in the name, of course, but also in the logo – a bee, the symbol of Manchester’s indomitable work ethic during the Industrial Revolution. “Jen grew up here, I studied here and we fell in love here,” says Seb. “Everything we’ve done and hope to do with the gin is to embody the true spirit of Manchester. We will always make our gin here, with local botanicals — we use hand-foraged dandelion and burdock, a tribute to Jen’s love of the fizzy drink she had as a kid.”

The core range comprises six gins: Signature, a bright, citrussy gin underpinned by those dandelion and burdock notes; Raspberry Infused, a light-pink, slightly sweet spirit with bushels of fresh raspberry on the nose; Wild Spirit, a herbaceous, savoury gin with prominent notes of sage, thyme, orris and silver birch; Blackberry Infused, packed with real blackberry juice but maintaining a strong gin character; Haçienda, distilled with zesty lemon and lime peel, developed in partnership with Peter Hook; and Overboard, a punchy Navy-strength gin with lots of citrus and juniper.

For Manchester Gin, business is booming. Not only have its gimmick-free, flavour-forward spirits won fans in the bar industry and speciality bottle shops, but they are also now being snapped up by major retailers such as John Lewis, Harvey Nichols and Debenhams.

“It was always a dream to start and grow a business together,” says Seb. “To have built something so successful is really special.”

Three ways to try Manchester Gin

1. Classic G&T
Serve Manchester Gin’s Signature with a good helping of ice, a long pour of premium tonic water and a slice of pink grapefruit.

2. Phil Collins
This twist on the Tom Collins has been designed especially for Manchester Gin’s Wild Spirit. Into a highball, pour 35ml Wild Spirit, 15ml Suze, 30ml cloudy apple juice, 10ml lemon juice and 85ml soda. Stir, then garnish with a slice of dried apple.

3. Raspberry negroni
Stir together 25ml Manchester Gin Raspberry Infused, 25ml Antica Formula vermouth and 25ml Campari along with some ice. Garnish with a slice of orange.

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