Michelin-starred chef Michael Wignall launches Japan-inspired gin
Chef Michael Wignall, who has won Michelin stars in every kitchen he has headed since receiving his first star in 1993, has turned his hand to gin, employing his culinary expertise to blend the flavours of Japanese yuzu, kaffir lime and Yorkshire elderflower into a new spirit.
Wignall, who heads up The Angel at Hetton in the Yorkshire Dales, has launched his Cotton Gin with Otterbeck distillery.
The gin blends local ingredients with a Japanese influence, and is produced “just down the road” from Wignall’s kitchen at the distillery three miles away.
The chef, whose Yorkshire gastropub holds a Michelin star, approached the project in the same way he does any dish, opting for subtle but balanced flavours.
“To be honest, I’m not a great fan of flavoured gins,” he says. “I’ve tried so many gins that are strawberry flavoured or whatever, and for me as a chef I can just tell that it tastes like quite a synthetic flavour.”
His goal was to achieve something subtly flavourful, but not “ridiculously overpowering”.
“It’s like making a dish,” he says. “You want to taste everything on your tongue, but you don’t want every flavour fighting for dominance.”
The gin itself is seasonal, with both elderflower and yuzu having a short period in which they can be harvested. “We make it now, and hopefully make enough to last the year,” Wignall says.
Elderflower used to make the gin is foraged locally for each batch, the third of which is currently in production. “I love the flavour of elderflower, and it has a really short season. We have a lot of it grow around here, and I just really love the floral and slightly sweet element of it,” he says.
Locally-sourced elderflower is balanced with Japanese influences. “I’m fascinated by the Far East and always have been since I was a child. I use a lot of influence in my cooking with Japanese ingredients as well as local ingredients, bringing the two together.”
Wignall says he “loves the ethos in Japan” of respecting ones ingredients. “I’ve always had that with my food. It’s important for me to go and visit farms and things like that. I know it sounds a bit cliche now, but I’ve always done it for the last 30 years.”
The chef, whose career began in catering following a promising youth as a BMX rider, has embraced his love for Japan with the flavoured gin. “If you scratch the skin of a Kafir lime, the smell just reminds be of eating Opal Fruits as a child. The sharpness of the yuzu counteracts all of that.”
He hoped to avoid the “artificial” ingredients found in many flavoured spirits, wanting to create “a high-strength gin with proper premium ingredients and not synthetic ingredients”.
“With all three flavours it really works, because it’s so subtle but it’s perfumed as well, and for me it’s just really light, subtle flavours that match each other and marry together.”
It took a few trials to work out the perfect balance, and “we toyed around with it for quite a while until we got the right flavour profile and were really happy with it”, Wignall says. “It’s a work in progress, but we’re really happy with it.”
According to its maker, Cotton Gin is best served “just with a really nice tonic”.
“I’m not a fan of putting loads of things with it,” he says. “It is actually really nice with verbena in summer, or even basil, but to be honest it’s just nice with a lot of ice and a really high quality tonic.”
Michael Wignall’s Cotton Gin is available to purchase online via the Otterbeck distillery, priced £46.00.