Gin genie … Muddy Meets Sarah Gordon-Jones
It's World Gin Day (our new favourite day of the year) so we caught up with Cheltenham's gin genie about how she swapped the rat race for the 'still' life ... and her profesh cocktail tips of course.
Artisanal gin is so hot right now so when better than World Gin Day (Sat 13 June) to pin down the powerhouse behind Glos’s latest botanical bevvy, Tivoli’s Gin.
Sarah Gordon-Jones was a hotshot TV sports producer for 20 years (ehem, even winning an Emmy) before giving it all up to turn her ‘Friday hobby’ into a lifestyle (lucky us).
We caught up with her in the five minutes she wasn’t garnishing a cocktail to find out more.
Swapping Emmys for artisanal gin-making
First up … Hit us with your favourite gin cocktail.
It always depends on my vibe but I do love a classic G&T (double measure with a splash of tonic and lots of ice). However, my all time favourite is a French 75 – gin, sugar syrup, lemon, and a splash of champagne.
We’re whisking you off to the gin bar of your dreams … where is it?
Oh my … too many to choose from! Locally, I love The Terrace at No.131, Cowley Manor at sunset and The Daffodil during its lunchtime jazz sessions. In London it has to be The Ned – it literally transports me to 1920’s prohibition in New York. And abroad I adore the Hotel Continentale rooftop bar in Florence or Gramercy Tavern, New York.
Your favourite gin garnish and gin nibbles?
Fresh rosemary sprigs and a juicy blackberry. Nibbles have to be black olives and sea salt kettle crisps.
We want to pimp our gin cupboard. Tell us your favourite gin accessories, so we can totally covet them.
I have a drinks trolley from The White Company, a silver tray to serve them on, and really do love my lead crystal Soho home coupes for drinking out of, they’re handmade and so pretty.
Tell us about your former life as a TV producer? Sounds very glam.
I worked in live sports television for more than 20 years, ending up as Head of Production at IMG for the Premier League – handling a £90 million business. I also won an Emmy as one of my clients, NBC America, nominated me for setting up the NBC UK studio operation.
By 2015 I had a glittering career with one of the top positions in sports telly, but I’d be out with friends and all I could talk about was work. I started to worry I would end up as that person I never wanted to be; a six figure salary and a big bonus, but zero life. I didn’t want to be that woman, so I asked for a four day week and used Fridays to get a hobby. I love gin so I thought why not make my own.
How did you make the leap of faith full time?
Me and my husband Graham had been trying for a baby for 10 year at this point (through multiple IVFs). When I finally got pregnant on the 9th IVF with twins we were elated. Then, devastatingly, at 22 weeks my twin boys were born but didn’t survive and I had sepsis and nearly died. Unfortunately I had discrimination issues at work and ended up one day just getting up and walking out of the office.
I accepted an out of court settlement in the end and it was a really tough period in my life, but it gave me the push I needed to move back to Gloucestershire in November 2016 where I’m originally from.
I got creative making gin recipes and realised I loved it. At the same time our son Bertie (now 3) was born on our 10th IVF, with Freddie arriving in 2019, so it has been quite the rollercoaster.
Tell us the inspo behind Tivoli’s Gin?
We finally launched Tivoli’s last summer, the dream of gin-making has been my lifeline through the toughest times of my life so I want it to bring joy and escapism to others. The theme came about because I love everything about the roaring 20’s – the illicit underground parties where all about people reconnecting with each other – plus the fashion is gorgeous of course.
We’re total newbies, give us the mixology magic?
I spent a lot of time reading, researching (and drinking) neat gin! I sourced two stills overseas, in Portugal and the US, and had them shipped over. I mean, I didn’t know I had to have a licence until I called HMRC and effectively grassed myself up! I remember them repeating to me … ‘So you are distilling your gin, with your still in your flat?’. They were very good in the end and helped me get the right licences.
I learned a lot by trial and error, distilling it in our flat off Suffolk Square. We’re currently looking for bigger premises now things have taken off. It’ll be nice not having to dodge them all the time!
As the owner of an amazing gin brand are you always the most popular person at friends’ parties?
Oh I don’t know about that! …
How has lockdown been for you?
As a brand it has been difficult given that our suppliers are all closed but people are finding us online, luckily. I am a very sociable person so lockdown has forced me to slow down and appreciate small things in life like going for a walk – we have two Cocker Spaniels Monty and Marmalade – picking fruit, picnics and just pausing.
It has been a great time for self-reflection but I realise how lucky we are to live near the countryside.
Where would we find you filling time in Glos and Worcs?
Petit Coco a little French bistro in Cheltenham – just delicious. I also love Space NK, and I really enjoy both the Montpellier and Suffolks‘ markets. I adore spending time with my boys. Last week we went to pick strawberries and raspberries at Primrose Vale which was so lovely.
Any crazy hobbies we should know about when you’re not sipping gin?
Not really, but I like creating spending time in the ‘lab’ (ie kitchen) creating new recipes, I’m currently working on a new one right now but it’s top secret I’m sorry! Oh, and any chance I get I like to get dolled up and dance.
And the next big thing for Tivoli’s?
We’ve already made it into No. 131, The Daffodil, Ellenborough Park, Cowley Manor locally, but my sights are set on London. I’m aiming to get Tivoli’s on the shelves of Fortnum and Masons.
Zara Phillips actually chatted to me on several occasions at our recent pop-up bar at Ellenborough Park, I really wanted to give her a bottle of gin and ask her to give it to her granny, but I was too shy! But I would love to crack the London gin scene next.
To win a bottle of Tivoli’s amazing artisanal gin, go to our Instagram feed, follow and like the post and tag in a friend you’d love to share a G&T with.
The winner will be chosen at random on Sun 21 June and a bottle (rrp £37) will be winging its way to you.
Entrants must be over 18.