This article is going to be a real pleasure to write, and hopefully you’ll find some pleasure in reading it too. This piece has been on the cards for a long time, and the history has been a long time in the making.
Rascal Gin is the creation of Daniel Walsh, but before we talk about Rascal, we need to go back in time to when we worked together on the Tinker stall for GinFestival.com, once the largest gin festival in the country, a seemingly unstoppable machine of an event that toured the UK, holding events from Torquay to Edinburgh, at its height around 40 of 52 weekends of the year.
I met Dan on my first day working for the GinFestival. I had been employed to help out on the Tinker stall as it was getting quite busy and Dan needed a hand. From that first weekend in Torquay I found a wonderful family with the crew there and through weekend after weekend of long hours talking all things gin to excited crowds, the sweat and tears of building and dismantling the event, masterclasses and mischief, Dan was a solid co-worker and became a good friend. The guy has worked hard over the years, let me tell you. Also he’s one of the most decent human beings I know.
Then came the news that Ginfestival.com had gone into administration. The events staff were suddenly out of work, and they were devastated. The family had been split up and everyone went their own way. Some of them have set up their own bars, some have worked at other spirit festivals until recently with Covid, but most have stayed working within the industry in some way or another, because we all love it. Dan and some others took up working for the Gin & Rum Festival, a festival of a similar format with a wider selection that had already set up and taken on a lot of the online presence with domain names, offering free entry to GinFestival.com ticket holders that had events cancelled with no chance of a refund. Having worked the GinFestival events from early doors to the end, Dan’s knowledge was valuable and he and some other familiar faces took up freelance opportunities with Bobby and the team at Gin & Rum Festival. However, he also had a little something of his own that he wanted to pursue.
Dan had mentioned to me several times during our time on the Tinker stall that he was thinking about his own gin. It would likely have to be third-party to start as he didn’t have the set up / funding. However, during his years working for the festival, talking to the public and to the other stall holders about their gins, he had developed a brilliant knowledge of spirits, flavours and trends. As well as this, Dan already has a taste for quality and is always on the hunt for restaurants or bars offering something a little bit special.
And then, he took the plunge. Working with Langley’s distillery initially, Dan developed the recipe for the first Rascal offering, a gin that was bright and fresh, with notes of passionfruit, akin to the popular pornstar, or passionfruit martini (depending on who you’re talking to), with a little raspberry tartness and a good streak of juniper to balance it out. It’s a vibrant and delightfully quaffable gin. Being a third-party distillation, you could make the mistake of thinking the journey was easy, but it wasn’t. It took time to develop the recipe. One of the other first recipes actually contained gooseberry, and it was also gorgeous, but he had to drop the gooseberry due to logistical limitations at the time. I still have a little jar here that he sent in the early days of recipe development and I like to sniff it from time to time.
The eventually finished product went down very well. Dan had a strong start due to the friends he’d made whilst on the Tinker stall. Most people that met him remember him. He’s a real character with his dulcet scouse tones poking fun at anyone who can take the joke. That said, he’s got a strong set of morals, a very wholesome individual. It was of no surprise to me that when he launched Rascal, he had a strong backing from gin writers, distillers and consumers alike. Since then, there have been some big developments in the Rascal camp, but let’s hear a few words from the man himself first.
I asked Dan to answer some questions for this article and he did not disappoint. So, as a first for Under the Ginfluence I do need to put a warning on this interview. There are obscenities. The language is not for the faint hearted. However I will say that the tone is one of cheeky jest. Trust me.
1. Can you tell us a little about your love of spirits post Gin Festival, and how that grew while you were working there?
During my time at GF, growth in the world of gin was truly rampant and being immersed in that was, for the most part, very informative and inspiring. The sheer diversity of flavour, technical approach and personality between the gin brands was key to how vibrant the scene became. I had many talented colleagues at GF, and it was a privilege to learn from them and with them. Before all that I never drank gin, let alone knew how to make it. As the scene continued to grow, it became clear that it was a massive platform for creativity on so many levels.
2. When did you start thinking about your own gin. What things triggered those thoughts and what encouraged them?
To be honest, before Rascal, I was so committed to all things Tinker…I never contemplated having the bollocks, nor the means, to do my own thing. However, 2018 turned into a very spicy year that kind of forced my hand. I think the final GF event was at Leeds Town Hall, around June 2018, and there had been weird vibes within the company for a while. I recall having a very bad feeling when these two particularly slippery blokes were employed to run the show – big talk, big salaries, compensatory egos, zero personality. After them killing the vibe on every level, GF went under, we all got made redundant – so starting from approximately £0 – I felt I had to try and do my own thing, taking with me the good things I’d learnt along the way and avoiding the toxic nonsense I’d witnessed, as much as humanly possible. Above all I wanted to make sure that however my project turned out, it was as honest, unpretentious and authentic as possible. The implementation of a ‘no wanker’ policy was central to my brand’s initial vision, with the exception of myself of course.
3. Launching your own gin is a bold move. Were there any particular doubts about doing it and what advice would you give to someone thinking about doing the same?
I was riddled with doubt to be honest, to highlight my basic concerns…knowing well how massive, but saturated, the gin sector was, with so much quality competition around… and not having any actual money to start it off, borrowing £15k on a credit card with no guarantee anyone would like it or take any notice etc…also not having the budget to start my own distillery, I was very conscious of how many other companies I was relying on. Not having a marketing budget either. All of the above pretty much made me shit my pants with worry every day, to some degree, until I’d sold all of Batch 1. Nowadays I’ve got that down to about once a fortnight, which is a great improvement, and certainly saves on the washing. I suppose my advice to others would be to do as much research as you can on every element of what you’re thinking, it’s not like it was 5 years ago, so you need to have your detail on point to stand a chance I’d say. Go to events, get involved in the scene, make friends, meet brands, scope it out on ground level.
4. Where did the name Rascal come from?
It just popped into my head one night. I suppose I’d established myself on the gin circuit as a bit of a cheeky chap (to use a euphemism). I was probably influenced by the cheeky essence of Tinker, too. It just felt like Rascal had the right tone for what I was after.
5. What were the ideas behind your botanicals mixes?
This was an interesting journey – I like so many different kinds of flavours so I had to find my angle from the vast array of options. With the financial situation at the time, I was under a lot of pressure for this not to flop. I’d learned a lot about gin trends from my years on the bar at GinFest / Tinker stand, seeing how people reacted to different flavour types. Within the enormous gin crowds I knew a few things for sure… For example, any gins that are bold with flavours like liquorice, aniseed, cardamom etc would always split the crowd. So I was careful not to go for that, at least not on my first go, with so much riding on it. I love citrus, and that was much less of a polarising flavour spectrum, so that was desirable on all counts – the base features lemon and orange peels prominently. In addition to that, I knew it needed a bit of ‘wow’ factor to have a chance of standing out against such fierce competition… So I was searching for fruit combinations that hadn’t been done to death and worked really well without the need for the liquid to be sweet. I’ve not got a very sweet tooth when it comes to drinks, but also I thought that if I could pull something off that is fruity/citrusy but not sweet then it might appeal to both the classic dry gin crowd and your fruity/sweet, and maybe anyone in between. I find tropical flavours interesting and complex and they seemed to go well with citrus. After many many attempts it was the combination of Passion Fruit and Raspberry over the citrus base that really got me.
6. What are your suggested serves/cocktail ideas for your gins.
The Original Blend has proven to be really flexible – goes well with simple classic/light tonics and citrus or berry garnishes, but some love the FT Med tonic with it too. I’m not a park ranger about the serves to be honest, as I know well how diverse the gin crowds are these days, and with it being flexible juice too… At the moment I’ve been drinking Original Rascal with classic FT tonic on at 1:2 ratio with no garnish – maybe lockdown has turned me lazy! But it does taste good. A Negroni triumphs with the Blood + Passion, providing you’re into that game. I’m making good use of my time throughout lockdown and developing some new cocktail recipes – these should be on www.rascalgin.co.uk or on Insta / Facebook in the not too distant future.
7. What’s your favourite thing in the gin industry, and what are some of your favourite gins?
My favourite thing is probably all the genuine, down to earth, hard working characters that make the scene so wholesome. Sir Robin of Locksley (reminds me I need to replace my bottle of VSOT!) and Brockmans were big influences for me, from the early days, so I’ll always give them a shout out as it’s likely I wouldn’t be here without them. A favourite I always come back to personally is Nordes from Galicia, Spain. I think it’s important to engage in your local scene too. I’m of the opinion that local independent gin brands can thrive together, strengthening the whole independent scene’s identity – acknowledging and helping each other along the way, as opposed to the more dog eat dog vibes of the corporate world. It’s that kind of authenticity and earthiness that makes the indie scene so unique, and I think a lot of the customers appreciate that aspect of it all. Lately, in my hometown of Liverpool, I’ve been particularly enjoying the journeys of Murphy’s Gin (recently opened their distillery/bar), Turncoat (distillery, bar and pizzeria!) and my latest discovery is Sefton Park Gin made by the guys at The Little Taproom, Aigburth.
Since the first original expression of Rascal, there’s been a second added to the family, Blood + Passion, with that traditional Rascal citrus profile, boosted with blood orange and a twist of passion fruit, aimed at Spritz and Negroni fans. And recently, very recently in fact, we have the third addition to the family, Pepper Berry. That citrus base works beautifully with notes of raspberry and pink peppercorn. And I should know, as I was lucky enough to help with feedback on the samples which was a real treat. Pepper Berry is an easy ride of a drink. It’s bright, fruity and refreshing whilst retaining enough dryness to please the more traditionalist palate. Batch 1 was just released a few weeks ago and is now shipping exclusively from the Rascal site, while stocks last.
So, just to sum up, Dan has created a brand and brought out three expressions in just three years or so. Considering the journey started by him losing his job, and well over a year of it has been fraught with a global pandemic nightmare, I’d say he’s doing pretty well for himself. From my end, considering those very early conversations when it was all just a glint in his eye, it’s been a very special journey to witness and it couldn’t happen to a nicer chap. The gins give a nod to tradition, yet are distinctively of the now. If you like your gins with bold flavour, yet very easy to quaff, Dan’s your man. And, if you ever get to meet him at a gin event, you’re a very lucky person indeed. Big love Dan, keep up the good work.