12 Feb 2024

What is a Carterhead Still?

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Categorized under: Distillery / Gin

What is a Carterhead Still? It is a rare and unusual type of pot still typically used in the production of gin to delicately extract flavours and aromas from dried botanicals.

Widely manufactured until the early 1960s, The Carterhead Still is now only used by a handful of gin distillers – and we’re one of them! We are the proud owners of a specially made Carterhead Still which we use to make our delicious Kerr’s Gin and Kerr’s Navy Strength Gin.

 

What are the origins of the Carterhead Still?

The Carterhead Still was invented by John Carter in 1821. John was an apprentice of Aeneas Coffey, the inventor of the Coffey still (a continuous still sometimes used in whisky production). He was frustrated at the crude nature of the base spirit at the time, so set out to find a way to produce a lighter, fresher gin.

 

What does a Carterhead Still look like?

Carterhead Still

The Carterhead Still is a tall, slender column through which steam rises from a heated base. However, what sets the Carterhead Still apart is its unique feature: a perforated basket, often positioned at the top of the column, where the botanicals are placed.

 

How does a Carterhead Still work?

The water is heated to boiling and as the steam rises up through the column, it passes through the basket, allowing the vapours to interact with the botanicals. This gentle infusion process extracts the essential oils, flavours and aromas from the botanicals, imparting them into the vapour.

Once infused with the essence of the botanicals, the vapour continues its journey through the column, gradually cooling and condensing into liquid form. The resulting distillate, enriched with the intricate flavour compounds and oils of the botanicals, is collected and further processed to create the final spirit.

 

How is it different from a traditional still?

Traditional stills directly immerse the botanicals in the boiling liquid. A vapour travels around the still, making contact with the copper surfaces, and condenses back into a liquid, producing a strong, pungent spirit.

The Carterhead Still allows for more extraction of flavours and because it has a longer distillation time, allows more of the impurities to be removed from the product.

 

The Borders Distillery Carterhead Still

Made for us to our specifications by world-renowned Forsyths, our Carterhead Still extends from the floor to the ceiling of our distillery in Hawick, with the safe at about halfway up and accessed from the 1st floor.

The botanicals we use in our Carterhead Still

We use 4 copper baskets and layer the following botanicals in this order (first to last):

  • Juniper berries
  • Angelica root
  • Coriander seeds
  • Cassia bark
  • Lemon peel
  • Orris root
  • Almond powder
  • Liquorice root

The baskets sit suspended in our vapour pot to let the alcohol vapour pass through and gently extract the essential flavours and aromas required to produce Kerr’s Gin.

We believe we’re the only Scottish distillery to produce gin entirely made in a Carterhead Still.

 

Kerr’s Gin

Kerr's Gin

Our award-winning Kerr’s Gin is crafted using only Scottish Borders barley sourced within a 35-mile radius of our home in Hawick. Our long-term partnership with local farmers gives us full oversight of our spirit’s journey, from the fields where the barley grows, to the moment it fills the bottle.

Named in honour of William Kerr, a distinguished plant hunter and botanist born here in Hawick in 1779, we pay homage to his passion for plants by employing our Carterhead Still to gently infuse and coax out the aromas and flavours from carefully selected botanicals – and we believe you can taste the difference!

 

Kerr’s Navy Strength Gin

Kerr's Navy Strength Gin

Kerr’s Navy Strength Gin, an extraordinarily vivid liquid, is a limited-edition run of our original Kerr’s Gin. Bottled at 57.1% ABV, Kerr’s Navy Strength Gin showcases the balance between intensity and smoothness. Its striking blue design features state-of-the-art printing technology and represents our first completely paperless bottle, with just 2,022 bottles released for sale.

If you’d like to come and see our Carterhead Still in action, why not book a visit to The Borders Distillery and join us on a distillery tour led by one of our expert distillers?

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