Over the last few months, global quarantines spurred distillers to adopt modern technology, like webstreaming, to connect with their customers. Highclere Castle Gin founders Lord and Lady Carnarvon also embraced these techy trends, but the duo added their own traditional twists to the modern movement. Like their peers in the industry, Highclere launched a blitz of multimedia content during the pandemic—but, unlike their peers, the Highclere campaign leverages centuries of history from their namesake English castle.
Art Imitates Life
In addition to inspiring the gin of the same name, Highclere Castle is home to the Lord and Lady as it was for generations of Carnarvon’s ancestors. However, most readers likely know Highclere better as the filming location for Downton Abbey.
Lord Carnavon explained that the televisions series (and movies’) mercurial success revitalized Highclere. A surge in visitors provided fundraising to restore the 300 plus room structure and the surrounding gardens.
“We’ve been fortunate to be involved with the Downton Abbey show over the last ten years,” he told Neat Pour. “Thousands and thousands of visitors have helped [provide the finances for preservation].”
The Castle’s rise to fame is also manifest in Highclere Castle Gin, a collaboration between the Carnarvons and distiller Adam von Gootkin.
“I was looking for a brand to build that had a true story, a reason to be. I was looking for a brand with a distinct uniqueness,” von Gootkin added. “My wife introduced me to Downton and things came together very easily.”
Old & New
The gin’s angle is remarkably English—even for a gin, that most English of spirits. The liquor is designed as an expression of not just England, but of Highclere specifically, a sort of cultural terroir.
The estate’s thousand plus year-old gardens were the property’s original feature, predating the castle. The grounds also provided the inspiration and all the botanicals for the gin. “With the gardens, there was a very natural starting point,” noted von Gootkin.
The citrus incorporated is a nod to the greenhouses and orangery built by Carnarvon’s Victorian ancestors. Even the bottle’s color is an homage to the robes worn by the Bishops of Winchester, the estate’s original owners.
Distillation utilizes copper pot gin stills handmade between the 1800s and 1994. For good measure, the stills are named after influential women in the company and family’s history.
To usher all of this heritage into the digital age, the Highclere team made the obvious turn to the web. However, when dealing with such an old property, there is no such thing as a ‘turn key solution’. So, before the Carnarvons could begin streaming, they first had to equip the isolated property with a solid internet connection. “Getting the fiber in was—quite a process,” Lord Carnarvon quipped.
A New Network
Once those logistics were handled, Highclere launched a robust digital outreach campaign. First, they started with the basics. Every Friday, the distillery releases a two minute “vignette” spotlighting a different aspect of the gin—with lots of cool English castle footage incorporated.
The Carnarvons next created a virtual happy hour of their own. Again, it’s quite English. “Cocktails at the Castle” are Facebook Live events featuring the couple hosting a (virtual) reception in the Castle’s library. In addition to the hosts’ anecdotes, the events also include some beautiful dogs, a fireplace lifted from a storybook, and of course, lots of gin cocktails. (The next CatC will be May 1st at 9pm BST, 4pm ET via Facebook Live.)
Likewise, when the pandemic disrupted Highclere’s collaboration with Viking Cruises, the pixels, once again, provided a panacea. In normal times, Viking River Cruises regularly stopped at Highclere for a respite on the property, but virus obviously halted these visits. The Carnarvons kept their relationship with these guests alive by creating a third streaming series focuses on the different aspects of the property.
During these pieces, we often see our hosts sipping on originals like Lady Carnarvon’s ‘Gin Mojito or Lord Carnarvon’s favorite of “traditional G & T with orange and a rosemary sprig,” but when they want something a little more complex, they turn to their in-house expert. In proper English country house fashion, that expert is Carnarvon’s butler Louis. “He’s an incredibly skilled mixologist,” the Lord added.
Butlers at Highclere have inspired the Castle’s cocktail hours for generations. While Lady Carnavon was researching the estate’s history, she discovered detailed cocktail lists from the butler who worked for Lord Carnavon’s grandfather.
“It was kind of a golden time then. Gin cocktails were very much the rage,” the Lord remarked. “Neatly written, very organized cocktail lists. Martinis, White Lady’s.”
Alas, the Highclere team is painfully aware that we are living in at time removed from that luxurious era. “We have great partners. Friends and partners in the hospitality industry are bearing the brunt of this,” lamented Lord Carnarvon. “Friends and restauranteurs sent home and struggling.”
While webstreams will not revive the industry, the hosts are trying to do their part to help bring some happiness to others during these dark times. In the process, they are helping build a brand based on a physical location without a physical visit.
“Highclere has bought the best of the UK hospitality to the world. There’s lot of British Fair Play in it. It’s extraordinary how it chimes with people from China,” concluded Carnarvon. “If they can’t visit Highclere, they can enjoy it with a bottle.”