NESTLED in the Essex countryside is an artisan business fulfilling a very popular part of the food and drink market.

But English Spirit is almost in a field of its own within the world of craft drinks, being one of very few distilleries in the country producing its own spirits from scratch.

And what has been a deliciously well-kept secret until very recently is now making its way across the country and beyond thanks to good old-fashioned word-of-mouth and the popularity of the tipples it is producing.

Among its achievements are producing the only Sambuca in this country, using elderberries, along with coming up with the first rum made in Britain , explains general manager James Lawrence: “Our Old Salt Rum was the first rum ever to be distilled in the UK, and for a long time we were the only one.”

James, and marketing co-ordinator Sarah Curtis, both predict the popularity of rum will emulate that of gin as a go to drink for fans of artisan spirits.

The varieties produced at English spirit are unusual in that it is made with pure molasses, not a syrup version which is often easier to work with but can detract from the smoothness of the end product.

The ingredients and process are factors the company is hugely proud of.

This is very much a labour of love from start to finish with the base product being made by hand, using traditional copper stills, from sugar beet.

Sarah adds: “There are only about 12 of us in the whole country that make it all, from scratch.

“Others will buy the base alcohol in and then add in the other aspects.”

The integral ingredient could so easily have been carrots, since this is what English Spirit’s founder, Dr John Walter, initially experimented with before settling on sugar beet.

A hugely successful and well-thought of bio-chemist, Dr John as he is affectionately called, nurtured his love of science from a young age when a teacher let him help clear out the science lab.

It soon led to him being allowed to create his own bespoke science lab in the garden at home and his love of experimenting took off, explains James.

Dr John then headed to Oxford University and having graduated had settled in Cambridge when he happened to hear a radio programme about the art of distilling.

“The main discussion was about it being illegal to have and operate a still without a license, which got him interested.

“When he looked into it, he discovered you could if you were producing less than 20 litres, so he decided to have a go.

“There were some grapes on the side of the house, so he used them to make a brandy and then he really got interested in how he could make it nicer,” says Sarah.

What started out as an experiment and hobby soon grew and Dr John began to look into the idea of creating his own distillery - but the village he was living in was not the right place and he began to look further afield.

Great Yeldham Hall, with its listed barn next door, was the perfect solution and this is where he know lives and works, continuing his personal involvement and passion, getting up every day at 5am to turn on the stills and working hard on new flavours and combinations on a daily basis.

Regular appearances at food shows and farmers’ markets across the region since English Spirit launched back in 2011 are more than paying off and expansion is very much in the offing.

Producing around a million bottles a year, the imminent arrival of a huge bottling machine from Italy will see that triple to around three million which will help, not replace, current bottling staff struggling to keep up with demand by hand.

Add to that plans for a second distillery in Cornwall, which will be built in the similar surroundings of a historic building, and the opening of a shop on the Great Yeldham site earlier this month and the future is extremely positive.

Not only that but for £20 you can have a tour and taste some of the range of drinks which include the Sambuca, rum, gin, brandy and vodkas all handmade there.

A particular hit with customers is the toffee vodka, admits Sarah.

“I was working at a food festival and a chap came by on his bicycle and literally did an emergency stop, pedalled back and was over the moon to see me because he said he had been looking for us everywhere to buy himself and his mum a bottle of the toffee vodka each.

“That and the Limongino, which is a liqueur, are really popular.

“We actually have just one gin and then we have produced these flavoured liqueurs which really capitalise on the fruits we have in this country, apart from the lemons of course which are hard to grow here.

“But we also have a plum, raspberry and rhubarb flavour. People are often very surprised by how smooth what we produce is, that is because of how it is distilled basically.

“It gets rid of the roughness you might get on cheaply produced ones, which is often where people get this idea they won’t like certain things.

“I love it when someone who says they can’t drink Sambuca for example having had a bad experience, tastes ours and is converted,” says James.