CT gin captures spirit of ‘Downton Abbey’s’ Highclere Castle — with help from earl and countess

reprinted from Register Citizen

With more than a decade in the spirits industry, Connecticut’s Adam von Gootkin was looking to do a little something different back in 2019. The idea came to him one night while watching the hit series “Downton Abbey” with his wife, at her urging.

“I was inspired by the show. I was looking to do a brand that had a level of history and heritage and pedigree. My wife had been telling me to watch the show and I finally did, and I was just like, ‘There it is.’ So I called the earl and countess who live in the castle.” Easy, right? And, thus, Highclere Castle Gin was in the works.

The earl and countess that von Gootkin references (as casually as he recommends a restaurant) are the Earl and Countess of Carnarvorn, owners of Highclere Castle, known around the world as the home in “Downtown Abbey.” (The latest film in the series was released earlier this summer, “Downton Abbey: A New Era.”) He reached out to the castle. After a few phone calls he was on a plane with his wife to stay there for the weekend.

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Visitors attend a 1920’s themed event at Highclere Castle, near Newbury, west of London, on September 7, 2019, ahead of the world premiere of the “Downton Abbey film.’ Highclere Castle is the main set location of the British television series “Downton Abbey.”


“The castle is imposing,” he describes. “It’s really impressive. The driveway is miles long. And then there’s this glorious piece of architecture. It was intimidating, but I’m the kind of person who rolls with things pretty quickly. What started as a concept became a great friendship and then a partnership.”

von Gootkin sits back, enjoying a fine cigar as he relays the tale, in the beautiful building he has commandeered in Essex to serve as the “face” of his brainchild, Highclere Castle Gin. Interestingly, even his cigar bears that name — branding and all. But it’s all about the gin. The road to said gin was a fairly long one. First he cofounded Onyx Spirits Co. distillery in Connecticut making premium moonshine. Then he released the book “Living Proof: Onyx Moonshine’s Journey to Revive the American Spirit.” Then, finally, he flew off to the English countryside to one of the most famous homes in the world: Highclere Castle.

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Highclere Castle Gin is based in Essex, Conn. and Highclere Castle in the United Kingdom.

Steve Becker Publicity / Contributed

“My family has been in the spirits business since the 1800s here in Connecticut,” van Gootkin says between long draws. And it’s true: his great grandfather ran a Prohibition-era speakeasy on the Connecticut River. “Long story short, I formed a partnership with the Earl and Countess…we were inspired by the gardens and the botanicals on the estate.”

The “secret bar/cigar lounge” inside what was formerly Connecticut’s famous Witch Hazel Works Building in Essex is von Gootkin’s lair, and where he plots his next move. And there are many he is plotting, to be sure.

“It took a year just to design the bottle and another year to fully develop the recipe. But we knew well ahead of time that this particular product had an opportunity to impact the spirit space…A big part of our inspiration was to of course tell the story of Highclere, and bring that beauty to life — to capture the spirit of Highclere Castle, which is known for hosting many of the world’s most famous and interesting people. But also it’s about the botanicals. The lavender we use in that gin is a thousand years old.” Indeed, said lavender was planted by the Bishops of Winchester in the 9th century.

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Highclere Castle Gin is based in Essex, Conn. and Highclere Castle in the United Kingdom.

Steve Becker Publicity / Contributed

How much does such a high-end bottle retail for? Usually around the $40 mark at liquor stores that carry it. A bottle can also be ordered at highclerecastlegin.com for $50 in Connecticut (including shipping).

How much prodding did it take from the Mrs. for von Gootkin to finally cave and watch the series that would inspire his latest endeavor?

“You know, I love history, and I’m a bit of an anglophile,” he concedes. “I do come from British ancestry, so she poked me a couple times and I finally watched it and just found it really beautiful. What they’re capturing there. The lifestyle at the turn of the century of the British aristocracy and how it connects to the world, and its place in history. But it was actually a PBS special on the real castle that got me to fall in love with the place and ultimately form such a wonderful partnership.”

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