Lora Hemy - Head Distiller at Liverpool's Halewood's Wine and Spirits
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 April 2017
Lora Hemy spends her life making gin. That's a fairly unusual job, particularly for a woman, but she tells Mairead Mahon, it once was woman's work.
It’s obvious when Lora Hemy has a rare day off: she wears perfume and make up, uses fabric conditioner in her washing machine and even enjoys a guilt free cup of coffee. Nothing out of the ordinary there for most of us but then most of us, unlike Lora, aren’t considered to be one of the finest distillers in the country.
‘Aromas are a massive part of distilling, especially with spirits such as gin and it is really important that I don’t allow other smells to distract me from the botanicals that I need to work with; so yes, I do try to avoid anything with a strong scent, which is an absolute shame as I just adore perfume. Mind you, it is a sacrifice that is worth making in order to be able to create fabulous drinks’ says Lora, who is Head Distiller at Liverpool’s Halewood’s Wine and Spirits.
Later this year, the firm are going to going to open a craft spirit venture in North Wales, an area which used to have a great reputation for distilling and Lora is going to divide her time between there and Liverpool.
‘I can’t wait. North Wales is one of the most beautiful regions in the world and it is botanically fascinating. I love mountains and I’m going to spend a lot of time walking in them, discovering unusual botanicals and then experimenting with them back at the distillery,’ says Lora.
It is possible that she might bring her sketchbook with her too, as Lora has the rare distinction of not only having a master’s degree in brewing and distilling; she also has a degree in fine art.
‘It is a bit unusual, I know but when I was at school, I didn’t find chemistry very exciting and so I went to art college. Actually, it was while I was there that I began to discover just how exciting chemistry could be. I made an art installation that tried to create the aromas that you might find after a party and, as well as being interesting, it also allowed me to know that I had what they call, ‘a good nose’. In fact, at one point, I seriously considered becoming a nose in the perfume industry,’ says Lora.
Instead, after graduating in fine art, she bought a chemistry book and taught herself as much as she could before taking her master’s degree and traveling the world.
‘Many people record their travels according to the beaches or waterfalls they see; I recorded mine by the amount of distilleries I visited. I was hooked and, after a period working as a sound engineer, I began my career as a distiller. In previous centuries, distilling used to be a trade associated with women, especially in this area and I’m glad to say that women are once again returning to the business,’ says Lora.
Today, Lora has created many drinks such as the highly regarded Liverpool Gin but, although we may all have our own ideas on how to drink it-Lora likes hers neat with ice- how is it created?
‘Well, the distiller is a little bit like an apothecary. In my case, I have a range of botanicals in front of me. They might include things such as liquorice root, angelica root, coriander, citrus and, of course juniper. Every ingredient has its own properties and it’s up to me to create a unique aroma portrait, which I then convey to the rest of the team. We have our own language you know: ‘feinty’ means that it really isn’t working,’ smiles Lora.
Of course, Lora also has the use of a gorgeous 600 litre copper still.‘It really is fabulous and, in fact, it almost acts as another ingredient making an enormous difference to the to the quality of the distilled spirit,’ explains Lora.
Gin has never been more popular and today, there are a huge amount of flavours available, which makes Lora’s job all the more exciting. Her Liverpool Gin will continue to be made in Liverpool but the distilling world is really looking forward to what signature spirits she will be inspired to make in the glorious countryside of North Wales.
‘I know: all those fabulous new ingredients to look forward to, what could be better? It’s certainly going to keep my nose busy but that’s the way I like it,’ says Lora.
When she’s not busy coming up with new recipes for spirits, Lora enjoys experimenting with food recipes and it’s probably not a surprise to learn that gin features in many of them.
‘People are happy to use wine in cooking but they don’t always think about gin. It works really well with lamb and I make a lovely gin and sugar reduction which makes a delicious syrup for fruit,’ says Lora.
It’s clear that all things gin certainly helps to keep Lora’s spirits up.