A Lichfield family have created a new brand of gin using honey from their own garden. Jenny Amphlett went to meet them
Alex and Natalie Conti usually spend their days running a business that involves the arts and travel, so they’ve ended up with rather a lot of time on their hands this year.
The couple, who live in a rural spot between Shenstone and Stonnall, have been spending their days in the garden with children Leo, six, and Isabella, three.
Keen beekeepers for the past two years, they installed a vast new apiary as a lockdown project which left them with kilos of surplus honey. Then they had an inspired idea.
“My wife and I run a company that specialises in making travel arrangements for international art exhibitions, mostly for clients in the US,” said Alex, 39. “We’ve been in business for 10 years and have been the market leader in a very small niche for the last couple of years.
“We both usually travel a lot and will be away from home for around four months of the year or so. But then COVID-19 happened.
“As of March the company has been in stasis because none of our clients are travelling and everything has been postponed. So we’ve been spending more time than usual with the kids and more time than usual in the garden.
“It’s a great way to teach the kids about nature and also to help pollinate the fruit trees that we have here,” said Alex. “It helps the local environment and we get honey too.”
Early into lockdown he and Natalie, 38, commissioned a local craftsman to build a large new hive to their own specifications.
“Our first lockdown project was to get that built, then we expanded the colony which meant we had lots of honey.”
They eventually hit on the idea of using it to make a honey gin – and worked out that their surplus honey could create a 90 bottle batch.
Rather than setting up their own distillery at home the Contis worked with Fifth Spire in Lichfield to create the debut batch of The Apiarist Gin.
“We’ve been buying Fifth Spire’s gin for years. They said they’d be happy to make something new and different using our honey to infuse gin. We’ve brought this to market together.”
Around four and a half kilos of the Contis’ honey has gone into the first 90 bottles of gin. Alex has worked out that equates to the nectar from 200,000 flowers in each bottle.
The family are reinvesting any profits they make into their apiary. They now have two colonies and have two more hives on the way.
It’s a fledgling business with the potential to expand quickly, but Alex is keen to stress that it was really only intended as a side project alongside his life’s work in the art world.
“We hope that when this year is over we can go back to what we do best, but this has been a fun and interesting side project – and there may well be other batches of gin.
“As with anything with nature, you are at the mercy of it. If we have a difficult year next year and don’t make any honey then there won’t be any gin. It’s all down to the weather and the environment.”
Alex and Natalie’s neighbours are happy to have gin makers on their doorstep and say their fruit trees are yielding more due to the bees – including a cherry tree that didn’t bear a single fruit for 26 years until this year.
All four members of the family have their own beekeeping suits, which means the children can enjoy getting up close to the bees without risking being stung.
“The children look really funny in their little suits. My daughter isn’t so keen on having bees on her, but my son is really inquisitive and loves it.”
Bees, honey and gin have brought some much needed positivity to what could otherwise have felt a very downbeat year for the family.
“Our company deals with travelling, events and the arts – all of which are among the industries that have suffered most – so it’s an unbelievable depressing time. Clients are laying off staff and struggling.
“In that context it’s been nice to have something that’s been able to be a reality positive distraction for us. We’ve boosted the bee population and had a bit of fun with gin.”
- The Apiarist Gin is available online from theapiaristgin.com or can be bought in Lichfield from The Spirit Works, 55 Wade St, Beerbohm, The Trooper or The Boat Inn. It can be bought in Birmingham from Purnell’s.