Sommelier Edit heads down to deepest East Sussex to meet the team at DedBest, a small batch gin distillery with big ambitions
The first time I met Damian Best, head distiller at the DedBest Distillery and maker of Contractor’s Gin, he was moments away from winning an award. I put his palpable energy and excitement down to the situation. So when I met him again I wasn’t expecting the continued buzz. But, it turns out, he’s just a high energy kind of guy. And it has no doubt helped him, and business partner Bob Dedman, to create a new gin brand that’s also winning awards.
On my visit to DedBest, which is located on a farm just north of Lewes, deep in the East Sussex countryside, Dedman wasn’t on site, although his presence was everywhere. Not just with his photo on the wall, but also in the bespoke joinery that provides some of the tools with which to work their magic. The pair first met a decade ago while working in the building trade – hence the brand name – and the beginnings of a friendship that has now turned into a burgeoning business partnership.
Dare to dream
By his own admission Damian and Bob knew nothing about making gin at the beginning of Contractor’s Gin’s conception. Warned off making whisky, because it takes too long to mature, the duo latched onto gin. It was during the pandemic that the idea – the dream – became a business reality.
Hours were spent, happily locked away, experimenting with mini stills and botanicals to decide the flavour profile they wanted. Some of those experimental bottles remain on the shelf at home, waiting to be rediscovered. But they’re far too busy to look back now. Their full throttle commitment has meant they’ve had to learn quickly, and they’ve had advice from some of the best in the business.
“We’ve been so lucky – so many people have helped us out along the way. Giving advice, suggesting things to try and equipment to buy,” says Best.
The ambition was to make a quality gin, able to make a decent gin and tonic, and one with a distinctive character. They decided on a blend of seven classic botanicals, but with two key ingredients that front and centre in the final recipe – hibiscus flower and lemongrass.
Hibiscus adds a robust floral note reminiscent of cranberry or pomegranate, with a slight bitterness and jammy intensity. Working alongside it is lemongrass, bringing freshness with citrus notes and a gentle fiery spice, similar to ginger.
These two standout flavours are perfect partners and ensure the gin works well in cocktails too. The Pond bar in Brighton has just started using Contractor’s Gin in its gin sour, a favourite on its popular cocktail menu.
It sounds like the gin business is at an exciting turning point, or near ‘breaking point’ as Damian describes it. Having established itself, it’s time for the next chapter in the Contractor’s story.
“I’ve started working on a new vodka,” Damian enthuses. “It’s something a bit special, and unique to this area. We’re currently sourcing a supplier for a key ingredient to filter the finished vodka to a high standard. It’s something different. Yeah, it should be great. Can’t wait for that.”