The story behind Wakefield distillery Forged Spirits as it celebrates being chosen as gin of the month for Craft Gin Club
and live on Freeview channel 276
Husband-and-wife craft gin producers, Gary and Victoria Ford, from Forged Spirits in Wakefield, will see their new and exclusive gin landing on the doorsteps of thousands of gin lovers across the country after being chosen from hundreds of world-class gin producers around the globe to create the Gin of the Month for the UK’s biggest gin subscription club in the run-up to Christmas.
The exclusive edition, named Forged Winter Gin, will be sent in a box that celebrates all the flavours of a cosy autumn in Yorkshire, including a handpicked selection of tonics, cocktail mixers and snacks.
Craft Gin Club is the biggest of its kind in the UK, shipping tens of thousands of bottles each month to gin lovers.
The expert panel taste-tests and assesses hundreds of spirits from all over the world every year to choose just 12 Gins of the Month - so it’s a real achievement for Forged Spirits to be selected.
Located in the heart of Wakefield at Tileyard North, Forged Spirits is a quintessentially Yorkshire brand. But for Forged Spirits’ co-founder and distiller Gary, it was his travels around the world – and meeting his wife Victoria while overseas – which led him to putting down roots in Yorkshire and becoming a gin distiller.
“I’m originally from Burnley,” Gary said.
“I knew from a young age I wanted to see more of the world, which was one of the reasons I joined the armed forces.”
Gary signed up to the army when he was 17 as a telecoms engineer, before being deployed to Germany. It was there that he met Victoria.
Whilst in Germany, both Gary and Victoria were deployed to Bosnia in different locations, before both heading back to Germany. It was clear life would continue to be like this for them – unless they made a big change.
“We made the decision to leave the army. I didn’t really have any desire to go back to Burnley, but Victoria was from Wakefield, so we decided to settle. I love the stunning countryside, and the friendly and straight talking nature of Yorkshire folk!”
Gary and Victoria both put roots down in the city and started a family.
Today, daughter Olivia looks after the distillery’s marketing and social media while son Noah oversees production and bottling.
Settling back into civilian life, Gary and Victoria forged new careers, Victoria as a systems engineer and Gary an IT analyst.
But Gary always had to have a hobby.
“I’m quite geeky! I’m also a big foodie and started experimenting with making homebrew beer and wine which escalated quite quickly into making spirits.
“I was making vodka from sugar, tomato purée and bread yeast, bourbon from micronised wheat and corn and rum from molasses – it took over my life and went from being just a hobby to a passion,” he said.
Gary continued his passion-fuelled experiments over a period of four years, while also striving to and achieving what he thought at the time, was his dream job.
“I came to realise after doing it for a few years that it wasn’t actually my dream job, it was just something I had fallen into.
“What I really wanted to do was develop my passion for making spirits and launch a business.
Victoria suggested: ‘Why don’t you try and make a business of it?’ So that’s what we did!
"We self-funded everything using a little savings and credit cards.”
From there, Gary began to experiment with gin in a professional capacity from his garage, launching Ford’s of Wakefield, as it was originally known, on Christmas Eve in 2018.
“We didn’t sell a thing that day! Nobody was buying anything on Christmas Eve!
“But over the next few months, we started to reach out to potential customers and promote our brand that way.”
With a name tweak along the way to Forged Spirits, as the brand is known today, Gary and Victoria were on their way.
As Gary soon found out, you can only build a gin brand in your garage for so long and started looking for new premises.
“We wanted somewhere with character; a place we could bring people closer to the brand and somewhere people would enjoy coming to work."
This led to the discovery of Tileyard North, the converted 18th century mill that’s been repurposed into a creative hub.
“It was everything we were looking for – it has lots of character and history is seeped into its walls. Tileyard North needed a bar on site, so we stepped in to create that too. From nothing but brick walls as a canvas we built a stunning art deco inspired
bar, The Distillery Bar Wakefield, which we now own and is run by Victoria.”
The bar, which opened in January 2023, is now bigger than the distillery itself. You can enjoy a G&T, cocktail or a pint in the bar whilst looking through the floor to ceiling viewing window into the distillery and watching Gary distilling.
Moving to Tileyard North gave Gary and Victoria the space they needed to grow their range, and also to experiment and craft further.
For Gary and Victoria, finding a building that tied into the history of Wakefield and Yorkshire was essential if it was to reflect the spirit and ethos of Forged Spirits.
“We want our range to celebrate Wakefield. Wakefield is famous for its coal mining history, just as textile and steel production forms a significant part of Yorkshire’s heritage. Wakefield provided the coal that fired the forges that created the Sheffield steel and drove industry forwards.”
Gary, Victoria and the team at Forged Spirits go to great lengths to support local producers and suppliers as much as possible.
“Locality is key for us,” Gary said.
“Our label design and branding are created here in Wakefield, by a company called Rhubarb Design House. I pick up wheat from a farm in Sheffield for our vodka, we hand-select all of our botanicals and the glass for our bottles comes from Stoelzle Glass which is located about 15 miles away from us.
“Supplier locality also helps us to minimise our environmental impact and CO2 footprint by significantly reducing the miles driven in our supply chain. Keeping local manufacturing alive is also really important to us, and ties into our ethos, our branding and our location. We want to
celebrate Yorkshire as much as possible in both our creative and production process – it’s all about celebrating Yorkshire and the great things that come out of it.”
Forged Winter Edition is housed in a beautiful glass bottle, with designs inspired by Wakefield – and Yorkshire’s – industrial heritage.
“We’ve included everything from drawings of molten metal to forges and furnaces on the label,” Gary said.
“The luxurious mouthfeel and subtle spice of Forged Winter Gin will warm the soul on those cold dark winter nights!”
Cheers to that!