Meet the Sheffield man behind the distillery which sells the city's famous Robin Hood themed gin globally

Over the years, more and more people have set up craft-distilling companies to tap into the growing demand, and one Sheffield man has had great success with his artisan spirits produced here in the city.

Wednesday, 14th July 2021, 11:13 am
Locksley Distilling Co, Portland Works, Sheffield. Distiller John Cherry. Picture: Chris Etchells

Sheffield born, John Cherry, is the man behind Sheffield’s Locksley Distilling Co, which produces over 40,000 bottles of Gin each year and sells products globally.

His journey into the distilling industry began over 3,000 miles away in New York City, where he worked as a general manager at two liquor stores in the heart of Manhattan.

Whilst in America, John was introduced to two well-known craft distillers who inspired him to take up distilling and set up his very own distillery.

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Locksley Distilling Co, Portland Works, Sheffield. Distiller John Cherry. Picture: Chris Etchells

John said: “I’ve been in the booze industry coming up to 23 years and I kind of fell into it really.

"I was buying wine, spirits and beers for companies in France and eventually met my wife, and she exhorted me to the states. She's a New Yorker, so I moved to New York in 2004/2005.

"I worked as a general manager at two liquor stores in Manhattan for about a year, and they were quite salubrious, so we got all sorts of people coming in, and a lot of producers wanted to have their stuff listed in the two stores that I was managing.

He added: "Around September or October time in 2006, I met two American distillers who kind of kicked off the spark of setting up a distillery, so after that really it was just a kind of pipe dream waiting to happen.

Locksley Distilling Co produce a variety of artisan spirits. Picture: Chris Etchells

"Looking at the craft beer scene and the craft distilling scene, we knew that there was a five or six-year lag between the two in America. We said as soon as that kicks off in the UK, we need to keep an eye on it and of course, in 2005/2006, the whole craft brewing scene started happening in the UK. So we were counting the clock down."

After shutting up shop in the US to move back to the UK, John was without a job and decided to put his expertise in the industry to the test by setting up his own business in the craft distillery industry.

John and his wife sold their apartment in New York and invested the money into setting the company up after deciding it was the right time to take the leap into distilling.

He recalls the moment he started work on the company the day after stepping off the plane in England at the start of 2013.

Locksley Distilling Co, Portland Works, Sheffield. Cynthia King getting ready to distil. Picture: Chris Etchells

John said: “We moved back at the start of 2013 and set the company up. We literally got off the plane and started the following day.

"We'd had probably six months prior to that in the states banging ideas around, so we had a rough idea of what we were doing and wanted to do something in Sheffield that had a catchy name and was important to the midlands.”

They opted for Locksley Distilling Co as the name due to it having local implications and global connotations with links to Robin Hood.

The most popular Gin produced at the distillery is a multi-purpose sipping gin called Sir Robin of Locksley Gin.

As well as giving a nod to the geographical location, it is named after Sheffield legend Robin Hood – his birthplace is alleged to be in Loxley Valley.

When creating the Gin nearly nine years ago, John wanted to create a dry gin with a contemporary twist and move away from products already available on the market – the final result was a traditional gin infused with pink grapefruit, dandelion and elderflower; giving it more of an appeal from a tasting perspective.

John says the contemporary tweak of ingredients makes it "more versatile," meaning it can be served on its own, on the rocks or can be mixed with tonic water.

They also produce a Raspberry and Cardamon flavoured gin, which starts as Robin of Locksley before undergoing different distilling processes.

Speaking about this process, John said: “We take Robin of Loxley gin that and then we infuse it. We do a maceration of raspberry, and then we do a separate distillation of cardamon in a vacuum distillation column. It looks like it's going to be super sweet, but it’s not; it’s almost bone dry. The raspberry dries it out. It’s quite a tart fruit; when you taste raspberries, they're quite sharp, so the Gin we make reflects that. Then we dry it out even further by adding the cardamon spirit that we distil separately.

“We call it our anti-pink, pink Gin because there are Pink Gin’s that have cropped up that are really sweet, and ours isn't at all. We wanted to do something that was a true style fruit Gin that was not super sweet but still delicious.”

Despite selling thousands of products a year across the United Kingdom and in the United States, John is keen to keep the company based in Sheffield and believes that the city is a great place for other craft distillers and entrepreneurs looking to set up a base.

Locksley Distilling Co is located in the Portland Works - a grade two listed building situated in the heart of Sheffield, housing a community of manufacturers and is the birthplace of stainless steel.

John said: “There are lots of other companies here, and it’s like a big family. All our neighbouring companies are fantastic; it's a great community. So that attracts us to this particular building, but I mean in terms of what attracts us to Sheffield It's got a brilliant vibe to it; it's like a big village.

“You don't feel like you're in a city of over half a million people. Everyone kind of knows people you know; you're always like six degrees of separation away from someone you know. It's just a cool city. I love it.

“I've lived all over the world, and coming back to Sheffield makes you realize how good we actually have it here. I know some Sheffielders kind of grumble and moan about it, but it’s because they haven't been away and come back again. So it's a really good city to be a part of.”

He added: “I think over the last five or ten years, it definitely seems to have attracted entrepreneurs or small makers. It's a great place to start up a business.

“Just look at the brewing scene; I mean distilleries are a little bit different because I think it's possibly harder to set up with all the bureaucracy involved, but there are definitely over 30 odd breweries. That's partially due to water sources and good quality ingredients, it's easy to get into and that kind of thing, but also because it's a good city.”

In terms of plans for the distillery business, John is looking at expanding in the alcohol market to produce whiskies and bourbons and is hoping to keep growing across Sheffield and right across the world.