Simon Ford has spent decades in the drinks industry. He started working in wine shops in his native England, eventually opening Koba, Brighton’s first high-end cocktail bar. Ford later nabbed a high-profile brand ambassador spot with Pernod Ricard, where he worked with brands like Plymouth Gin. In 2012, he co-founded The 86 Co., a label known for the creation of spirits targeted to bartenders, one of which is Fords Gin. As the bottle that bears his name approaches its five-year anniversary, Ford gave us the backstory.
How did Fords Gin come about?
Most people don’t know that Sasha [Petraske, the late proprietor of famed bar Milk & Honey] was our partner in crime. We had an amazing conversation about gin, and came up with this idea: We wanted to take elements from all of our favorite gins and put them into one, go-to “cocktail gin.” We used to get together at the Blue Ribbon Bakery—the one that’s open until 4 in the morning—and we’d bring all these flavor maps and try to put together a botanical profile that would fit all the classic cocktails that we, as bartenders, have to make on a daily basis.
You didn’t build a distillery. Why not?
I had originally wanted to make my gin in the U.S., and make it myself. But when the recipe started to form, I knew it had to be made in England. It’s the one place in the world where the historic brokers of botanicals are. That’s why we went to London—the best juniper is there.
When we had the first recipes, I took them to several distilleries. Charles Maxwell certainly made the best version. For the next two to three years, I was constantly making gin with him, bringing it back to the United States, mixing it in martinis, Negronis and gin and tonics and Tom Collinses, and then tweaking it and going back to him.
Who is Charles Maxwell?
Charles Maxwell is an eighth-generation gin distiller…Having him make our gin is an honor for me. I go back and make my own gin; I do it regularly. But I like to have someone day in and day out making the gin who is better at making it than me.
I knew it had to be made in England. It’s the one place in the world where the historic brokers of botanicals are. That’s why we went to London—the best juniper is there.
So what makes Fords Gin unique?
Here’s the secret: After all of this work, Fords Gin didn’t reinvent the wheel. I think we made another very good London dry gin. We were inadvertently driven to making a citrus-forward London dry gin that works well in good classic cocktails.
How did you know when you’d gotten it right?
[Bartender and author] Dale Degroff came with me to the distillery in London. We’d just made four batches for tasting. The gin that he fell in love with that day was the recipe we ended up with. I wound up making another 13, 14 after that, but we never made a better gin than we did that day.