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inside The Distillery – Pleasant Land

It is the unpredictable course of life that often leads us to our true calling, an unexplored path that could never have been planned even if we tried – this was the case for Sebastian Barnick, co-founder of Kent’s newest purveyor of fine spirits, Pleasant Land Distillery

Medically discharged after travelling the world as an officer in the Navy, it was the fun, frivolity and blended cultures of 67 different foreign lands that ultimately inspired Seb to choose his path into the distilling industry. We met Seb on a cold and blustery day in January, at the Aldington premises of what is now the only sustainable contract distillery in the UK, a true trailblazer in the world of drinks. Although what was ultimately an idea born in the time of lockdown, Pleasant Land is far from a notion conceived on a whim. Years of industry experience in luxury drinks, distilling and wine have made up the layers of Seb’s portfolio which includes time buying craft brands, such as Whistle Pig for high end whiskey companies, and even designing entire distilleries for other luxury beverage brands. We listen with intrigue as Seb tells us his story, capturing our attention in a way that only someone truly passionate and full of ambition for their craft could. It becomes immediately clear that it is this invaluable combination of passion, experience and skill that has pushed Seb and his company, co-founded with his father Charles, to where it is today and will continue to be the driving force pushing Pleasant Land into exciting new realms.

“I was all set to go to Finland,” Seb reveals, “I had just been offered a job in their distilling industry, but it was at this point I took a step back and had to decide if it was really the route I wanted to take. Setting up a family business and running it with my Dad had always been on my mind, and with all the experience I had gained since leaving the Navy, I realised now was the time to take a risk at creating a legacy of our own.” Almost three years after that first seedling of an idea, Seb now tours us around the distillery, a large industrial affair set up in a corrugated former chicken shed, rented from a local farmer who shares his visionary sustainability ethos. A scene so wondrous it could be lifted from a Roald Dahl story, Seb takes us through the process of distilling, right through from the raw product itself, to bottling and product design, wafting aromas of distilling pears and apricots our way as he lifts the lids of giant pan-like machines and ingenious copper stills. A man that really knows his science, Seb explains everything, right down to his reasoning in choice of the metal work of the copper stills he has considerately opted for. However, it is not just the science and process that Seb has mastered, he is also the nose and creative eye behind each bottle produced at Pleasant Land too. 

A contract distillery too, Seb is as much a consultant and inventor for his customers as he is a producer, relishing a new challenge as much as a new flavour. Recently, Pleasant Land produced several bottles of a bespoke ‘pickle and mustard’ flavour gin for James May, a gin “perfect for those more savoury cocktails” says foodie Seb. No stranger to Kent, Seb grew up in the glorious Garden of England, attending Cranbrook School before his time in the Navy, and it is from Kent’s land and producers that Seb attributes so much of his creations to. 

“What I love about producing in Kent is that you are never far away from the raw product. It is this produce that inspires new ingredients and flavours to make our products really unique and of course have optimum flavour.” 

Listening to Seb, a man whose enthusiasm scintillates around the distillery, with exciting ideas and new concepts bouncing off copper pots with electric energy, it is difficult to imagine him as the teenager who once believed he wasn’t creative or that good at science. 

“It was only after leaving the military I discovered an outlet for the creative passion I have always had. Distilling has allowed me to find a route into channelling this creativity and now dreaming up new concepts for recipes is one of my main motivations, along with keeping the brand as sustainable as possible.” 

Seb’s creativity and innovation also come into play in the sustainable element of Pleasant Land, an ethos which fiercely makes up much of who they are.   

It is this innovation and look towards a sustainable future that has turned Pleasant Land from a passion project into a viable business, and one in which the passion is still very much present. Pleasant Land can now be found in every Michelin star restaurant across Kent, a brand which has very much benefited from being an ode to the county, a perfect fit for the craft and artisan scene and the popularity of locally made produce. Perhaps Pleasant Land’s most well-known product is White Cliffs, a real testament to Seb and his team’s expertise and creativity. A Kent dry gin made from British wheat with notes of wild foraged juniper, kelp, cherry bark and sea buckthorn – it is a true homage to Kent, with all ingredients grown and found upon Kent’s very own ‘pleasant land’. It is this element of the Garden of England that has helped Pleasant Land stand out in a UK market awash with over 2,500 brands of gin, a competitive world in which Seb believes innovation and sustainability is the way forward. 

Delve deeper however, and aside from the clever, experience-enhanced recipe that adds just the right notes of flavour, and the unwavering sustainable drive – evidenced from waste initiatives, biomass boilers and electric delivery vans; “when we move to our new premises I want to be totally ‘off-grid’, can you imagine every made from our own energy?” Seb causally slips into the walkthrough tour – and you’ll find yet more of the personal element that further enhances this distillery’s journey. From the lockdown cliff top walks with his equally inspired-by-nature artist wife Cleo, from which Seb began to find, forage and ferment the produce that would eventually underpin the distillery’s walk-inspired namesake inaugural offering, to the real family feel that extends across the equally passionate and small knit team that now includes operations manager Josh, sales manager Fenella and Ukrainian distiller Sergei, who was evidently as wildly creative and experimentally driven as Seb himself.

A certified spirits educator on top of everything else, it is clear how Seb and the team at Pleasant Land go from strength to strength with such passion for their cause, a driving force that leads them to overcome any setbacks and challenges along the way. “I spend a lot of time in nature, the clarity and inspiration that comes from that is invaluable.” When I ask Seb what his main motivation is when it comes to facing each day as a medium sized business, he tells us that it is his inspirational team, ”You’re only as good as your people,” he says, “Seeing how far everyone has come has been an invaluable motivator for me. I learn a lot from them.” Showcasing Kent through flavour, one bottle at a time in a sustainable way, Pleasant Land is definitely a Kent drinks brand you should keep a keen eye out for. When asked insideKENT’s ominous final question – “What do our readers need to know about Pleasant Land?” a mischievous grin spread across Seb’s face. The intriguing answer? Simply: “Watch this space…”

And you definitely should!



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