Behind The Brand: (Not this) Mother’s Ruin
The Sisterhood’s chief distiller Claire Barclay tells ParentFolk’s Jade Wright why gin-making is a welcome tonic to life as an armed police officer.
When Claire Barclay left the police after 22 years she had no idea what to do next.
“I didn’t think I was able to do anything else,” admits mum of three Claire. “My husband had retired from his job in the army at a similar time, so we spent a year going on all the holidays we’d missed out on, and drinking a lot of gin.”
It was the latter that inspired Claire – or more accurately her friends – to apply for a job in a distillery.
“We built a pub in our back garden,” says Claire, 42. “I was an older mum so going out and socialising was often hard. I’d arrange to see my mum friends and four years later we’d still not going out for that drink.
“So we killed two birds with one stone – we stocked our shelves with gin and invited our friends round. We had more than 60 bottles in the end – one match and we’d have blown up half the Wirral.
“As we drank it, I learned what I liked and what made the flavours work. It was an education, one glass at a time, although it wasn’t a deliberate thing.”
One day Claire’s friends spotted an advert for an apprentice at Wirral Distillery and suggested she apply.
“I thought I had no chance,” Claire laughs. “I was a police officer for 22 years, it was all I knew. I’d started as a police cadet when I was 15. I worked on the firearms unit and for time I was undercover.
“I was like a stick of rock: if you cut me through the middle it would have said Cheshire Police.”
But after having her sons Joshua, Lewis and Harry, Claire found herself struggling with the emotional side of the job.
“After I had my first son and I felt things differently,” she explains. “Obviously in the police you see some pretty horrible things. It’s part of the job. I always felt for people but after I had my sons I would find myself with tears rolling down my face. I didn’t even know I was crying.
“That wasn’t something you could do as a police officer. I couldn’t stop thinking: ‘what if that had happened to me?’ or ‘what if that was my boys?’. I couldn’t distance myself enough from it.
“Plus, obviously working shifts, I was the mum who could never be at sports day. I missed the key moments, and that was really hard, for them and for me.
“I was working 18 hours straight sometimes and I’ll be texting other mums saying: ‘Is there a school trip tomorrow? What do they need to take?’. I was giving everything and it still wasn’t enough.”
The practicalities of life as a police officer became harder as she had each of her boys.
“I had 12 weeks maternity with each of my boys,” she recalls. “Looking back I wish I’d taken more. I went back to work but I still had those hormones racing. I was wearing body armour and it so was painful because my body still hadn’t properly healed.”
One day she knew something had to change: “I was driving to work and I got to the roundabout near the police station, turned around and drove home. I never went back.”
Claire applied for the job at Wirral Distillery, and started as an apprentice this Spring. She’s already worked her way up to chief distiller, with her keen nose for botanics and an impressive knowledge of the spirit.
“I was amazed when I got the job,” says Claire. “I still can’t believe how lucky I’ve been. We are like family as a company. Everyone who works here is family or friends in some way so it’s a really lovely environment to be in.
“It was perfect timing as my husband Richard had gone back to the army as a reservist captain, and I had a new challenge too.
“It’s such a pleasure working on the different gins. I’ve always loved cooking and good food. Gin has so many flavours – I love that you can take a sip and taste the botanicals. It might have more cardamom or more coriander. It’s a real art and I love it.”
Together with business development manager Jamie-Leigh Burgess she’s created their new Sisterhood Gin, a juniper led blend with a generous helping of rhubarb, plus coriander, lavender and cardamom, with a beautifully sweet finish.
“When I started everything was very manly,” says Claire. “I’m from a masculine background. I was in the firearms unit as the only woman with 70 men. But we wanted to make something that appealed to female drinkers too.
“They already had a rhubarb gin but I thought we could improve it. I suppose I brought a fresh pair of eyes to things.
“In this year when we are celebrating 100 years of women getting the vote it seemed the perfect opportunity to launch something that celebrated the sisterhood.
“Most of my friends are women – they’re mums, they’re working, they’re spinning so many plates. We wanted something that celebrated the strength and the solidarity of women – the brilliant sisterhood.”
Who would Claire most like to share a bottle with? “I like to think that if Emmeline Pankhurst were still around she would sit here and have a gin with me,” says Claire. “I’d like to say thank you and drink a toast to the sisterhood.”
The Sisterhood is available now priced £40 from Wirral Distillery, Amazon, and other good retailers.