Gin has often suffered from bad publicity. Back in the 18th century, the artist William Hogarth famously painted Beer Street as a merry place populated by ruddy-cheeked revellers, while Gin Lane was a den of drunken debauchery.
Cheap gin was seen as a bad influence on the population and a cause of crime especially in cities – Londoners were said to drink two pints of the stuff a week – and the government of the day sought to restrict its sales and close down small gin shops. When gin taxes were raised, there were riots in London. In the late 20th century, the “Gin and Jag set” were mocked for their ostentatious wealth, braying conversation and consumption of “large G&T” – usually Gordon’s and Schweppes.
These days, thankfully, those two extremes no longer exist, as everyday folk enjoy literally hundreds of new brands of craft gin that have poured into a market previously dominated by the default choices from big distillers.
“Gin is basically vodka flavoured with juniper berries, but now there’s such a wide range of botanicals that make the taste of one gin completely different from another,” says Michael Watmough, director of The Exchange bar and music venue at Keighley, where there are 60 gins on offer. “Some people might say ‘Oh, I don’t like gin’ but when they try one they’ll like it. A good starting point is Brockman’s, which is quite fruity, not like the traditional gin taste.
“We’ve got a gin with seaweed that has a salty tang, there’s parma violet which is quite pleasant, and I’ve even had lobster-flavoured gin, which sounds awful but it’s quite nice.”
Michael adds: “Heavy metal fans who come here like their Jack Daniels whiskey, but even they’re trying different gins and liking it.”
North Yorkshire may seem an unlikely place for London gin, but independent drinks company Spirit of Harrogate Limited has launched Slingsby Artisan Gin – its hand finished small batch ultrapremium London Dry Gin.
Slingsby Gin pays tribute to William Slingsby, who, in 1571, discovered the unique properties of natural spring water from the Tewit Well in Harrogate.
Slingsby is made with natural and locally sourced botanicals, Harrogate aquifer water and pure single grain spirit. Half of the 24 botanicals have been grown in Rudding Park Hotel’s kitchen garden in Harrogate, and the bespoke blue glass bottle is inspired by a 19th century chemist shop bottle.
Spirit of Harrogate is celebrating a trio of Gold medals at the 2016 Global Gin Masters, in which a panel of leading spirits and on-trade specialists carried out a blind tasting to determine the exceptional products.
The company won gold medals for its variants; London Dry Gin, Ultra- Premium, and Rhubarb Gin against entries from leading brands across the world.
“We’re delighted with the Gin Masters result,” said Marcus Black, co-founder and joint managing director. “We seek to capture the spirit of Harrogate to produce an exclusive and delicious drink for gin lovers to enjoy and it’s truly brilliant and a testament to our hard-working team to be recognised among leading brands on a global scale.”
At The Spirit of Harrogate at 5-7 Montpellier Parade, Harrogate, customers are invited to step inside for the ‘Slingsby Experience’, where they can relax and sample the shop’s range of flavoured gins and more than 30 tonics.
Over the other side of the county border, an artisan micro-distillery in Burnley has won a pivotal listing in the Lancashire-based fine food supermarket Booths, a brilliant boost for the blossoming local company that was launched in 2014.
Inspired by Spain’s culture of gin perfectionism, Batch Brew has already gained regional and international recognition, winning a Silver Medal at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Now listed in every Booths store, the distillery celebrated its launch with a day of gin tastings, sharing tips, recipes and insights into what makes Batch exceptional.
Batch Brew founder Phil Whitwell said “Batch Premium Gin is handcrafted using 12 botanicals, and each bottle is individually numbered and signed. We’re delighted to have the support of an influential retailer like Booths, and look forward to introducing more of their customers to our delicious gin.”
Booths spirits buyer Pete Newton said “Booths customers love a good gin, and Batch Brew is no exception. Supporting brilliant local producers is central to Booths and we’re looking forward to helping Batch Brew to flourish.”
The dash and romance of the World War II fighter plane, the Supermarine Spitfire, is commemorated in Spitfire Heritage, a small-batch single estate gin brought to market by a Lancashire-based team led by the founder of The Spitfire Heritage Trust.
Spitfire Heritage Gin, an authentic 1930s botanical gin distilled in handbeaten coppers, celebrates the young lady pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary who kept Britain’s airbases supplied with planes, often dodging predatory German Messerschmitts in the process. These women flew unarmed, in dangerous skies – and were known to carry a snifter of gin as part of their kit.
The brand owners of Spitfire are Ian and Sarah Hewitt and business partner Denise France, who live in rural West Lancashire.
The master distiller of Spitfire is John Walters, who was voted distiller of the best gin in the world 2015 (and best rum, too) and the gin is already stocked nationwide by Wine Rack.
Ian Hewitt said: “The Spitfire is much more than a vintage aircraft. It is a Great British icon that symbolises the coming together of all the Nations of the Commonwealth in defence of our common human values and freedoms that transcend culture, religion and gender: our freedom to live and love and drink gin with whomsoever we choose.”