Fuelled by the cocktail craze, and boasting a diversity and provenance story that taps into the new trend for artisan produce, British Gin brands are having a massive resurgence. From the big hitters of Tanqueray and Hendricks, to the newer, micro-distilleries of Half Hitch, Hepple and Slingsby, Emma Johnson charts this new ginaissance.
No longer the domain of ‘mother’s ruin’, or an excuse for a cheap, sharp tipple to wash away the challenges of the day, gin is fast becoming the classy spirit du jour. Gin sales have surged by 12 per cent over the past year, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, and a total of 43 million bottles were sold across the country last year, reported The Daily Telegraph in June.
Perhaps what has kept gin relevant is the enduring appeal of the simple, timeless gin and tonic. Constantly updated with new mixers – Fever Tree is a big name in the G&T world, with numerous pubs, bars and restaurants using it as a key selling point for their drinks – and now served with everything from a twist of grapefruit to a slice of cucumber or a bay leaf, gin and tonics are no longer the run of the mill, warm sodas served in simple slim jims anymore. Drinkers can choose from a ‘gin menu’, often locally-sourced, with tasting notes and serving suggestions. This has opened the door to a unique selection of gin distillers who all describe the flavours of their tipple in mouth-wateringly detailed ways.
Interestingly, this artisan approach has made ripples throughout the industry, and the top of the market, big names are seeing just as much of a boom as the newer, trendier brands. Both Beefeater and Plymouth Gin have continued to dominate the market, while much-loved and renowned Hendricks has kept its reputation by innovating.
The brainchild of a fifth generation of family distillers,Hendricks capitalised on the beginnings of the new gin movement in 1999 by controversially using two types of gin distillate to create one gin, as well as the unique infusions of rose and cucumber. This pioneering approach cemented its position as one of the foremost gins in Britain, and has ensured a loyal following ever since. Hailing from the tiny seaside village of Girvan, in Ayrshire, south west Scotland, it has a refreshing, surprising flavour, enhanced by being served with cucumber, which enhances the flowery, fruity overtones.
While at Tanqueray , a gin so well-known you can simply order a ‘Tanqueray and tonic’, (no further explanation needed), gin has been made in the same way since 1830, and today this iconic, elegant and refined gin, is still produced in small batches using three different types of whole, fresh citrus fruit with grapefruit at its heart.
Elsewhere, the past is referenced sometimes subtly, sometimes with real purpose and intention. With a solid history behind them, handcrafted for over 250 years, Greenall’s The Original uses the same secret recipe that has been handed down through seven generations of Master Distillers. Boasting one of the few female gin masters in the world, as well as being a proud partner of The
Jockey Club, Greenall’s British roots are intrinsically part of its identity. “Our bottle design incorporates the Union Jack, a homage to the quality and craftsmanship that goes in to our gin, as well as the British wheat that we use to create our spirit,” says strategy and planning director Lizzy Johnson.
At the other end of the spectrum, and celebrating its third birthday this July, East London Dry Gin is a perfect example of a contemporary brand with echoes of the long British tradition with gin. Founder Alex Wolpert says: “We’re tapping into Britain’s heritage as a nation of gin lovers, with a contemporary twist of having engaging flavours inspired by former British trade routes and English herb gardens. Being located in East London, the historic distilling area of London, is a fantastic backdrop to producing such a quintessentially British drink.”
A SENSE OF PLACE
Of course, history and Britishness can be interpreted in many ways, as Valentine Warner, founder of contemporary brand Hepple Gin, created in 2013, explains. “While I don’t associate our gin with the Crown Jewels and cricket, I do feel that Hepple is bound up in ancient Northumbria, and is a distillation of its wild surroundings,” she explains. “Hepple is a cold gin, with a Northerly taste formed from mossy woods, deep heather, weather twisted junipers shivering in a cold gale and surrounded by water.”
Fellow award-winner Half Hitch, which was launched in 2014, is another brand with a strong sense of place. “I am Camden born and bred,” says founder Mark Holdsworth, proudly referencing how the brand’s modern identity is entirely tied up with its North-West London past. Having a background in spirits, he came across the long-forgotten industrial gin story of Camden Lock and started Half Hitch to revive this London legacy, with an innovative new style of quintessentially British gin with key botanicals of black tea and bergamot. In less than three years it has won numerous awards, been selected as Walpole Luxury Society’s “Brand of Tomorrow 2016”, and is sold across the city from Selfridges to Fortnum & Mason.
Hepple and Half Hitch aren’t alone in making their locations a central part of their identity. One of the newest gins on the block, celebrating its first birthday this July, Salcombe Gin has already made waves, winning Gold at the World Gin Awards, as well as several other prestigious titles. The niche distillery is one of the only distilleries in the world that can be accessed by boat and is located right in the heart of Salcombe – a fact that sits at the very core of the brand identity. “Being a British label creates a desire to be the best of the best,” says founder and director Angus Lugsdin. “Salcombe is a brand name in its own right…and we have amazing access to rich resources including the perfect water for distillation, amazing wheat used for our base spirit and a true understanding of provenance.”
For some British Gin brands, the local area’s creative heritage plays as much of a part as its provenance. Cotswold Dry Gin developed their gin as a classic, ‘true expression’ of old gin styles, while also working to capture the beautiful surroundings of the distillery in the North Cotswolds countryside, using local lavender from the Snowshill Estate, for instance, and encapsulating the long tradition of craftsmanship so intrinsically tied to the local area. “We firmly believe in doing things properly” explains distiller Zoe Rutherford, “No tricks or shortcuts here; there is a grand British tradition of time-honed craftsmanship and we see ourselves within that”.
Elsewhere, The Botanist, produced on Islay, by Bruichladdich, a progressive Hebridean distillery, is a modern gin with a real sense of place, or as it describes it, ‘terroir’. “This is central to everything we do, everyone at The Botanist is very proud of our roots on Islay,” explains head of communications Carl Reavey. And at Slingsby, based in Harrogate, provenance is also a major buzz word. “Knowing our suppliers and where all our ingredients come from is vital,” says Georgina Cowley, marketing executive. The brand has aimed to restore the ‘Spirit of Harrogate’ capturing the key elements of this very popular British spa town – and encapsulating the idea of spring water, local ingredients, Taylor’s tea, local farmers, gardeners, growers and pickers.
Perhaps the biggest change in the British gin brands renaissance has been seen at the newer end of the industry, where smaller producers have been inventing new processes and adding new ingredients to really open up the world of gin. With names such as Opihr, Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin, Conker Spirit and Shortcross becoming more and more well-known, success is now about the quirky, unique factor, the differences you can offer and the unique twists on how to serve gin.
For many British Gin brands, diversification is key to their success and Silent Pool is a perfect example of this. Established just two years ago, it now sells across 26 countries and will launch this summer in the USA, as well as starting to produce its own Silent Pool Gin-cured smoked salmon and a range of innovative liquid mist garnishes. “It’s become apparent that there is strong demand for a product that captures a sense of Britishness,” says founding partner Ian McCulloch. “We recently won a double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards, and are now focusing our export business beyond Europe.”
Back in London, with a distillery based in the founders’ house in Highgate, husband and wife team Ian and Hilary at Scared Gin have taken niche to another level. Their Cardomom Gin, Pink Grapefruit Gin and Christmas Pudding Gin are all excellent examples of the new trend for infusing gin with unique flavours and despite their small production, Scared Gin is served in bars across the capital, including the renowned Dukes Bar in St James, where Ian Fleming is purported to have enjoyed martinis.
A little further south, in Notting Hill, Portobello Road is another distillery British Gin brands whose ingredients and flavour are key to its success. “Our base spirit is distilled here in England from English-grown wheat,” says brand director Thomas Coates. “But our nine botanical ingredients come from around the world and include juniper berries and orris from Tuscany, Spanish lemon peels, bitter orange peels from Haiti or Morocco, nutmeg from Indonesia and cassia bark from South East Asia.” Bottled at a punchy 42 per cent ABV these ingredients combine to create a uniquely versatile gin, with enough robust gin flavours to enhance a gin and tonic, and enough elegance to work in a martini.
Just as we saw with craft beer, there has clearly been a concerted move in the gin world towards small micro-distilleries, and especially those with a clear connection to the local landscape or area, producing high quality gins in small batches. From Salcombe to Islay, and across London from Portobello Road to the East End, small distilleries are making their mark both locally and country-wide.
British Gin brands Tasting Notes:
Satin smooth, delicate menthol, apple mint, spring woodlands, coriander with aniseed, a bouquet of summer flowers, honey from thistle, coconut from gorse, wild mint and summer meadows.
Cotswold Dry Gin
Juniper-led, with a hint of lavender on the nose and lots of crisp citrus on the palate; a cardamom and black pepper finish.
East London Dry Gin
A classic gin, but with a slight twist, bright, fresh flavours of citrus and juniper give way to spiciness of berries and cardamom
Juniper-led taste infused with fresh citrus notes, best served with ice and lime
Lifting and aromatic notes of light citrus, followed by spicy, fresh cracked pepper and juniper berry. On the palate tones of sweet orange, nutmeg and rich black tea.
Infused with cucumber and rose, serve with three thin slices of cucumber and ice
HeppleAn immediate fresh scent of green apple, bright grapefruit and a spicy juniper, followed by Douglas Fir, raspberry and rich blackcurrant.
Portobello Road Gin
Juniper berries , orris, Spanish lemon, bitter orange peel, nutmeg and cassia bark. Best served with a twist of pink grapefruit.
Crystal clear, lush, pine-fresh juniper nose, delicate violet flowers, crushed cardamom pods and cinnamon. Long zesty finish with lingering pine and peppercorns.
Salcombe Dry Gin
Smooth and aromatic, a wonderful balance of flavour and lingering finish. Fresh citrus,warming lemon brightness from English coriander seed, liquorice, cinnamon, cubeb plus camomile flowers and bay leaf.
Two types of juniper, leads to a kaffir lime and bergamot citrus and then elderflower, lavender, cubeb, rose and pear
An initial burst of rhubarb and citrus from a grapefruit base, giving way to juniper, sweet cicely and light green tea scented with jasmine blossom; serve on ice with blueberries
Big and juicy from fresh citrus, with waves of grapefruit and orange, floral notes from camomile flowers.
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