We go to one of gin’s growing hotbeds
If you were asked to pinpoint the hotbeds of gin in the UK, you might easily rattle off the likes of London, then score a few more points in recent times for naming Scotland and receive double helpings of dessert for naming the Midlands.
However, it might surprise a few people to see that Yorkshire is quickly establishing a reputation for gin brands and better yet, the producers in the region appear fairly united in establishing a tourism spot for gin-lovers. Indeed, producers in the area, such as Cooper King have gone as far as to create a map, with most of the gin brands listed.
With such commitment to organised gin-enjoyment going on in Yorkshire, it seemed as though Gin Magazine should explore the area further.
(Some of the…) BRANDS TO TRY
Naturally with all guides like this there comes the caveat that this is only a snapshot of the gin-making that’s taking place and certainly there are other brands not listed here that are making good stuff. Cooper King’s most recent list has 45 producers and to anybody who hasn’t looked at a map for a while, Yorkshire’s a big place – if you intend on visiting all of them, book a week off work and bring plenty of water because they’re generous with serves here too.
Masons Yorkshire Gin
A brand surely familiar to readers of this magazine – they’ve won awards, revealed exciting expressions with local influence and have a well-known brand to gin aficionados. It was created by Karl and Cathy Mason – gin enthusiasts just like the rest of us – who launched their first gin in 2013.
By 2015, the range of gins had been expanded to include Lavender and Tea editions. Naturally, the Tea edition used Yorkshire tea. Special editions have been added, including: Distilled Sloe, Steve’s Apple and Peppered Pear.
On 2 April 2019, the distillery was unfortunately destroyed by a huge fire. And while the next day the Mason’s team assembled around Karl and Cathy’s kitchen table to keep the brand going, the stills used to make the gin previously, Steve and Leftie, had to retire. Since then, the brand has been working out of temporary premises, renting distilling equipment, although it sounds as though the wider industry has teamed up to help the company in any way that it could.
However, the good news is that plans are in place for a new distillery to be up and running in December 2019 and so we can expect a return to the steadily growing reputation that Masons had both among the drinks community and gin-lovers.
On the north-eastern edge of Yorkshire lies Whitby, which it turns out is famous for its abbey, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and goths. Adding their gin to that list is Jess and Luke, founders of Whitby Gin.
Their journey within the spirit started in 2017, when exploring the many distilleries in the Outer Hebrides, questioned why Whitby didn’t have one of its own. By the time they were back in Yorkshire they had a business plan and already ordered a small still.
Nine months later and using Luke’s parent’s utility room, they would produce over 3,000 bottles – and still work full time jobs miles away. Production has since moved out of the utility room, although a new distillery is on the horizon imminently.
There’s already quite a range of gins from Whitby. The Original Edition (42% ABV) uses botanicals including sugar kelp from Robin Hood’s Bay, foraged during low tide. It also has heather from the North Yorkshire Moors and Yorkshire honey from a local beekeeper. The Wild Old Tom (42% ABV) uses wild gorse and gooseberries, while there is also the Bramble & Bay (38% ABV) which features the Whitby signature botanicals complemented by red fruits and bay leaf.
Rumour has it, the new Barghest Edition, aged in Transylvanian Oak casks, a nod to the Dracula-theme, will be available by the time this magazine hits the shelves.
Cooper King Distillery
The warm climes of Australia and whisky were the inspiration for Cooper King Distillery. Founders Abbie and Chris explored the eight whisky distilleries on Tasmania that were operational in 2014 and sought out tutelage from renowned whisky distiller, Bill Lark. Once armed with inspiration and knowledge, the pair returned to Yorkshire to set up their distillery, raising funds through their Founders’ Club to finance the build.
Quality and giving-back to the environment appear to be core values at Cooper King. For the Dry Gin, honey from the on-site apiary and locally grown lavender are distilled alongside other botanicals including cardamom for a floral gin, while for the Herb Gin, fresh basil, lemongrass and clove lend their flavour to a greener expression.
Abbie and Chris use a vacuum distillation method along with a traditional copper pot still from a distillery that is located around 10 miles north of York and is nestled in the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s built on the site of an old stable block and the distillery is home to the production area, a maturation warehouse for whisky and a tasting room and shop. The shop is open every Saturday between 10-6 and offers tours and tasting evenings. Those coming from further afield have the offer of an on-site B&B too.
Roughtly one square metre of woodland is planted in the Yorkshire Dales for every bottle of Cooper King gin sold, and they are stunning bottles and some great liquid too, so everyone’s a winner.
“Quality and giving back to the environment appear to be core values at Cooper King Distillery”
Joff Curtoys and his wife Claire took on Sloemotion in 2006, having established the business in 2002 with a farming neighbour. Speak to them and their team and you can quickly establish that sustainability and the environment play a key role in their production methods and business ideology.
While looking to encourage food sources among the hedgerows for small mammals and birds, a number of large sloe berries started growing on the farm. With birds tending to avoid the sloes due to the bitter taste, the idea to create sloe gin took shape and Sloemotion was born.
Since then, several liqueurs have been launched and more recently Hedgerow Gin. The gin has botanicals including elderflower, rosehip, nettle leaf, sloe stones, wildflower hay and crab apple. Having initially worked with Charles Maxwell at Thames Distillers, they are now using an iStill.
Joff and Claire are eager to get people to experience what they do. 2020 will see the start of tours, but don’t be surprised if you’re encouraged to head outside and get stuck in.
Whittaker’s was established by Toby and Jane Whittaker in 2015. Visiting Heriot-Watt Centre for Brewing and Distilling, Toby was inspired to start distilling and they now produce six gins and plan to make whisky.
Their distillery, located near to Harrogate in Nidderdale, is an old pig-shed dating back to the 1950s. More recently a new building has gone up and tours are underway. Despite their reputation – speak to a number of the producers in the area and they’ll tell you how good Whittaker’s gins are – and the scale of production that this naturally leads to, the business is still very much in the family, with Jane and Toby leading the guided tours as well as firing up the stills of a morning.
The botanicals are primarily juniper, coriander, lemon peel and angelica root, with bilberries, hawthorne berries and bog myrtle proving the Whittaker’s signature. Garden thyme, fresh from their garden is picked on the morning of distillation.
Whittaker’s reputation is taking it outside of Yorkshire. It’s available in Fortnum & Masons, where they even help with the production of the retailer’s own-label Cassis Gin.
Based in the village of Kettlesing, Ian Thompson, with the help of Charles Maxwell at Thames Distillers, created Sing Gin in 2016 after experimenting with a small copper pot still in his cellar. Initially, he would recreate his favourite gins and overtime gained an understanding of how botanicals interacted with one another.
The gin’s botanical bill includes: juniper, mint, orange peel and flax. Flax was specifically chosen to bring a dash of Yorkshire-provenance to the spirit as an old local crop. For the base spirit, Sing Gin is created using grapes rather than grain, with the producer believing that this brings a smoothness to the end gin that grain doesn’t quite deliver.
Kettlesing still remains a family project with Ian’s wife and two children involved in the running of the brand. Their beautiful bottle is certainly eye-catching in its design and those looking to get their hands on some of the liquid to enjoy can pick up a bottle in Fortnum & Masons as well as online at the brand’s website. They also happen to be behind the bar at some of the best Yorkshire drinking spots.
Spirit of Harrogate (Slingsby)
For Spirit of Harrogate, Marcus Black and Mike Carthy were inspired by William Slingsby discovering the medicinal properties of Harrogate’s Tewit Well in 1571. People would visit the well, and still do, to ‘take the waters’, and Harrogate became the place to go to restore body, mind and soul.
Marcus and Mike decided in 2014 that they wanted to create a product that would celebrate this heritage and bring new life to the restorative nature of Harrogate. Slingsby London Dry Gin was created in August 2015 – with a master distiller, they created 18 different variants of the gin and tested them among close family and friends to get to the final flavour profile.
Distillation is contracted out to Langley Distillery near Birmingham, who work to a recipe guided by the Slingsby team. However, the botanicals and water used to create the Slingsby range are largely rooted in Harrogate – of the 24 they use across their liquids, many are synonymous with the town. These include primrose, cicely, nettle, rhubarb, milk thistle and rosehip. Another Harrogate institution also finds its way into the botanical bill – Taylor’s of Harrogate’s green and jasmine teas – which, while adding flavour, are a nod towards the premium nature of these products.
12 of these botanicals are sourced from the kitchen garden at Rudding Park hotel, where guests and visitors can see the botanicals marked out on the garden map to show where they are grown. The rhubarb is sourced from Oldroyd’s farm in nearby Wakefield – part of the so called ‘Rhubarb Triangle’. Naturally, with water playing such a part in the inspiration behind the brand, it couldn’t just be from the local puddle and so each of the spirits produced by the brand uses water from the Harrogate aquifer.
The range currently consists of the London Dry, Yorkshire Rhubarb, Navy Strength, Yorkshire Gooseberry Gin and more recently Marmalade Gin. Visitors however can look to do more than simply pick up a bottle – the Gin Experience at the Spirit of Harrogate Store is something. Two different tours are available, starting with the ‘Spirit of Gin’ tour which takes two-and-a-half hours and offers guests four drinks each, to the ‘Master Distiller’ package, whereby guests get four drinks but will also have made a bottle of gin themselves, suited to their tastes.
In an area so broad, there’s more than a few good gin bars to visit. Asking the producers themselves, the Star Inn outside York, along with its sister venue, Star Inn the City, crops up a number of times, while for traditional fare, The Cross Keys in Leeds is another popular choice.