Slingsby Gin began back in 2015 with an idea to pay homage to its namesake, William Slingsby, who put Harrogate and its “healing” spring waters on the map in the 16th century.
Five years on, the brand – created by Spirit of Harrogate – has become a sensation in the craft gin world. It’s got a stack of classic and experimental expressions to its name and hosts its own experiences to share its gin-making knowledge with others.
To mark its fifth anniversary, we caught up with Spirit of Harrogate’s founders and co-owners Mike Carthy and Marcus Black to look back at Slingsby Gin’s origins, its journey so far and its next steps.
What inspired you to start Spirit of Harrogate and Slingsby Gin?
MC – I’m a qualified chemist and had worked in the drinks industry for more than three decades before co-founding Spirit of Harrogate. I’m an innovator and always coming up with new (and often out-there) ideas for drinks! Myself and Marcus also own drinks producer Intercontinental Brands (ICB) which is celebrating its 30thanniversary this year.
We were in one of our favourite Harrogate restaurants, Cardamom Black, when we had the idea to start Slingsby. We were having dinner and we started sampling all the gins from their collection and after polishing off an entire bottle of Tanqueray, it sparked an idea: to create our own gin that brought together all that Harrogate has to offer. The ‘Spirit of Harrogate’ was born.
MB – My background is accountancy. I worked in mergers and acquisitions for 15 years before a partial buyout of ICB and finding myself joining the business. We created the Spirit of Harrogate as a separate business with the aim to create a range of drinks that celebrates Harrogate and its spa town heritage.
The original concept was to make all the sections of a Vespa Martini – a gin, a vodka and a vermouth – using local suppliers and ingredients. The first product we created was in fact the Vespa Martini that we bottled for a charity ball five years ago! We wanted to engage with lots of local businesses and bring everything together, which we have achieved with Slingsby.
The craft gin market is a busy one now – how did you want Slingsby to stand out?
MB – We always set out to produce an ultra-premium gin and to create something that would wow people when they first try it. It was a tough challenge, particularly when we started with a premium offering, and you’ve got that trade-off between creating volume and maintaining exclusivity. We try to be accessible and that means we can sit on the high street as well as premium retail; I always look up to and strive to be the Grey Goose of gin. It can be difficult to get the balance right sometimes, though.
When we set out, we also didn’t want to be a small, local gin brand. We always said we wanted to be a global brand – Harrogate based but operating globally. Everything that we did, from sourcing bottles to looking at how we would expand, was key – we never wanted to be in the position where we couldn’t scale up.
Can you describe the process of making Slingsby Gin?
MC – We use local botanicals sourced from Rudding Park Hotel kitchen garden. Taylors of Harrogate green and jasmine tea is also one of our botanicals and, of course, we use Harrogate spring water. We try to work with local suppliers for everything we do and we are proud to call them our partners. We would never step into a category that doesn’t allow us to be true to our original vision.
In terms of our new flavour developments, we’re always innovating and creating exciting new gins behind the scenes. Some of these are available to try from our famous kilner jars in our Harrogate store, where customers can vote for their favourite. This is where our Rhubarb, Gooseberry and most recent Marmalade Gins started out. We use the store as a test bed to gain feedback before we go to market and customers can still come and sample these.
What are your ambitions for the Spirit of Harrogate and Slingsby?
MC – We are delighted to have the retail unit and one of our physical gin experiences, Spirit of Gin, back up and running. We also have a new digital experience for those that can’t make the trip to Harrogate, which is going down very well. Although all of our events programme has sadly been postponed this year, we are still in long term partnerships with Chestertons Polo in the Park and PGA Championships at Wentworth and we look forward to getting these off the ground next year.
We’re always looking at new ways to serve Slingsby. We’ve produced a ready-to-serve Solo Slingsby premixed gin and tonic, which we tried and tested at the UCI world championships in Harrogate. We’ve received fantastic feedback and are currently looking into how we might make something like this more readily available. We feel there is going to be more of a requirement for convenience and ease of serve for both consumers and the bars and restaurants.
We have an ambition to take Slingsby global and last year appointed an export manager to help us to achieve this. We’d like to see Slingsby available on a global scale in five years’ time – watch this space.
To find out more about the Spirit of Harrogate and Slingbsy Gin, go to www.spiritofharrogate.co.uk.