When Sir William Slingsby discovered Harrogate’s first spa water spring in 1571, he could never have imagined that it would go on to become a main ingredient in the 21st century ‘gin craze’.
Some 420 years later and not only is it the main ingredient in Harrogate’s very own ‘Slingsby’ gin, but his discovery has been immortalised on one of the spa town’s most historic streets.
Co-Founder of Spirit of Harrogate, on Montpellier Parade, Marcus Black, said: “When we launched the Spirit of Harrogate and Slingsby, everything had to reflect the essence of Harrogate and its traditions as a place where people could relax, indulge and soak in the culture, taking us back to Victorian Britain and the heritage of the town.”
Since its launch in November 2015, Spirit of Harrogate has developed a range with five different types of Slingsby gin, a Slingsby vodka and two ‘gin experiences’.
Marcus said: “We wanted to produce a product encompassing the historic nature of the water that comes from Harrogate and using the flora and fauna around us.
“That was the original concept, from that we have developed the retail unit and the gin experiences to give us a physical presence and to complement other businesses in the town.
“The gin experiences themselves were really borne out of the fact that the understanding of gin and history behind it has so much depth.”
But as with anything that becomes stylish, there is the danger that gin-drinking can be tarnished with ostentation.
“Gin is very on trend but with that can come a degree of snobbery or fear if you don’t have the latest flavours or knowledge,” explains Marcus.
“We wanted to debunk some of that and make it about what the individual likes - everybody likes their own thing.” he added.
Marcus said: “We are incredibly proud of our products and we always talk proudly about them but we want people to find their own way through the category, if they enjoy our products that’s fantastic and if they enjoy someone else’s then that’s great too.
“It’s not about us, it’s about the consumer.
“Most people that visit us appreciate that we don’t just ram our stuff down their throat.”
He added: “I get asked a lot ‘what’s the best gin’ and I say there isn’t a right answer, it’s about what you like and enjoy.”
But undoubtedly, the Slingsby brand has celebrated great success.
Since appearing on Montpellier Parade just three years ago, the products can now also be found on the shelves of major supermarkets and the Spirit of Harrogate gin experiences are ranked as the number one ‘thing to do’ in Harrogate on TripAdvisor.
So what makes Harrogate’s gin scene so unique?
“First and foremost, the water in Harrogate is world renowned,” says Marcus.
“London has been producing gin for centuries but the one thing London isn’t famous for is the quality of its water.
“And then of course we have all of the surrounding areas - the agricultural produce and food and drink from this region is fantastic.
“We have great ingredients if you like, which means we start with a fantastic product.” he adds.
But ‘the place’ is just as important as ‘the product’, and Harrogate’s reputation as a visitor destination, allows the brand to benefit greatly says Marcus.
“Harrogate is a visitor centre so we benefit day in day out throughout the year from people visiting the town, and that provides footfall for a store like ours where we have something specific.
“People are a bit more engaged and interested when stuff is a bit more localised.”
But it’s not just the visitors that the Spirit of Harrogate can thank for their popularity.
As Marcus rightly highlights, we residents are proud of our independent business and will happily shout about their successes.
Marcus said: “Harrogate residents, from our perspective, have definitely got engaged with what we have to offer and our philosophy, they have been massively supportive for us and they act as advocates whenever they travel around.
“Harrogate is a funny old place but there is a pride in this town and the local businesses.
“We have been genuinely overwhelmed and touched by the amount of support we have had over the last three years.”
He added: “Just like Harrogate Spring Water, Bettys and Taylors and Rudding Park, we are promoting the town on a national and international scale.”
But plans are afoot to give Harrogate even more exposure.
Marcus explained: “Whilst we do export some produce now it’s very small.
“Our main objective for 2019 is to take our message and produce to more international markets.
“At the moment our only inflight offer is with Jet2, Yorkshire’s airline, but we are talking to a number of other airlines about inflight provision.”
By January next year, Marcus says Slingsby will be stocked in Manchester airport terminals and London flight terminals by the summer.
But Marcus and his co-founder Mike Carthy are also in talks to take the Harrogate name to the Japanese market.
“Mike and I are both a bit rugby nuts -”
“The rugby world cup is being held in Japan next year so that’s really why we wanted to steer the product there.”
But 2019 will also present opportunities closer to home.
“The UCI Road World Championships in Harrogate, are a huge thing for us and a fantastic opportunity to put Harrogate and all we have to offer on the international stage for the best part of two weeks.”
Clearly, the 21st century gin craze is showing no signs of letting up, and Marcus agrees.
“The growth in gin is phenomenal at the moment. A lot of people say when is it going to stop but I think there is a lot left to give,” he says.
“It’s a bit like saying ‘wine has had its day’.”