Yorkshire gin - the success story that keeps on growing

Chris Jaume and Abbie Neilson, co-founders of Cooper King distillery.Chris Jaume and Abbie Neilson, co-founders of Cooper King distillery.
Chris Jaume and Abbie Neilson, co-founders of Cooper King distillery.
Gin used to be simple. A few big brands dominated the market and, while we all had our favourite flavours, there was a degree of monotony about choosing a gin to go with our tonic.

But that has all changed. In the last decade, dozens of distilleries have set up across the county, bringing individual personalities and flavours to the nation’s signature drink, the G&T.

Masons was one of the first to strike out with its bold branding, proudly declaring its heritage with a Yorkshire rose on the bottle, and even a Yorkshire Tea edition. Many others have followed. These gins fly the flag for Yorkshire as they are distributed far and wide. I have even seen Yorkshire gins in a bar in South Africa.

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One of the key aspects of gin making is the choice of botanicals. These are the flavouring ingredients that give each gin its unique taste. While juniper is an essential in all gins, it is the signature ingredients, some of them foraged from hedgerows and coastlines, that give each gin its own particular favour.

Masons of Yorkshire are of the county's success stories.Masons of Yorkshire are of the county's success stories.
Masons of Yorkshire are of the county's success stories.

It is Yorkshire’s wide and varied landscape that provides vital elements of flavour to create the huge range of gins now appearing on our shelves. Here are some more of the movers and shakers in Yorkshire’s gin scene:

Slingsby gin, named after William Slingsby who discovered the unique properties of the natural spring water from Harrogate’s Tewit Well, sources some of its key botanicals from the kitchen garden of the town’s Rudding Park Hotel. The rhubarb for its Rhubarb Gin comes from the famed rhubarb triangle in Wakefield.

Spirit of Masham’s owners Derek and Carol Harle also use local rhubarb including some from their own garden to create their Rhubarb Gin, although they are anchored even more into the taste of Masham by using hops in their gins. Their Original Gin uses Challenger hops, as used by the two local breweries, Black Sheep and Theakstons.

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“We got into distilling almost by accident after a customer who walked into our wine shop happened to be a master distiller for one of the major brands,” said Derek. Now they have a 200-litre still named Big Stan, and a range of gins, including one that uses Goldings hops and pink peppercorns. Master distiller Gerard Macluskey still acts as consultant for Spirit of Masham, helping it to create classic yet modern gins.

Over at Harewell House Farm in the heart of Nidderdale, Toby and Jane Whittaker have created a range of distinctive Whittaker’s gins using local herbs and fruit such as thyme, bilberries and bog myrtle to provide unique and complex flavours. In 2012, Toby ventured to Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh to learn about distilling and then transformed an old pig shed into a distillery. Whittaker’s gin has been such a hit that one of its devoted customers plans to take the recipe back to the United States when his tour of duty at Menwith Hill ends.

Gin is not the only product on their minds at Harewell House Farm. “We are moving into whisky production too,” said Toby.

In the heart of York, the 300-litre still at York Gin is named Ebor, linking the city’s only distillery to its Roman name. With a fistful of medals from international spirits competitions, York Gin has worked with chefs at the Michelin-starred Star Inn in Harome to create Old Tom gin which captures tastes from the herb garden and plants foraged from Yorkshire’s hedgerows. It also has a city-centre gin shop where you can taste the range.

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Cooper King is one of the newest gins on the scene and it is growing fast. Inspired by distilleries they encountered on a trip to Tasmania, Abbie Neilson and Chris Jaume spent their house deposit on a piece of land to build a distillery when they returned home to Sutton-on-the-Forest.

“We bought a still in Tasmania and had it shipped over here and now we make gin using a cold vacuum distillation process,” says Abbie. In everything they do, Abbie and Chris focus on the effect it has on the environment. “We use local botanicals in our gin wherever we can. Local lavender, basil and honey are just some of the signature ingredients. Even the gin itself is made from Yorkshire wheat. We also contribute to planting trees in Yorkshire with the sale of every bottle.”

Finding the right location for production is vital, and the co-founders of Whitby Gin, Luke Pentith and Jessica Slater, learnt just weeks ago that plans had been passed for the renovation of two barns next to Whitby Abbey to create a “forever” home.

Success has come quickly for Whitby Gin. “We were named Best British London Dry Gin in the World Gin Awards in 2019, and so the Craft Gin Club has sent our gin to 60,000 customers this month,” said Luke. “Just producing that amount of gin kept us busy all through lockdown. We use local flavour elements such as sugar kelp, pepper dulse, Yorkshire honey and heather flower.”

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Hooting Owl distillery based in Barmby Moor can trace its origins back to 1865 when the property was an old coaching inn. Now renovated and revitalised, it is back in production using Yorkshire raspberries as one of its flavour elements.

Many distilleries welcome visitors to see how the product is made and at some you can learn about the whole distilling process, and even create your own gin. Slingsby in Harrogate, Spirit of Masham, Hotham in Hull and Rare Bird in Malton all run sessions which are fun and informative.

At this point, you might think it could be fun to set up your own still and make your own spirit at home but be warned. Her Majesty’s Government takes a keen interest in distilling, so if you want to have a go yourself, outside of the gin schools, you will need to get acquainted with all the legislation and the licences needed to distil alcohol.

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James Mitchinson

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