Is there room in bars and shops for any more gin? Possibly, but competition is tough and only the best make the grade.
“We have noticed a definite shift in what our customers want,” said Julian Kaye at the Wright Wine Co, in Skipton. “Customers used to come in and choose the latest gin on the market, but now they buy the brands they love. It is traditional styles of gins that are leading the way, and Yorkshire gins in particular.”
The Wright Wine Co stocks a magnificent range of Yorkshire gins. There is Masons, which sets the quality bar high with its bold Yorkshire branding and clear juniper-led flavours, and York Gin, which makes a terrific range of gins and achieved national fame with its gin-based take on the chocolate orange. Then there are gins from Leeds, Whitby, the Yorkshire Dales and Harrogate. There’s even a 48 per cent abv Sheeptown Gin, made by local distillery Whittakers, which recalls the old name for Skipton and has a distinctive, dry taste.
Many local producers are run off their feet trying to keep up with demand. Luke Pentith, of Whitby Gin, said: “Whitby is full of people now; everyone is out and about and taking bottles of gin home with them. Local sales have doubled, and we have developed a strong export market too. We are just putting together a large order for Denmark where we are the featured gin in a Gin Club.”
It is the same story at the artisan Hooting Owl distillery in Barmby Moor, near Pocklington. “When the hospitality industry closed down, we lost sales, so we started to sell direct to retail customers,” said owner Dominic M’Benga. “They have stayed with us and now hospitality has started up again, so we are working flat out to fulfil orders that are three times larger than usual.”
But Dominic has found another way to increase sales without growing beyond the size of a genuine artisan. “We have developed partners in different parts of the country. They are often farmers with unused space, and we help them get started in the gin business. With our knowledge and buying power, plus mentoring, we have developed six partners to date who each make their own gin. These are made to a recipe we have created together, and are not copies of Hooting Owl.”
These partners are scattered from Lancaster to London, so Yorkshire knowledge is helping partners across the country create new gins. “We have also invested in specialised equipment so that small local shops can have their own brand. We can laser cut labels on bottles to personalise them,” adds Dominic.
Hooting Owl is available in many bars across the county and on the shelves at Roberts & Speight in Beverley (£36.99 for 70cl, £14.99 for 20cl).
Yet there is always room for a new gin on the shelves. One of the latest Yorkshire gins is John Robert’s Botanic Request. “We only launched in April, but we are already selling well in Yorkshire and London,” said Ben Peel, who developed the gin with his partner Emelie Nilsson, and set up two small stills in their garage in Pudsey. But Ben isn’t new to gin-making. For five years he was a distiller at Sipsmith in London, learning his craft and developing ideas. He then moved on within Sipsmith to train bar staff and retailers around the world about gin. “It was a fabulous job,” said Ben, “but after a few years I decided that I wanted to come back home.”
The way Botanic Request is made is different from most other gins I know. “We have divided the botanicals – the flavouring ingredients of the gin – into two categories. The flavours in hardier ingredients such as juniper, orris root and coriander seed are treated to a vacuum system, while the delicate ingredients such as lemon tea and orange peel are extracted using a sonic sound extraction method. The result is a gin that has fresh, identifiable flavours that work in harmony with each other.”
Also identifiable is the full name – John Robert’s Botanic Request pays homage to the Rolling Stones’ album Their Satanic Majesties Request, as well as combining the identical middle names of Ben, his father and grandfather. The bottle carries a distinctive yellow and black label with a lightning flash that brings Ziggy Stardust or even Harry Potter to mind.
Botanic Request is available in many bars around Leeds and at Latitude Wines in The Calls (£29.99).
Another new gin on the shelves at Latitude Wine is not made in Yorkshire but it has strong Yorkshire connections. The Boatyard Double Gin (£35.50) comes from Fermanagh in Ireland and is the first distillery in the area for over a century. Heavily involved in the Boatyard is Declan McGurk, who for many years worked at Square on the Lane and Chino Latino in Leeds. He came to Leeds for university and ended up staying in the city to start his career. From there he went to the Savoy in London where for seven years he presided over the American Bar, where he met the famous and the wealthy and learnt just how they like their drinks mixed.
The Boatyard Gin has a definite juniper-led taste, with citrus following and sweet-herbal notes mid palate. This is a gin that needs a positive flavour in the glass, teamed up with a quality tonic and a garnish of pink grapefruit.
While most gins are perfect in a G&T, or even a Negroni, the one that I have been enjoying in the hot weather is the new Cotton Gin Strawberry and Pink Peppercorn gin from Otterbeck distillery (£38, the Wright Wine Co). With delicate, wild strawberry notes and a distinct peppery spice, it is perfect poured over ice and topped up with Fevertree elderflower tonic.