ANDREW LOYD’S 12 FAVORITE GIN DISTILLERIES IN THE UK
In celebration of World Gin Day, which in it’s ninth year, was on Saturday 10th June 2017, I have decided to explore gin to find the best gin distilleries in the UK along with recommendations of where to stay nearby.
Memories of London’s gin crisis in the 18th century, made famous by William Hogarth’s Gin Lane, have left a long shadow over the gin industry in the city. In fact, it was only in 2009 that gin distillation re-emerged in London, with the first distillation license issued in 189 years. However, since then the industry has undergone a long overdue revival as a number of distilleries and micro-distilleries have popped up across the capital. Part of the reason for this is due to the fact that there has been a growing trend in London of customers looking for affordable indulgences. Rather than just buying the mainstream gin brands, they are now more inclined to look for unique brands with a greater story and individuality.
Craft gin is seriously in fashion and the number of distilleries has doubled since 2010 with now 233 in the UK producing a wide variety of delicious gins. This trend is being driven by the younger generation of whom 34% now say they enjoy gin. This is quite a turnaround from a few years ago when gin consumption had plummeted in favor of other spirits and cocktails. Gin sales rose to 1.3 billion pounds last year and it’s been great for Britain which is the main producer of gin. Indeed the G&T is a very British drink and is part of our culture, along with cucumber sandwiches and gentleman’s relish.
Gin is created by pot-distilling fermented grain mash from barley and other grains and then re-distilling that solution with flavoring botanicals. The aromatic compounds are extracted from the botanicals to flavor the gin, with the main botanical being juniper berries. Recently gin distillers have been experimenting with a wide range of botanicals, including lemon and bitter orange peel, spices, anise, angelica root and seed, liquorice root, orris root cinnamon, lime peel, almond, grapefruit peel, saffron, and coriander. These different and exciting gins are a big part of why the drink has become so popular again.
Below are some of Andrew’s favorite gin distilleries and where you can stay to enjoy them.
In 2009, Sipsmith became the first new copper-pot based distillery in London for 189 years. Launched by Sam Galsworthy, Fairfax Hall and Jared Brown, who all wanted to pursue their passion for handmade spirits. After a long fight with HMRC who were worried their small levels of production effectively amounted to ‘moonshine’ and finally seeing the law being changed so they could get a license, the team were off. They opened up the market for many others to follow. When they launched, Sipsmith became the first copper-pot based distillery to start up in London in over 180 years. They called the distillery Sipsmith after the name they gave themselves “sip-smiths”, which is a celebration of the craft of distillation and their artisan methods. Now Sipsmith Gin is distilled using three different stills named Constance, Prudence and Patience and the distillery has become hugely successful and respected. A beautiful house to stay in, from where you can experience the best of both worlds by escaping the hustle and bustle of London but also reach the capital within one hour by train, is Cowdray House in West Sussex. Sleeping up to 30 guests in huge comfort.
2. ROCK ROSE
Named for one of the rare botanicals the “Rhodiola rosea” which grows on the cliffs of Caithness, Rock Rose Gin by Dunnet Bay is one of the most popular craft gins in Britain. The Rock Rose is famous for its health benefits and was much enjoyed by the Vikings for its strength and vitality. The first batch of the gin sold out in less than 48 hours, which is an industry record. Britain’s most northerly mainland distillery, Rock Rose prefer a nearly unique distilling process which infuses 18 botanicals, five of which are grown locally. They also use Italian and Bulgarian junipers which are blended to create a unique juniper taste for their gin. The distillery was founded by Martin and Claire Murray in 2011 and Rock Rose Gin was launched in 2014. The gin is distilled using the vapor infusion method in a traditional John Dore & Co copper pot. The botanicals are placed in a steam basket in the neck of the still and include sea buckthorn, rowan berries and Rhodiola rosea from which the gin gets its name. Aldourie Castle, on the shores of Loch Ness is a truly wonderful place to host a house party with a group of friends, and from there, you can travel the 2 1/2 hours north to Thurso and enjoy exploring this fabulous gin distillery.
3. HENDRICK’S GIN
Hendrick’s Gin launched in 1999 by William Grant & Sons, at a time when gin drinking was in serious decline. A reminder of gin’s forbears the apothecary style bottle makes you think of Genevers and when gin was a medicine. The Edwardian era look quickly caught on and made Henrick’s incredibly fashionable. This distillery set the trend. The gin is distilled using a Carter-head still. These were specially built with gin in mind. Botanicals are placed in a copper basket and the vapor passes through them. It’s a special type of “gin basket” designed by the Carter Brothers. They also use a traditional pot still process where the botanicals are macerated for twenty four hours and distilled. After blending the two distillates, Hendrick’s add rose and cucumber essence before dilution. It’s this special taste which has made the gin so wildly popular and which has encouraged many other distilleries to follow in their footsteps, sometimes with ever more wild & wacky ingredients. Located in southern Ayrshire, this is another great Scottish gin and an industry leader. Glenapp Castle Hotel is a stunning, coastal Victorian castle hotel with a rich history and it is only 1/2 hours drive away from Girvan where Hendrick’s Gin is made. A luxuriously comfortable place to stay from which to visit this gin distillery.
4. BOMBAY SAPPHIRE
Leading the charge in the gin revival, Bombay Sapphire has been around since 1987 and is distilled using a carterhead still, meaning the botanicals do not come into direct contact with alcohol but are contained in a wire basket above the liquid and the flavors released by vapor alone. This process creates a less flavored spirit but you can taste a warm and spicy gin, with a liquorice aftertaste. The botanicals are clearly labeled on the bottle and include Juniper, Lemon, Coriander, Angelica, Orris Root, Grains of Paradise, Cubeb Berries, Cassia, Almonds and Liquorice, which are all common ingredients in gin. However in Sapphire, it’s the clever combination of these ingredients that has created this hugely popular and loved gin. Many people started drinking gin again when Bombay Sapphire appeared on the scene and it certainly has a lovely after taste. The distillery which Bacardi built at Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire is really fun to visit and beautifully laid out. Two of our most beautiful private homes, situated within 1 1/2 drive from the Bombay Sapphire distillery, are Farleigh House in Hampshire which sleeps 21 guests and Cornwell Manorin the Cotswolds which sleeps 24 people.
5. COTSWOLD DISTILLERY
Another exciting new arrival on the gin scene is the Cotswold Distillery, located in a pretty, honey-stoned farmhouse in Stourton, near Shipston-on-Stour in the North Cotswolds. It’s not as huge as the Bombay Sapphire operation in Laverstoke but definitely worth a visit for a fascinating glimpse of artisanal gin-making. US born whisky aficionado Daniel Szor noticed fields of barley in the Cotswolds and wondered why no one was distilling there. He and his team, including head distiller Alex Davies, who had worked at the Chase Distillery, experimented with 50 recipes before finding the right mix for their gin which contains organic lavender, bay leaf, grapefruit and black pepper. Not content with just whiskey, and with a little encouragement from his gin-loving friends, Dan also decided to embark upon a gin-making journey. Having consulted with the experts at Arnold Holstein in Germany, they decided to build a tailor-made 500 liter hybrid still. This comprises of an onion head, carter head and column for the production of their flagship Cotswolds Dry Gin. Cornwell Manor is just 15 minutes drive from the Cotswold Distillery and so an ideal place to stay with a group of friends or family. Incorporating a day trip to the Cotswold Distillery is a fun addition to any itinerary.
6. ABLEFORTH’S BATHTUB GIN
Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin is produced using the Cold Compound process whereby 6 botanicals, including cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, are infused in a base spirit in a copper pot still before being filtered out. The base of Bathtub Gin is a botanical spirit distilled in pot stills by Langley Distillery. This traditional process, which takes up to 2 days to complete, gives the gin its subtle bronze tint. Each bottle is then wrapped, strung and waxed by hand.
7. BLACKWOOD DISTILLERY
The evidence for annual variation based on botanical alone in spirits is tenuous at best but that’s not what the team at Blackwood Distillery are aiming for. Previously the composition of their gin differed through the use of a myriad of botanicals but from 2012 the gin includes mainly angelica, sea pink, Marigold, Meadowsweet and other more standard gin botanicals. They handpick Shetland botanicals each year to give their gin a distinctive and subtle flavor. Each year’s harvest is determined by the plants available from the islands, using a traditional copper still and producing only small batches.
8. EDEN MILL GIN DISTILLERY
Close to the beautiful town of St Andrews in Fife, home of the game of golf, is the much respected Eden Mill Gin Distillery. They are Scotland’s first combined brewery and distillery. Eden Mill has combined its experience in the beer and spirit making process to create some great gin. Their Hop Gin is made with several botanicals, including juniper berries, angelica and coriander. This is a very small distillery and typical of the many that are popping up around Britain. With a loyal local following, I am sure they quench the thirst of many a golfer coming off the Old Course and in all the surrounding club houses of East Fife. Accommodating 12 guests in the main house, we have a stunning 15th Century Scottish country house to stay in whilst exploring St Andrews and Eden Mill Distrillery. Kemback House is situated just 5 minutes from St Andrews and is a completely unique house filled with stunning art and sculpture throughout.
9. EDINBURGH GIN
The Spencerfield land in Edinburgh has been involved in distilling since the 1700’s and James Anderson was the first, but had to stop when distilling outside of London was prohibited. This led him to emigrate to America where he became farm manager at Mount Vernon and produced George Washington’s Whiskey. Alex Nicol with a more corporate background in the drinks world, including Marketing Director of Glenmorangie, started The Spencerfield Spirits Co. in 2005. Whilst they have concentrated on Whiskey production, in 2010 they launched Edinburgh Gin, re-introducing gin production which had been cut off by the earlier ban and restored the much admired distillery to its rightful place as a leader in its field. Using Scottish grown grain the base spirit is made at the Invergordon Distillery. Two wonderful houses to stay in, within an hours drive of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Gin’s West End Distillery, are Gilmerton House in East Lothian which sleeps 20 people and Kinross House, for a larger party, sleeps 28.
10. LANGLEY’S GIN
The last distillation where classic botanicals are used is carried out at Langley Distillery, near Birmingham. Langley’s Gin is produced in small batches using a 200-year-old Scottish copper pot still known as No.7. Finishing touches to the production and bottling are carried out by Broxburn Bottlers in Edinburgh.
11. PLYMOUTH GIN
The Plymouth Gin Distillery was once a monastery and then a prison before becoming a distillery. The Plymouth Distillery’s proximity to the Royal William Victualling Yard in Plymouth made it an ideal location for supplying thirsty naval officers with gin. If you drank gin while in the Royal Navy, it was probably Plymouth Gin. The brand dates back to at least the early nineteenth century and it’s one of the oldest gin brands still being produced today. A lovely smell with an earthy mix of angelica and juniper, with subtle camphoraceous tinges of cardamom and coriander. Absolutely beautiful, Plymouth Gin is one of our favorites.
12. SACRED SPIRITS
Sacred Spirits is another of the unique brands. Set up and run by ex-financiers Ian & Hillary Hart, Sacred Spirits emerged when Ian turned from using his Natural Sciences degree at Cambridge in order to try his hand at gin distillation. He began experimenting with different combinations of botanicals and took his attempts to his local pub to see what the regulars thought. It took 22 failed attempts before his 23rd recipe received approval and the landlord offered to sell it. From there, Sacred Spirits has gone from strength to strength and now distills 8 gins, all from Ian and Hilary’s micro-distillery at home in Highgate, North London. Sacred Spirits is special for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Ian and Hilary use vacuum distillation in the production of their gin. This method of distillation cooks the botanicals at between 30 and 40 degrees Celsius, avoiding any heat-related degradation of the product and resulting in a much cleaner and fresher tasting gin. In layman’s terms, vacuum distillation allows you to distil a fresh orange and end up with the flavors of a fresh orange instead of that of marmalade.
The second big appeal to Sacred Spirits lies in their use of botanicals. They use 12 organically sourced botanicals in their gin production, each individually macerated and distilled before being added to the gin itself. These Botanicals include the all-essential Juniper berry, as well as nutmeg and cardamom. However, the most notable botanical is without doubt the Boswellia Sacra, a type of frankincense and normally expected in a traditional gin. The combination of these two approaches leads to a unique method of distillation that makes all of their products worth a taste. Our favorite is the Rosehip Cup. Made up of 27 botanicals, this fruity, slightly bitter liqueur significantly enhances a range of cocktails from a Negroni to a Tequila Sunrise. So whether you are a gin lover or a fan of fresh flavors in your spirits, Sacred Spirits will not disappoint. One thing is certain; we are very glad that Ian didn’t give up at recipe number 22!
Best gin distilleries in the UK by Andrew Loyd – + 44 (0) 1835 824642 or firstname.lastname@example.org