Gin has seen a renaissance across the UK, with sales booming and distilleries opening all across the country. Penny Walker went to sip some for herself.
“Beautiful parts of the world deserve beautiful products to represent them”. Striding across the crunchy gravel path towards the huge converted barn made of beautiful Cotswold stone, our guide Dean is brimming with a contagious passion. “This is the magic of distillation.”
As I step through the vast, wooden doors at the Cotswold Distillery, I’m hit by the pungent yet not unpleasant smell of slowly fermenting barley. It takes me back to hours spent pulling pints behind the bar of the village pub.
It’s evident that this is a working distillery. Timers ping, overall-clad distillers run up and down steel stairs to check on various stills, and the whole place gently hums with the sound of productivity.
“Everything that’s grown locally is sourced locally, from the lavender that’s plucked from just a few miles down the road to the special hand-picked ingredients that go into our seasonal hedgerow gin,” Dean explains.
Here, even the waste from the distilling process is returned to the land. Some is tossed into the local farmer’s anaerobic digester to make bio-fuel while the rest is fed to the region’s cattle.
Initially opened as a whisky distillery almost three years ago, it’s the carefully crafted gin that’s been winning awards here as they patiently wait for their malt to mature.
Gin has been an integral part of the UK’s drinking heritage since the 17th century when soldiers returning from the Thirty Years’ War brought the juniper-flavoured spirit home with them from the Netherlands.
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Once so popular it was known as “mother’s ruin”, gin took a downturn and seemed destined for a slow decline as it fell increasingly out of favour with the masses.
But over the last decade or so, the tipple has been experiencing something of a renaissance. Over 40 new distilleries a year now open across the UK and it seems that the nation is once again in love with gin. But not any old gin, craft gin. Today, it’s all about the flavour, the quality and an almost definable sense of personality.
For the Cotswolds Distillery, that means throwing out the rulebook. “We don’t focus on creating what the traditionalists believe a gin should be, but on where the ingredients come from and how the final product tastes,” Dean says.
Dean concludes the tour around the distillery before taking us to the storage room where large bourbon and red wine barrels filled with whisky are stacked to the rafters.
It’s then on to the tasting room – a cosy lounge with a country-cottage feel, sinkable sofas and a warm fire.
Sleek little glasses are handed out and half-filled with the distillery’s staple, a London Dry Gin.
The scent of lavender hits you straight on the nose while a sip delivers warm, citrus flavours that are followed by a punch of spice. But it’s when the clear liquid is married with ice or tonic that the magic happens. At 46 percent proof, this is no normal gin.
“Unlike more mainstream brands, our gin hasn’t been chill filtered,” Dean explains. This means that the spirit louches (turns cloudy) when the structure is changed. The taste is completely smoothed out in one simple motion of chemical mastery as the essential oils that have been suspended in the spirit are released, packing the drink full of flavour.
With everyone suitably reveling in a warm buzz, Dean brings out a huge parade of spirits made on site. We’re offered a taste of everything from 1616, a hybrid of gin and whisky, to apple brandy, spirited sherry, limoncello, summer cup, single malt spirit, a creamy liqueur affectionately referred to as “dessert” and even absinthe.
The final treat is a taste of this season’s specialty gins – Baharat, with a spicy kick of chilli and coriander, and a hop and chamomile gin. “Next season”, I’m told, “it’s a sloe hedgerow gin made from whatever we can forage in the local area.”
Even the drivers don’t leave empty handed, with small take-away cups perfectly preserving their liquid lavender for after the journey.
Love a glass of gin at the end of a long week? We’ve scoured the UK for some of the best craft distilleries that offer a tour and tasting:
Found in the beautiful Brecon Beacons in Wales not far from the spectacular walks of Waterfall Country, this small independent distillery produces whisky, vodka and cream liqueur alongside its two craft gins.
Brecon Gin features orange and lemon with a hint of nutmeg, liquorice and angelica, while the Brecon Botanicals Gin is made only in small batches and mingles citrus notes with a blend of oriental spices.
2. The Echlinville Distillery, County Down
Home to two very different gins, this single-estate distillery sits on the Ards peninsula and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Jawbox classic dry gin offers a timeless flavour with a subtle rootiness, while the Echlinville Irish Pot Still Gin has a sweet almost creamy taste with highlights of anise, lavender, elderflower and rose flower.
Putting London Dry Gin back where it belongs, co-founders Fairfax, Jared and Sam were the first to use a copper pot still in London for nearly 200 years. Opening in 2009, the signature bottle of this traditional handcrafted production is packed with flavour and features juniper, angelica, coriander seed, cassia bark, Orris root, almond, cinnamon, liquorice, lemon and orange.
The Chiswick-based distillery also creates a velvety-sweet sloe gin and a 57.7 percent ABV gin that they call V.J.O.P. (Very Junipery Over Proof gin).
A modern London Dry Gin, Caorunn was named for the Gaelic word for Rowan Berry.
Foraged from the pristine natural landscape that surrounds the distillery, the rowan berry, bog myrtle, heather, coul blush apple and dandelion leaf give this crisp, aromatic gin its own distinct flavour and capture the essence of the breathtaking Scottish Highlands.
A single-estate distillery found on the rich farmland of Herefordshire, Chase Distillery has a farm-to-bottle philosophy.
With no less than five variants of Williams gin on their list including Extra Dry, Elegant 48, Pink Grapefruit, Seville Orange, and Sloe and Mulberry gin, Chase are one of the larger distilleries.
5. Isle of Harris Distillers, Outer Hebrides
A visit to “the Social Distillery” in the remote setting of the Outer Hebrides offers an experience like no other. Surrounded by the ocean on all sides, the maritime influence and the taste of the sea is inescapable with locally sourced sugar kelp infusing the gin to give it a unique flavour profile.
6. Dà Mhìle Distillery, Llandysul
Set in the idyllic, lush surrounds of Glynhynod Farm in Ceredigion next to the dairy of Caws Teifi Cheese, this small distillery is about as rural as it gets.
Amid the cow sheds and milking parlour, 100 percent organic artisanal gin is crafted in three forms; the Farmhouse Botanical Gin with its unusual note of dandelion; the small-batch Seaweed Gin infused with seaweed handpicked on the Celtic coast to give it an unusual light-green hue; and the “Christmas themed” Sloe Gin.
Header image: Images left to right (top–bottom): Neil Setchfield/Alamy; Penny Walker; Penny Walker; Dan/Flickr; Penny Walker; Penny Walker; Penny Walker; ammentorp/123rf; Dom Atreides/Flickr; _andrew/Flickr; Rob Young/Flickr