Hampshire’s best gin makers and shakers

The Ginchester Fete was a sell-out for discerning gin lovers

The Ginchester Fete was a sell-out for discerning gin lovers - Credit: Archant

Now that ‘dry January’ is over and New Year’s resolutions have been banished to the back of the drinks cabinet, it’s time to get re-acquainted with some of Hampshire’s best gin makers and shakers, says Natalie French

Britain’s gin renaissance is in full swing. According to a 2016 report from the IWSR, the alcohol industry’s leading market analysis firm, the UK gin scene has grown 14 per cent – faster than any other major spirit.

Our love of a good cocktail is helping, but it’s the gin & tonic revival that has put gin back on the drinks menu. A quintessentially British long drink, the ‘G&T’ was first concocted by the British Army in India in the 1800s. In recent years, this classic combo has been given a new lease of life, with the help of premium tonics such as Fever Tree – whose UK sales doubled in the six months to June 2016.

What’s more, there has been a shift to premium gins, such as Bombay, Tanqueray and Sipsmith, with sales of super-premium gins up by 49.4 per cent in 2015.

Britain’s love of gin has also seen the number of distilleries double in six years. Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs figures showed 233 licensed producers at the end of 2015, with many more launching throughout 2016, an increase from 116 in 2010 said to have been driven by the rise of craft distilleries. Hampshire has been merrily riding the gin train. Ever since top British designer, Thomas Heatherwick, transformed a former paper mill in rural Hampshire into the gin mecca that is Bombay Sapphire Distillery, more and more craft distilleries have opened in the county.

Silverback Gin from Gorilla Spirit Co.

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Gorilla Spirit Co. are a micro distillery in Four Marks owned by Andy and Claire Daniels. Their Silverback Gin was launched at the end of 2015 and won Silver & Bronze at the 2016 International Wine & Spirits Competition. Andy says: “It’s been an amazing year, hard work but really enjoyable. A highlight was to see Silverback winning two medals at the IWSC and that has helped to create new opportunities. We are pursuing some exciting new export opportunities for 2017 and expect to more than double our output next year.”

As well as producing their own products, Gorilla Spirit also are also making Gin for two other small brands. “We worked alongside their formulation experts to develop unique recipes and we are pleased to have helped them launch what we are sure will become some highly regarded gins,” says Andy.

“It’s great to see an expanding range of craft spirits come onto the market. Gin is leading the way and is helping to create interest and open people’s minds to new ideas in the world of spirits which were once seen largely as commodity products,” continues Andy.

“What’s happening is very similar to how small breweries changed the way people thought about beer. More than ever before, consumers want to ‘connect’ with the products they buy. They are also concerned about the impact the making of these products have on our environment.”

Keen to ensure their business was ethical, with minimal environmental impact, Andy is proud of their commitment to The Gorilla Organisation, a team of African conservationists who are trying to save the world’s last remaining gorillas from extinction: “We include a fixed sum donation for each product that we sell. We call this GAT, or Gorilla Added Tax.”


Lymington Gin from Dancing Cow Distillery

Another small-batch craft distillery (and brewery) climbing the gin ranks is Dancing Cow, who recently won Hampshire Life Food and Drink Awards Best Drink Product of the Year for 2016. “I was delighted to win for our Lymington Gin,” says owner Richard Baker. “We were up against some great competition and we’ve only been distilling for ten months. The best awards are always the ones voted for by consumers. They are the only judges that really matter.”

So what makes the 43 per cent Lymington Gin so special? “It is made with nine botanicals including local angelica seeds that I harvest from the fields around us and we infuse the gin with English hops to add a slightly citrusy floral aroma at the end,” explains Richard. Along with the angelica seeds, other ingredients include: coriander seeds, orris root, bitter orange peel, cardamom, fresh lemon zest and sweet almonds. These are distilled in a 500-litre column still from Northern Italy, called Sarah, capable of producing rums, whiskies and brandies along with the award-winning gin.


Gin & Olive Gin Bar, Southsea

Hampshire takes its love of gin so seriously that it now has its own gin bar in Southsea, with over 100 gins to sample. The concept for Gin & Olive was originally developed to add a twist on Portsmouth’s night life, explains general manager, Andrei Slemco: “People were a bit tired of going to the same typical bars, so we decided to invest our time learning, tasting and combining the most unique gins and tonics to create a truly different experience for our customers.”

“We started the long process of selecting the most interesting gins on the market and try to pair them with the most unique tonics. After extensive tastings and G&T parings we found the winners,” explains Andrei.

“But we had so many gins it was impossible for someone who wasn’t initiated to understand how gins work, so we came up with a system that would simplify gins.”

The Gin & Olive team divided the gins into six major categories: Fruity, Dry, Floral, Citrus, American and Spiced Gins. “Having found the gins, we had to distinguish ourselves from other gin bars by enhancing the flavour using different garnishes,” says Andrei. “At the moment we work with approximately 23 different garnishes including: lime, lemon, orange, pink grapefruit, lime leaves, berries, fresh ginger, sliced rhubarb, pomegranate, black pepper and even rose petals.”

“Lastly three quarters of your G&T is a tonic, so we went for the absolute best when it comes to variety: Fever Tree,” says Andrei. “They have 10 flavours at the moment which include: elderflower tonic, Mediterranean tonic and Sicilian Lemon tonic.”


Ginchester Fete, Winchester

To celebrate World Gin Day, gin-lovers and co-founders of the Cabinet Rooms, Gary Whiter and Marcus Roe, are organising the second Ginchester Fete. This quirky English affair is putting Winchester on the gin map.

“Winchester is a quaint city with a voracious appetite for gin, so we decided to have an adult-only, tongue-in-cheek, gin event that would appeal to both the city’s sense of humour and sophisticated palate,” says Gary.

“Winchester has become the Gin Capital of the South. We’re surrounded by so many distilleries. I think one of the reasons is that people in Hampshire really care about the provenance of food and drink and the quality.”

“We wanted to organise something fun, where you can immerse yourselves in gin (so to speak) and meet like-minded people. Stalls at Ginchester are all run by local businesses who share a common love of gin,” says Gary.

The event is on Saturday June 10.


Make your own…

Winchester Distillery is a true craft distillery, established in 2014 by master distiller, Paul Bowler. Paul makes small-batch, premium spirits like award-winner Twisted Nose Gin - which combines ten botanicals including, most notably, locally-grown watercress.

“The watercress adds sweet herbaceous notes and a peppery sparkle to the finish that lifts a gin and tonic to new heights,” says Paul. “It’s the most refreshing gin we’ve ever tasted, but perhaps we’re just a little biased.”

“The Romans knew watercress as Nasturtium, meaning “twisted nose”, from which our gin takes its name,” explains Paul. “It’s great served with a good tonic and twist of pink grapefruit for the perfect gin and tonic or with our Hampshire Vermouth for an amazing Martini.”

If you’ve ever fancied trying your hand at gin making, Winchester Distillery offers a private session, where you can create your own bottle using a blend of juniper and over 50 botanical distillates. The experience includes complimentary drinks to get the creative juices flowing, access to the distillery laboratory and a personalised bottle of gin to take home and enjoy.

£95 per person for a maximum of 20 people.


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