I suspect we’ve all had days when we’ve travelled to work and dreamt of better ways to spend our time. Alan Bottomley, an engineer, was driving to his job when the idea struck him to “make gin and grow Christmas trees”! Although it took a little while to win round his partner, Amy Conyard, his idea wasn’t quite as crazy as it may first sound. His father, Stansfield Bottomley, used to make whisky in the mid-1950s and Alan grew up watching him, fascinated, before learning the process himself in the early 1990s. So it was that, in 2016, Alan and Amy decided to take the plunge and Bottomley Distillers was born.
With the gin bubble showing no signs of bursting just yet, there’s no end of juniper-related gifts on the market this Christmas. Here’s just a few of my favourites for the gin-lover in your life, whether they be book-lovers, young at heart or more charitably minded.
They say good things come to those who wait. Well, I’ve just received something very good and I didn’t even know I was waiting for it. Which is just as well, as it would have been a very, very long wait! For I’ve just received 6 O’Clock Gin‘s new Five Year Aged Sloe Gin!
I’ve been a firm fan of Trevethan Gin ever since I first tasted it courtesy of Little Gin Box, when it sailed straight into my top ten of 2016. Not long after, in my rave review of early 2017, I admired their modest ambition – that anyone opening a bottle should “remember the reason it was created by Norman Trevethan in the first place (was) to be shared” – and tipped them for greatness. They may not have gone for world domination (yet) but boy have they been busy – adding not one, not two, but three more gins to their range – and I’ve been lucky enough to get my mitts on every one.
Provenance is undoubtedly popular these days – after all who doesn’t like the feelgood factor of buying something local? – but, like anything that matters, it’s not easy to get right. There’s confusion about names (my friend up north is forever confusing Slingsby and Harrogate gins); there’s the all-important matter of honesty and authenticity (it recently transpired Snowdonia Gin is actually made over the border in Warrington); and then, to really mean something, provenance needs to go beyond the name to the product itself. It’s not just what the gin is called and where it’s made that matters, but also what it’s made of and why. Provenance is about stories and people, botanicals and landscapes. And to do provenance properly it all needs to connect with that community.
We were promised bigger and better at Catford Gin Festival this year and it certainly did not disappoint! It’s a measure of how much Team Catford value this small but perfectly formed event in their efforts to drive regeneration that, in the space of a year, the festival has moved from 2017’s empty retail unit down the road, to the Art Deco grandeur of Catford’s Broadway Theatre. With the imposing venue came higher ticket prices but, with a brochure, copa de balon glass and tote bag for every attendee as well as free tasters of all the gins available, it still offered excellent value for money. Especially with such an impressive line-up!
In my last review I asked ‘what’s in a name?’. But in this day and age of social media, visual identity matters too. So today I’m taking a closer look at labels; specifically the stunning label wrapped around the squat, square bottle of Hidden Curiosities Gin. I love the striking circus font with hints of Victoriana and the eye-catching copper foiling detail. It’s a handsome affair which, I think, will attract consumers whether online, in a shop or behind a bar. Better still, turn the bottle around and you are greeted with the very definition of a hidden curiosity; the eccentric wolf and dodo woodland scene after which the gin was named (and the design of which originated from the other business – the Cravat Club – that the gin’s founder runs). For me this aesthetically appealing bottle displays real passion and would make a great gift.
What’s in a name, asked Shakespeare? Well, rather a lot actually in this day and age of the booming gin industry, brand awareness and trademark tussles. As Tiger Gin found out when Heineken Asia Pacific PTE challenged their trademark application, claiming it was too similar to that of Tiger Beer. But, against the odds, they won. And since then, David has turned Goliath and, despite the recognition on their website that “Everyone hates a bully”, they recently took the tiny Capreolus Distillery, and their Garden Tiger Gin, to court over a trademark violation. And, as you may have guessed given the title of this piece, they won again.
Gin is booming, without a doubt, but we’re also starting to see something of a backlash. A backlash against gin-and-tonic everything (see #StopFuckingWithGin), a backlash against flavoured gin (see Hayman’s Call Time on Fake Gin campaign) and a backlash against both a lack of transparency and the misuse of terminology such as “artisan” and “handcrafted”. There are certainly people out there making small scale craft gin by hand, but they have to compete against the big brands – brands with money and trademarks, many of which are not even making their own gin – just to get noticed. I believe that now, more than ever, these small businesses and micro-distilleries deserve a bigger platform and greater promotion, to which I hope to contribute. One such producer is Deerness Distillery.