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.
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.
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.
There’s nothing quite like a G&T at the end of a long day, but do you have a favourite place to enjoy yours? For me, it’s in my hammock in the back of my little London garden. But for travel-loving couple Ben and Kate Marston, it’s all about being in the great outdoors, ideally under the stars and beside a glowing campfire. It was this shared love of outdoor pursuits, adventure and gin, alongside experience in tourism and design, that inspired Ben and Kate to create their perfect Campfire Gin and, in so doing, establish Hertfordshire’s first distillery in 2014.
Judging gin, as I’ve said before, is a curious thing. And much harder than you might imagine. But what I find particularly peculiar is that, because gin is judged blind, you wind up not knowing which you’ve tried or what you thought of them! And so it was, I found myself hosting a table at the final of the 2018 World Gin Awards and meeting Jane Cannon from Newton House Gin, knowing I’d probably tried her product but, at the same time, knowing nothing about it! Nothing except that it had just been awarded a Gold Medal in the UK London Dry Gin category.
Launched in 2010, before the current gin craze took hold of the country, Fifty Pounds is said to be made to a centuries-old recipe dating back to the times of the first gin craze. The original recipe became known, ironically, as Fifty Pounds Gin in reference to the Gin Act of 1736 which imposed an annual levy of £50 on anyone wishing to produce and sell gin. The cost should have crippled producers but only two license applications were ever received and the gin craze, and the attempt to curb it, continued unabated for many more years!
A brief glance at Mary Rose Gin, from HMS Spirits, conveys a sense of voyage and expedition. But it goes beyond the compass emblazoned on the back of the bottle, the sailing ships and the instruction to “Chart Your Own Course”. HMS Spirits began with one chap from the South Coast, Ben Maguire, who had a passion for travelling and also a love of gin (born of a desire to lose weight without compromising his social life!). Having been enticed by the art of distilling, Ben bought a 35 litre copper still on a trip to Hungary (as you do!) but it took four years of experimentation in his garage before he settled upon a recipe he felt would “respect the art of the London Dry whilst adding a new modern twist”. There was then a further year of researching bottles, labels and stoppers and building a brand that reflected his love of the sea, travel and enterprise.
It’s always good when a friend casually mentions that their brother-in-law makes gin. It’s even better when you find out that they don’t just play with primitive homemade gin but make real, proper award-winning gin! This is how I was introduced to Hawthorn’s London Dry Gin, but the real story is even more of a family affair.