That's the spirit
Yorkshire is enjoying the highest growth in premium gin sales anywhere outside of London. David Parkin takes to the gin trail to meet its makers and find the best places to drink it.
They used to prescribe the waters of Harrogate on the National Health Service. In Victorian times, upmarket visitors were recommended to visit the spa town for at least six weeks to fully benefit from its restorative qualities. The genteel North Yorkshire retreat is better known for Bettys rather than booze.
Just around the corner from the historic tearooms is a new phenomenon which combines the Harrogate waters with a historical alcoholic drink which is undergoing a modern renaissance - gin.
Here you will find a place that doesn’t so much pay tribute to this spirit made from juniper berries as toast it to the heavens. Step off the sloping street and into a beautiful former townhouse converted into an apothecary, where you can learn about the unique history of gin, and taste some of the 100 gins and 50 tonics in store.
The Slingsby Spirit of Harrogate Gin Experiences are fast becoming a must-do for locals and tourists alike. Dublin has its Guinness Brewery tour and Edinburgh its Scotch whisky tastings, now Harrogate’s Gin Experiences are on the map too. Behind the venture are entrepreneurs Marcus Black and Mike Carthy, who run £30m drinks company ICB, but wanted to create a premium artisan brand. They spent a year developing their idea before launching Slingsby Gin in September 2015 - named after William Slingsby who discovered the first spa water well in Harrogate in 1571.
“We wanted to do something that represented the place where we live and work,” says Marcus. Slingsby Gin doesn’t just take its name from Harrogate, it is made with Harrogate Spa Water, Taylors Green & Jasmine Tea and 12 of its 24 botanicals including rhubarb and sweet cicely, are hand grown in the kitchen garden of the town’s Rudding Park Hotel.
With the premium gin market enjoying yearly growth of 20 per cent in the UK, the creators of Slingsby Gin hoped they had tapped into a winning formula.
Within six months of launch, Slingsby had sold more than 6,000 of its distinctive blue bottles. It was selected as one of just three gins at double Michelin starred restaurant L’Enclume and was Harrods’ fastest selling gin over Christmas, before winning a clutch of international spirits awards. Slingsby Rhubarb Gin followed and Navy Strength was launched at Cowes Week in 2016. The Spirit of Harrogate apothecary-style store and tasting room developed from a simple idea to create a pop-up shop in Harrogate as a way to launch the gin to locals and tourists.
“It was a reasonably small idea that got bigger,” admits Marcus, “this gives us an opportunity to sell to people day in day out and see customers’ reactions.”
“It wasn’t expected to wash its face and now it is a profit centre part of our business,” adds Mike. “You come in as a consumer and you are offered a gin and tonic.
“For every sample we offer we have had about £28 of revenue.” The pair point to their young team as being behind the idea of offering gin experiences to visitors.
“We would be lying if we said we set out to offer gin experiences to people. The young guys have developed the whole concept,” says Marcus. And their Slingsby Dry and Rhubarb gins sit on the shelves alongside more than 100 others, accompanied by 53 different types of tonic and other mixers.
Ascend the stairs from the ground floor shop and you enter what can only be described as a true gin palace appealing to aficionados and those new to the spirit alike.
In one room a series of historical artefacts and plaques charts the history of gin through the centuries from its origins in the Dutch Republic in the early 17th century to the hundreds of brands of modern gin you can drink today.
Next door, in a ‘mixology’ area, you can relax in beautifully upholstered seats, sipping your gin while gazing out over The Stray, 200 acres of open grassland that wraps around the historic spa town in a verdant hug.
From London dry gins to sloe gins, to navy strength gin (probably the reason that Britain ruled the waves for so long), you can take your own tour through a world of gin. The Spirit of Gin experience takes you through the history of gin, finding out the origins of famous phrases like ‘mother’s ruin’ and ‘Dutch courage’.
The Cocktail Master class sees the Slingsby mixologists sharing their top tips on creating the best cocktails. And the Just the Tonic experience focuses on the less celebrated partner in a classic G&T. As well as welcoming more visitors to its Spirit of Harrogate experience, the Slingsby team have a busy year ahead with Mike developing new flavours including a Spanish-inspired strawberry gin and then perhaps a Harrogate whisky and vodka. “The foundations are there, the Spirit of Harrogate does indeed lend itself to a whole range of products,” says Mike. And then what? “I would love to look out over the Stray and see a distillery and visitor centre,” confides Marcus. “Is it a dream? Yes, but so was this, three years ago.”
Gin by the sea
To call Rusty Shears Vintage Tea Shop in Whitby quirky would be doing it a disservice. To call it a tea shop, café, bistro or bar would be too.
Tucked away in Silver Street on the seaside town’s West Cliff, Rusty Shears is a tea room that is a mash-up of the quaint and the contemporary and stocks over 100 different gins, including a fig-infused gin made from fruit picked from the tree growing in its courtyard. Since it opened in June 2014, the brainchild of Russell Hirst and Kirstie Shears (hence the name) has become a hugely popular destination for discerning tourists and locals alike. Rusty Shears is inspired by the couple’s experiences travelling around Europe in a camper van after Russell sold his stake in his fourth generation family bakery firm in South London.
It is housed in a 17th century former coaching inn said to have once been home to Surgeon Anderson who sailed on two voyages with explorer Captain Cook. Favourable reviews in the press, including the Yorkshire Post, have helped the profile of Rusty Shears, as has local support too, says Russell. “Many of the local B&Bs have semi-adopted us as their place to come for a bit of a chill out and so they recommend it to their guests.” Music played ranges from 1940s jazz to house, all adding to the laid back atmosphere typified by Russell, who admits the idea to stock a huge range of gins wasn’t part of the initial plans.
“We were at a bit of a loose end,” explains Russell when asked how he and Kirstie came up with the concept for Rusty Shears.
“We wanted to launch a tea room, we knew the place came with a licence to serve alcohol and we were wondering what would make it stand out. “We wanted to make it ‘a most unusual tea room’,” he says. “When we looked at opening a café we realised that the gin explosion was happening and thought about the idea of combining the café with a gin bar. “We started with 25 gins and now there are 120 gins on the bar and there are always new ones coming in. We make our own infusions, we make a fig gin using figs we pick from the tree in our courtyard.”
The couple refurbished the venue themselves and stocked it with a range of furniture, crockery and teapots all collected during their travels. Dogs are welcome and Rusty Shears will serve them a ‘doggychino’ of frothy cold milk on top of a bowl of water. My dog loved it.
Their owners can enjoy the fruits of Russell and Kirstie’s culinary talents with a menu bursting with mouth-watering dishes such as cauliflower cake, mushroom and halloumi burger and sausage and black pudding plait.
“If people have had a bite to eat they may have a gin after their meal. And if one person orders a gin there is a knock-on effect!” says Russell. Sharing boards are also served for those wanting to soak up some of the gin. Rusty Shears has a sale room with lamps and other gifts made by local crafts people. Russell says the skull-shaped lamp always proves popular during the annual Whitby Goth Weekend.
This article was taken from This is Y 2017