On Yorkshire's gin trail

Today is World Gin Day. MAXINE GORDON raises a G&T to some of the new gins being made here in Yorkshire

GIN has never been more trendy. Step into any bar or restaurant of note and expect to find a gin selection the size of the food menu.

Or even the telephone directory – if you happen across York's Evil Eye Lounge, which stocks a world record-breaking 1,000-plus gins at its site in Stonegate.

The city is getting into the spirit of things too – York Gin has just been launched, set up by a group of friends, and selling widely in bars and restaurants locally.

It is made in a distillery at Acaster Malbis, on the edge of York, in a 300 litre copper still, named Ebor (a reference to Eboracum, the Roman name for York). Besides the obligatory juniper, it boasts nine key botanicals, including orris root, angelica, cardamom, lemon peel and black pepper.

Emma Godivala, one of the founders and distillers, said they wanted to create a traditional London Dry Gin with a balanced flavour. "It is a London Dry in that all the flavours are added during the process of distilling with nothing added afterwards. It is classic gin. It is not a quirky flavour." The only additions required, adds Emma, are "some ice, juniper berries and a twist of lemon peel – and a decent tonic water."

The York Gin plant is turning out 300 litres of gin every week, selling in three sizes: 70cl, 50cl and 5cl miniatures which Emma says make a great gift. Prices range from a fiver for the miniature to £34+ for the larger bottle.

Another new gin on the block is Rare Bird, based in Talbot Yard Food Court, Malton. Matt Stewart opened up here last October. Visitors can watch the gin being made on the premises, in a giant still named Florence, as well as try a G&T in the small bar – but they can also make their own. Matt has set up a gin school, where people can experiment with a range of 45 different botanicals and ingredients to design and distil their own spirit.

"We have everything from juniper, coriander and licorice root to rose petals, chilli, samphire and star anise!

"People use a flavour wheel to give them an idea of what needs to go in if they want a certain style of gin."

Matt is on hand to give advice and steer novices away from mistakes. "If you put in too much star anise or clove it will turn out like medicine."

The classes last two to three hours and cost £80 per person (there is a £12 charge if someone comes along to help). The price includes a talk and tour at the distillery, a welcome G&T, and a 70cl bottle of the gin you have made to take home.

Classes are proving popular. "I had a hunch they would be," says Matt. "We have had loads of people and I could run a class three times a week if I had the time!"

Rare Bird is another London Dry Gin, but this time, the flavours come from the continent. Matt explains: "It is heavy on the juniper, with influences from the Mediterranean. We have French rosemary and Italian lemons and 11 different botanicals including hibiscus."

Matt doesn't prescribe how to drink Rare Bird. "We don't suggest a perfect serve. We'd rather give recommendations. Everybody's palate is different. But we'd recommend having it with a naturally light tonic and a slice of grapefruit, but people can have it with an elderflower tonic or a Mediterranean one – it's up to them."

Rare Bird is sold in 70cl bottles, at a recommended price of £37.99. It is available from the distillery, Majestic wines in York and Beverley; the Jug & Bottle, Bubwith; the Wonky Pitcher Cellar in Pickering, and Sutlers bar in York.

And gin schools are catching on. Derek and Carol Harle, who launched the Spirit of Masham gin, have opened a ‘Make Your Own Gin Experience’ in the North Yorkshire market town already home to brewing legends Theakston and Black Sheep.

After a tour of the Spirit of Masham distillery, a potted history of gin, and some tastings, visitors then become their own alchemists using one of 12 mini copper stills.

Guided by head distiller Jake Wilson, they can choose from 100 different botanicals – everything from spices, seeds, berries and dried fruit – to blend into their own concoction and take home a 70cl bottle complete with personalised label. The three-hour experience costs £95 per person.

Over Harrogate way in Nidderdale, Toby Whittaker and his wife Jane set up a distillery at their farm in 2015 and have never looked back. They make four Whittaker's gins, all London Dry again, and each is an award winner. The original – featuring botanicals easily foraged from the countryside such as bilberries, hawthorn berries and bog myrtle – has just been named the Best International Gin, in the American Distilling Institute Awards held in Portland, Oregon.

Toby said their plans were to build a larger premises and distil other spirits too.

Yorkshire gin has come a long way since Karl and Cathy Mason set up a small distillery in Bedale in 2013 to make Yorkshire's first gin.

They too have gone from strength to strength, branching out to make vodka as well as specialist gins including a lavender and a tea variety. They have won 40 international awards, including two at the 2018 World Gin Awards.

They have expanded into larger premises, which also boasts a bar.

Of the Yorkshire gin revolution, Karl said: "We are incredibly proud to be the first ever gin distillery in Yorkshire, we hold it very close to our hearts.

"Until ten years ago, gin wasn’t the immediate drink of choice... but it certainly is now. Today, there are better quality gins that don’t fit the stereotype that it’s an old person’s drink. Here at Masons we have invested time and energy into travelling the country sampling and educating people about our range of gins and the opportunities they provide for making your favourite drink."

He added: "The intention from day one was that our gin had to be more than just a different label. It had to be a different liquid in that bottle, it had to taste different and it had to be better."

And looking ahead? Karl said: "We are looking towards exciting ventures such as distillery tours, liqueurs and more award-winning gin!"


York Gin

Acaster Malbis, York

W: yorkgin.com

Evil Eye Lounge

42 Stonegate, York

T: 01904 640002

W: evileyelounge.com

Rare Bird Distillery and gin school

The Stable Block, Talbot Yard, Yorkersgate, Malton

T: 01653 609288

W: rarebirddistillery.co.uk


74 Bedale Road, Bedale

T: 01677 426 467

W: masonsyorkshiregin.com

Whittaker's Gin

Harewell House Farm, Dacre Banks, Harrogate

T: 01423 781842

W: whittakersgin.com