GIN is the UK’s most popular spirit with annual sales of over 80 million bottles a year. Nick Mosley takes a look at the booming craft distilleries in Sussex taking on the big brands.
Founded ten years ago by Kathy Caton, Brighton Gin can rightly claim the crown as one of Sussex’s first notable craft distilleries. Now on the back bar in nearly every high-end venue in Sussex – and with distribution in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and as far as Hong Kong – the 40% pavilion strength and strength Seaside’s hard-hitting 57% navy are must-haves for many gin aficionados, with the strongest gin popular with cocktail mixologists.
“We started in 2012 with months of experimentation with different ingredients, combinations, distillation techniques and approaches,” Kathy said. “After more than one or two crashes along the way – the tales of which we lived to tell – and numerous test recipes on other gin-loving friends, we finally found the perfect blend.”
The main botanical ingredients in Brighton Gin are lime, locally grown coriander and milk thistle. The gin is 100% vegan, right down to the label glue and sealing wax.
Madame Jennifer Distillery is located at Poets Corner in Hove and is the brain child of Inger Smith and Ian Curtis. The duo initially trained as biologists and chemists, which led to two uniquely flavored gins.
“When we started developing gin recipes, we realized pretty quickly that we had quite different ideas of what makes a perfect gin,” Inger said. “So we ended up with two gins: ‘The Chemist’ and ‘The Biologist’ bearing our name”.
Biologist is made with grapefruit peel, chamomile and gorse flower with a hint of coriander giving a crisp, lively flavor with a finishing touch of cinnamon.
Shoreham is home to Slake Spirits, run by another former chemist, Dr Tom Martin-Wells. Tom is passionate about using local, seasonal produce and is an avid picker.
“I started gathering natural and wild ingredients to DIY and quickly found a new frontier, creating unique Sussex gins, good enough to sip, that captured the essence of the local land and terroir,” Tom said.
“I was surrounded by rugged coastline, countryside and forest, rich in herbs and botanicals that I knew would make a gin like no other. It became my passion to present adventurous forage flavors that reconnect the drinker with nature one sip at a time”.
Slake’s juniper and citrus striker Sussex Dry Gin has won three gold stars at the 2021 Great Taste Awards.
G&H Spirits in West Sussex not only offers some of the finest bottles on the market, but also a unique range of strong-tasting, pure-tasting gins.
“We use a few carefully selected plants and let them speak for themselves,” said Katie Overton-Hart of G&H. “You don’t have to struggle to detect and savor them.”
Their Old Tom Gin is a truly standout product for home gin lovers and bartenders; filled with zesty orange, a hint of cinnamon, woody top notes and a sweet hint of honey.
The new kid on the block is Dedbest Distillery near Lewes. Created by friends Bob Dedman and Damian Best, their Contractor’s Classic Dry Gin sparkles with hibiscus flower and lemongrass. Gin is making waves across Sussex with a particular focus on partnering with local chefs and independent restaurants for culinary collaborations.
Although the base alcohol for gin is usually made from grain or potatoes, the liqueur can also be made from grapes, which means Sussex wineries have stepped in. Bolney Wine Estate is a long-time gin producer, using the residual juices from its premium wine pressing. Their classic English dry gin is packed with the freshness of lemon oil and fennel balanced with bay leaves and hawthorn from the hedgerows around the vineyard.
The award-winning Wiston Estate also recently got in on the act with their herbal gin bursting with wild thyme, juniper and a hint of Sicilian lemon. Uniquely, the vineyard decided to sell their gin in a flask-shaped box, creating a visually stunning product.
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Although not located in Sussex, a notable recent addition to the UK gin scene is Nadàr from Scottish distillery Arbikie. The world’s first carbon negative, climate positive gin is distilled from peas and has a negative carbon footprint of -1.5 kg per bottle. Lemongrass and lime are the stars of the show, with the gin a hit not only with discerning drinkers in Sussex, but also in many of London’s most iconic bars and restaurants.
Sussex Gin Week returns from April 1-10, 2022 as part of the BITE Sussex Spring food and Drink Festival. Enjoy promotional gin menus in major bars, restaurants and hotels, as well as gin masterclasses and gastronomic events. Learn more about www.bitesussex.com