Over the past five years, sales of Gin have increased dramatically in many of the fashionable watering holes and clubs frequented by well-known celebrities in London and other ‘on-trend’ cities and venues throughout Europe. Initially fuelled by the multinational prestige brands hoping to generate a similar success story they had achieved with vodka sales and other reputable cocktail spirits in their individual brand portfolios, the top end of the market is now dominated by a number of small, niche brands of such high quality that the number of discerning gin connoisseurs prepared to pay a premium for a satisfying taste experience has led to a revival of Gin’s fortunes.
While the county of Cheshire, situated in the North-West of England, an area more traditionally noted for its brewing of traditional ales, may not immediately conjure up thoughts of gin. In the town of Knutsford, Hunters Cheshire Gin was conceived by two men with more than 60 years’ combined experience in the drinks trade who had the idea of creating a gin in Cheshire, for Cheshire, England and so it was that with the help of traditional Gin Distillers at the Langley Distillery in Birmingham, the Hunters brand was born.
Hunters Gin truly has its heart in Cheshire. The small company is keen to make use of local produce. Some of the apples within the botanical mix are sourced from the historic Norton Priory Gardens, home to one of Cheshire’s oldest known orchards as well as the company founder’s very own orchard.
No artificial flavours, oils or essences are used in the making of Hunters Cheshire Gin. All the Hunters Cheshire Gin ingredients are naturally sourced.
Managing Director, Ian Cass, and Chairman, Jon Jones, are two lifelong friends share a passion for all things related to spirits. They conceived of a plan to develop a quality gin that could be enjoyed at any time of the day, whilst sharing gin and tonics together one morning in the sunshine, prior to lunch.
Based on his years of experience working at a major gin distillery, Cass developed the Hunters formula around a 300-year-old recipe for a London Dry Gin. The recipe tweaked the 300-year-old base formula with the inclusion of botanicals of their own to create a distinctive citrous taste. The intention was “to develop a good gin that you could enjoy from early in the day, in a good cocktail at night and suited the Cheshire lifestyle,” Cass says. The special ingredient that makes Hunters unique is the addition of peel from Cheshire apples, an uncommon and unusual flavour for gin.
“The first thing we wanted was the liquid to be of an excellent standard,” relates Cass. “You have to go to small distilleries for this, but we couldn’t find anyone to make our recipe. I’d almost given up, when I decided to talk to Langley Distillery again. They said they understood what we were trying to do, but were struggling to make the recipe and the only person who might be able to help was their head distiller”.
Half an hour later, Peter McKay, Langley Distillery’s head distiller, with whom Cass had previously worked together with years before, called Cass back. He explained to McKay exactly what he and Jones were trying to do with this recipe, and he said he’d have a crack at distilling some samples. About a week later Cass received three medicine bottles, each with an ABV (Alcohol by volume, the standard measure of how much alcohol (ethanol) is contained in an alcoholic beverage, expressed as a percentage of the total volume) and a note. The three bottles contained samples at 37.5%, 40% and 43.3% ABV respectively.
The note stated: ‘At 40% you’ve got a bloody good gin, but at 43.3% it’s sublime.’ It was just what the two friends had wanted. The higher ABV balanced out the powerful citrus flavours to create the perfect taste for the brand.
For Cass and Jones, the packaging needed to match the uniqueness of the liquid it held. The distinctive, translucent appearance of the Hunters bottles took its inspiration from old-fashioned ginger ale bottles. The addition of the Cheshire wheat sheaf – a sheaf of golden wheat was until fairly recently the county emblem, a reference to the Earl of Chester’s arms in use from the 12th century – was the finishing touch.
Hunters Cheshire Gin was launched in November 2012, a great year to start a new British company with some hugely patriotic events such as the London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Not surprisingly the brand has been successful pretty quickly and the product speaks for itself, with some 500 cases sold its first year of production. It has proved that good gin really can be produced anywhere (‘London Dry’ gin does not define where the liquid is distilled).
As this is a London dry style gin, it has a heavy juniper aroma on the nose with a fresh yet peppery taste. They use the best flavours possible in their botanicals mix ranging from juniper grown in the Balkans to liquorice root powder hailing from the Mediterranean.
Quality is of the utmost importance to Hunters, so it is no surprise that the Master Distiller is responsible for checking each individual batch distillation, selecting only the finest few that will bear the Hunters name.
This attention to detail and commitment to creating the best possible gin with the finest ingredients available is what makes Hunters Cheshire Gin so special.
Gin distilling began in London about the end of the sixteenth century. Basically, there are two main methods of distillation – the British and the Dutch. In the Netherlands flavourings are usually added to the ‘mash’, which results in a courser-flavoured spirit. Following the British method, London Dry Gin is a much more refined product crafted with great care by experienced distillers. It incorporates the highest quality fermentation alcohol with botanicals, dominated by Juniper. Historically, English customs law requires that the original alcohol is distilled on different premises to those where the final Gin distillation takes place.
The secret of London Dry Gin lies in the purity of the alcohol from fermented molasses or grain and the proportion of botanicals used in each distillation. Langley Distillery’s London Dry Gin used as the base for Hunters has a purity of at least 96%.
The Gin Making Process
All the botanicals contain essential oils immediately below the skin of the seed, berry, peel or bark and it is the extraction of these in the presence of alcohol that imparts its unique flavour to gin.
The method used to produce gin is batch distillation in a pot still. The base alcohol is charged into the pot of the still and its strength reduced with water before the botanicals are added in carefully controlled amounts. (The alcohol must be reduced in strength because pure spirit hardens the skins of the botanicals and renders the extraction of the essential oils more difficult.)The still lid is then closed and locked. A delicate pre-heating process is sometimes undertaken, depending upon the individual recipe, and the complete ‘charge’ is left for some hours, often overnight, to macerate. When the time is right, heat is applied to the charge and the process of distillation begins. At first the still-operative will only apply enough steam to make the alcohol boil. As soon as the vaporised spirit rises and begins to come over the top of the still, the pressure in the still must be reduced, otherwise there is danger of entrainment (the whole distillation coming over into the condenser too soon).
The vapours pass through the swan neck at the top of the still into a water-cooled condenser. The initial part of the distillate, the ‘heads’, are impure and are run off into the feints vats until the gin being condensed is of the standard and quality required. The spirit then is allowed to pass through a spirit safe where the quality is monitored before entering holding vats. At this stage of the process, the ‘nose’ of the distiller is critical. ??The pure gin will come over into the condenser at varying levels to give a final strength of about 80%. When the alcoholic strength coming over falls to below about 60% impurities can start to be drawn with the spirit so these ‘tails’ are switched to the feints vats. The steam pressure is then raised again so that the whole distillate comes over, leaving just water and spent botanicals in the still.
The resulting concentrate is used to make gin by a very important and skilful blending process with alcohol to produce a high strength gin at over 90% that in turn is reduced in strength prior to bottling. The blending process takes skill and time to carefully meld the crafted concentrate and alcohol to render a gin of distinction.
The feints are re-distilled in a rectifying still that has a tall neck containing scrubbing plates, which remove the impurities so that the recovered pure alcohol can re-used to make gin.
Hunters Cheshire Gin is distilled in traditional copper pots and rectifying stills, some of which are over 100 years old. Hunters Gin is produced using top quality alcohol and botanicals with recipes from master distillers of a previous age.
The actual recipe for Hunters Cheshire Gin plainly remains a secret known only by the Master Distiller. The source of botanicals used can change occasionally depending on the quality of harvests and other market forces. The juniper berries in particular are rigorously batch tested. Seasonal changes too can affect the production of essential constituent ingredients, as is the case with any natural product, making quality monitoring a crucial part of the distilling process.
It’s the essential oils immediately below the skin of the berry, seed, peel or bark of the botanical that gives Hunters Cheshire Gin it’s unique flavour when extracted in the presence of alcohol.
Hunters Cheshire Gin uses alcohol, with a purity of at least 96%, from fermented molasses or grain. The botanicals used in Hunters Cheshire Gin include:
- Juniper berries (The Balkans)
- Coriander seeds (Eastern Europe)
- Cut and dried angelica root (France/Belgium)
- Dried sweet lemon peel (Spain)
- Dried sweet orange peel (Spain)
- Cassia bark (China)
- Liquorice root powder (Mediterranean countries)
- Ground nutmeg (West Indies)
- Cinnamon bark (Madagascar)
- Orris root powder (Iris florentina)(Italy)
- Cheshire apple peel
The top quality aroma and taste of the London Dry Gin worthy of carrying the Hunters Cheshire Gin name has been achieved thanks to a blending process by those who are highly skilled in their craft, producing a gin of distinction made with quality materials, by expert distillers and great attention to detail.
In bringing their idea from paper to fruition Ian Cass and Jon Jones were keen to compete with other premium gins and by their insistence on using only top quality ingredients means they have been able to do just that. Hunters Cheshire Gin is a premium product, based on a 300 year old recipe with an eye watering 43.3% ABV that is gaining an ever-increasing following since it was first conceived in Knutsford Cheshire.
What’s more, Hunters has a very broad palate, so in addition to the traditional ‘gin and tonic’, it can be enjoyed in a range of drinks, from the potent ‘String Bag’ cocktail to the sweet ‘Truly Hunters’.
Try this couple of cocktails using Hunters Gin for yourself
| The ‘String Bag’|
Simply mix a 50ml measure of Hunters with a very dry Manzanilla Sherry and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve in an iconic Martini glass with a twist of lemon.
For a sweeter taste and a refreshing summer drink, you could try the ‘Truly Hunters’ cocktail.
The ‘Truly Hunters’
In a 12oz glass, fill with ice and add a generous 50ml measure of Hunters Cheshire Gin. Add a small splash of elderflower cordial and top up with freshly pressed apple juice. Garnish with a finely sliced lemon wheel.
Hunters Cheshire Gin in the news
- October 2013 Hunters has now developed the “Baby Hunters”, a 20cl version to appeal to the off-licence market that features a new label that will be rolled out over the next six months.
- April 2014 The labels of the 70cl bottles have been tweaked and refreshed to come up with a new look.
Address: Stanley House, Honiton Way, Penketh, Cheshire WA5 2EY, United Kingdom
T: + 44 (0)1925 720 200
- http:// www.huntersgin.com