Ten years ago, a revolution began in the drinks industry. As more and more drinkers became bored of the same tipples crowding the supermarket shelves or served in bars and public houses mass produced by the same national and international brewing corporations, craft brewing found its niche.
Over the last five years, the number of local or micro-breweries has exploded, bringing artisan ale out of speciality shops and beer festivals to some high street bar chains and in increasing numbers onto the shelves of Big Four supermarkets in the UK.
Now it seems there’s a new trend in town. While the passion of consumers for independent producers shows no sign of abating, it seems the sheer volume of small brewers may be causing ale fatigue. As a consequence the nation’s taste for craft-distilled spirits, particularly gin has led to increased sales of what was once perceived as ‘an old lady’s drink’ that ‘tasted of perfume.’
That was then, this is now. New gin brands are coming onto the market, almost on a weekly basis.
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 Yorkshire, 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, near the village of Summerbridge in the Nidderdale Valley, in the heart of the North Yorkshire Dales, Whittaker’s Gin was conceived by Toby and Jane Whittaker, while Toby was studying at university.
Whittaker’s Gin truly has its heart in North Yorkshire. The small company is keen to make use of local produce. Some of the ingredients within their botanical mix are naturally sourced from the local area, including herbs from their own garden.
Toby and Jane Whittaker, the couple behind Whittaker’s Gin, were drawn to the craft distilling after initially considering a micro-brewery.
The idea all began about four years ago when the pair visited The International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, to investigate the Brewing and Distilling Course offered there because they had dreams of starting a micro brewery. The course fitted their purpose and Toby immediately signed up and began his Masters Degree in Brewing and Distilling. Although the initial idea was to create a brewery, it was the distillery element of the course that ignited Toby’s interest. It was at this point that the pair decided that they wanted to start up a distillery.
In a recent newspaper interview Toby explained: “We thought craft distilleries were more appealing to us. Often trends follow from the States, and in the last 10 years there’s been a boom in the craft distilling industry. They’ve got over 350 craft distillers and it’s starting to happen in this country.”
The couple were introduced by Heriot Watt to the Scottish Craft Distillers Association where they met some very useful contacts and characters, from people like themselves wanting to begin distilling, to more accomplished small distillers already out there who were prepared to advise and help them fulfil their ambition.
The pair then formed their own company, Harrogate Distillery Limited ,a family business run from their home, Harewell House Farm, in the heart of Nidderdale in North Yorkshire and spent around 18 months bringing their recipe for Whittaker’s Gin to life.
Toby and Jane are passionate about Yorkshire and where they live. Indeed, the pair are proud to add their gin to the list of excellent local products produced in the area. The plan was always to create a business that was relatively small that could be contained within the family farm. The distillery is housed in an old, refurbished agricultural building. Jane commented: “Toby and I have done a lot of the work ourselves with help from some amazing local tradespeople. It is all fairly basic but very functional and this is where all the magic happens.“
The Gin Making Process
The primary aim of the Whittakers was to produce an artisan small batch, hand-crafted spirit, incorporating local botanicals where possible. Jane, in a recent interview explained that the couple felt it was important to make sure Whittaker’s Gin reflected the ‘beautiful Yorkshire countryside’, using its ‘signature botanicals’ to reflect this philosophy. As in traditional gins, juniper berries are used as a base, mixed with coriander and angelica root. The botanicals used include bilberries, lending a sharpness that compliments the juniper berries; hawthorn berries, picked from the hedgerows throughout the countryside that add a background sweetness; peaty and spicy bog myrtle that grows on the stunning Yorkshire moors, which was used in medieval times instead of hops to brew beer, which really gives the gin a bitter, earthy undertone.
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 mix is then macerated for about 24 hours prior to distillation. Then just before the distillation process, lemon peel is added to give the gin a citrus note and fresh, home-grown thyme from their garden is placed in the gin basket.
The spirit is then distilled using the London Dry Gin process to produce a truly first class gin.
Distillation takes place in two 100 litre stills, imported from a well known USA supplier, Hill Billy Stills, based in Kentucky. Both stills, who they have named ‘Jezebel 1’ and ‘Jezebel 2’ after their daughters, Jessica and Isabella, were hand-made, having stainless steel boilers and copper arms.
With increased success the company moved to a new still, made to its own specification, ‘Jezebel 3’. made by Tadweld in Tadcaster. Jane explained, “We needed to improve our capacity in order to keep up with demand of the product and having a still made in Yorkshire seemed the most obvious way forward”.
After distillation, the distillate is then diluted using natural Harewell spring water, drawn from a water source on the property to bring the ABV to 42%. The batch is then moved into large containers in a small, warm room leading off the main part of the barn and left to settle to allow the essential oils to marry together before being hand bottled, batch numbered and labelled by Jane and signed by Toby, producing a truly authentic handmade gin.
Quality is of the utmost importance to the Whittakers, so it is no surprise that the Master Distiller (Toby) is responsible for checking each individual batch distillation, to ensure that only the finest will bear the Whittaker’s name.
The label designed by design agency ‘dare!’, features a beautiful hare, that pays homage to the family home: Harewell House Farm.??It is this attention to detail and commitment to creating the best possible gin with the finest ingredients available is what makes Whittaker’s Yorkshire Gin a truly artisan gin of unique stature.
It is sold in a variety of independent outlets, chains such as Majestic Wines and restaurants and bars around the region, as well as online.
Whittaker’s Gin is already becoming very well established, in both Yorkshire and further afield, although Toby and Jane have stayed very grounded about their product and have carefully chosen the stockists allowed to supply their gin.
The couple pride themselves on being a small craft distillery which offer a delicious gin that can be drunk either neat, or with a plain tonic and intend to keep producing their gin in the same manner to ensure that the attention to detail bestowed on each previous bottle, will remain.
Whittaker’s Gin in the news
- In 2015 it won second prize for Best European Gin at the Craft Distilling Expo in London.
- At the Harpers Global Design Awards, September, 2015, their bottle design won a bronze medal
- In November 2015, it was named spirit of the month at Fortnam and Mason’s, London.
- In January 2016, it was named by the Metro in their list of the ’10 British Gins you Should be Drinking’.
- February, 2016, a custom-made third still, named Jezebel 3, of course, is installed to help expand the capacity in order to keep up with the demand for the award-winning tipple. Unlike the previous two stills, this one was made in Yorkshire (the first ever Yorkshire gin still) by Tadweld Ltd. of Tadcaster.
Jane explained: “We loved the idea of using a Yorkshire manufacturer to make the still and especially as Tadcaster is home to so many great Yorkshire breweries. We were looking at stills from America and were just about to place an order when we got talking to a friend at a dinner party who mentioned the firm in Tadcaster. We spoke to them and they were able to make us what we needed in just two weeks. This was a significant improvement on the six month lead-time we were quoted to import something from across the pond.”
- Address: Harrogate Distillery Ltd trading as Whittaker’s Gin, Harewell House Farm? Dacre Banks? Harrogate? North Yorkshire? HG3 4HQ
- ?Telephone: + 44 (0)1423 781842
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Internet: www.whittakersgin.com