Gin is the UK’s most popular spirit with annual sales of over 80 million bottles annually. Nick Mosley takes a look at the booming craft distilleries to be found in Sussex who are taking on the big brands.
Founded a decade ago by Kathy Caton, Brighton Gin can rightly claim the crown as being one of the first Sussex craft distilleries of note. Now on the back bar in pretty much every premium venue in Sussex – and with distribution in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and as far afield as Hong Kong – the 40% Pavilion strength and punchy 57% Seaside navy strength are go-tos for many gin lovers, with the stronger gin popular with cocktail mixologists.
“We started back in 2012 with months of experimentation with different ingredients, combinations, distilling techniques and approaches”, said Kathy. “After more than one or two accidents along the way – that we lived to tell the tale of – and lots of trying out recipes on fellow gin-loving friends, we finally hit the perfect blend”.
Brighton Gin’s core botanicals are lime, locally grown coriander and milkthistle. The gin is 100% vegan, right down to the label glue and sealing wax.
Madame Jennifer Distillery is located in Poets Corner in Hove and is the brain child of Inger Smith and Ian Curtis. The duo originally trained respectively as a biologist and chemist, which led to two uniquely flavoured gins.
"When we first started developing gin recipes we realised pretty quickly that we had quite different ideas of what makes a perfect gin”, said Inger. “So we ended up with two gins: 'The Chemist' and 'The Biologist' named after us”.
The Biologist is made with grapefruit peel, chamomile and gorse flower with a hint of coriander giving a bright and lively flavour with a final kick of cinnamon.
Shoreham is home to Slake Spirits, headed up by another former chemist Dr Tom Martin-Wells. Tom is passionate about using local, seasonal produce and is a keen forager.
“I began to gather natural, wild ingredients to tinker with and soon found a new frontier, creating uniquely Sussex gins, good enough to sip, that captured the essence of the land and local terroir”, said Tom.
“I was surrounded by wild coast, countryside and forest, rich with the herbs and botanicals that I knew would make a gin like no other. It has become my passion to showcase adventurous foraged flavours that reconnect the drinker with nature one sip at a time”.
Slake’s juniper and citrus forward Sussex Dry Gin scooped three gold stars at the 2021 Great Taste Awards.
G&H Spirits in West Sussex not only have some of the best looking bottles on the market but also a unique range of flavour forward, clean-tasting gins.
“We use a few, carefully selected botanicals and let them speak for themselves”, said Katie Overton-Hart of G&H. “You don’t have to struggle to detect and savour them”.
Their Old Tom Gin is a truly stand-out product for home gin aficionados and bartenders alike; packed with zesty orange, a hint of cinnamon, woody top notes and a sweet twist 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 shines bright with hibiscus flower and lemongrass. The gin is making waves across Sussex with a particular focus on teaming up with local chefs and independent restaurants for dining collaborations.
Although the base spirit for gin is typically grain or potato based, the liquor can also be produced from grapes meaning that Sussex wineries have got in on the act. Bolney Wine Estate have been a long-time producer of gin, using the residual juices from their premium wine pressing. Their classic English dry gin is packed with the freshness of lemon oil and fennel balanced with bay leaf and hawthorn leaves from the hedgerows around the vineyard.
The award-winning Wiston Estate have also recently got in on the act with their herb-forward gin bursting with wild thyme, juniper and dash of Sicilian lemon. Uniquely, the vineyard decided to sell their gin in a tin styled as a hip flask creating a visually stand-out product.
Whilst not located in Sussex, a notable recent addition to the UK’s gin scene is Nadàr from Scotland’s Arbikie Distillery. The world’s first carbon negative, climate positive gin is distilled from peas and has a negative carbon footprint of -1.5kg per bottle. Lemongrass and lime are the stars of the show, with the gin proving 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 1-10 April 2022 as part of the BITE Sussex Spring food and Drink Festival. Enjoy promotional gin menus at leading bars, restaurants and hotels alongside masterclasses and gin-based dining events.