The great gin renaissance

The 57 per cent proof HMS Victory  Navy Strength gin by Isle of Wight Distillery
The 57 per cent proof HMS Victory Navy Strength gin by Isle of Wight Distillery
The USS George HW Bush at anchor in Stokes Bay, Gosport, Hampshire, England 

Picture: Malcolm Wells (170727-6460)

American sailors battle it out with Portsmouth softball team

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Millie Salkeld explores the current trend for exciting new twists on traditional gin and finds out more about a major gin festival

For a drink that was once the preserve of down and outs wishing to drown their sorrows with mother’s ruin, gin has undergone a major image overhaul.

Paul Bowler of The Winchester Distillery

Paul Bowler of The Winchester Distillery

The classic gin and tonic is now the fashionable drink of choice for many but with independent distilleries popping up all over the place and a reported 155 new gin products on the market last year, some mind-blowing twists have been added to the classic G&T.

A number of new distilleries are right on our doorstep.

Gintrepreneurs, as they have been dubbed, start with the traditional gin base of juniper berries, but are experimenting with weird and wonderful botanicals – from seaweed to fresh cream to frankincense – to create unique and unusual flavours.

Gin is now big business.

There is a gin craze currently and it looks set to stay for the foreseeable future

Mike Whatmough, from Brockmans

And next month sees the return of the huge Gin Festival at Portsmouth Guildhall.

With more than 100 different gins to sample, master classes and the opportunity to meet gin distillers in person, a gin cocktail bar, live music and gorgeous food, the festival is one of the hottest tickets in town.

Hundreds of food and drink festivals are now staged throughout the UK each year as industry experts say their customers want to know more about the products, enjoying the quirky twists, unusual flavours and personal stories behind them.

Jym and Marie Harris, the couple behind GinFestival.com host 18 events across the UK.

The beautiful glass house of the famous Bombay Sapphire Distillery, near Winchester

The beautiful glass house of the famous Bombay Sapphire Distillery, near Winchester

They champion small producers and want their festivals to be a space where people can experiment with gin.

Buyer and in-house gin expert Tom Grummett says: ‘For the past eight or nine years we have seen a massive increase in the kinds of gins produced.

‘I think it is mostly down to the different botanicals they can use and it presents a real opportunity for them to customise their products.’

Mike Whatmough is from Brockmans, a firm favourite at Portsmouth Gin Festival. He says: ‘There is a gin craze currently and it looks set to stay for the foreseeable future.

‘Ours is one of the best-selling new-wave gins which brims with botanicals including a top note of coriander with an aromatic gingery flavour.’

The freedom distillers now enjoy is thanks to West London gin makers, Sipsmith.

The company won a legal battle with HMRC in 2009 for the right to produce gin in small quantities.

One of the boutique distilleries is the Isle of Wight Distillery in Ryde which was founded by Xavier Baker and Conrad Gauntlett in 2015. The pair recently partnered with the The National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth to create the award-winning HMS Victory Navy Strength gin which is 57 per cent proof.

Xavier explains: ‘Back in the old navy days gin was stored next to the gun powder on the ships and they discovered if the spirits were over 57 per cent, even if they spilt over the gun powder it would still ignite.’

A percentage of the sales from the gin, inspired by the Royal Navy’s most illustrious warship, will go towards supporting the ongoing restoration of the Victory.

Xavier adds: ‘ We wanted to bring that sense of history in to the product and it is great people are enjoying the gin and they are beginning to experiment with other garnishes and tonics.’

The Winchester Distillery, owned and run by Paul Bowler, is going from strength to strength.

Opened three years ago it now produces 250 bottles per batch including crowd favourite Twisted Nose, which uses local watercress for a fresh and natural flavour.

Paul says: ‘ When I turned 40 I decided I wanted to do something different and I loved gin and tonic so it has all come together.’

The distillery produces 12 different gins and sells at food and drink festivals.

Paul believes the gin trend has come over from the United States.

He says: ‘There has been a big movement in America starting with craft beers and spirits have followed.

‘I think people are more interested in where their products are coming from and they want to shop close to home.’

The News’ own drinks expert Alistair Gibson puts gin’s new-found popularity down to gin being a traditional British drink.

‘It is something that has been very much part of British culture and it is easier now to set up a distillery’, he says.

‘Gin has become sort of an artisan product, in the wave of people being more interested in food in general.

‘People are much more interested in where products are coming from.’

A local distillery which enjoys worldwide success is Bombay Sapphire, near Winchester.

It’s not only the drink of choice for the discerning gin lover, the beautiful glass building the distillery is housed in is also a great day out. Visitors can take a tour and masterclasses.

Sam Carter, Bombay Sapphire’s brand ambassador, believes the famous blue bottle kick-started the gin trend.

He says: ‘Back in the 1980s gin was seen as old-fashioned but when Bombay Sapphire came out with the blue packaging it stood out from the bar back – it made gin cool again.’

Head out to any bar this weekend and you will find an array of colours, flavours and twists to the standard G&T.

So, will it be a Twisted Nose with elderflower, perhaps with a garnish of black pepper? Or maybe a gin and rhubarb?

How will you drink yours?