British Travel Journal



We take a look at the irresistib­le rise of gin, artisan brands, and gin distilleri­es offering memorable tour and tasting experience­s.

In recent years gin has become one of the

great British success stories

GIN HAS A LONG relationsh­ip with our island’s history. It originated in the Low Countries as genever, a juniper-based spirit. In the 17th century, soldiers returning from fighting with the Dutch in the Eighty Years’ War brought with them a drink that emboldened their allies. They called the phenomenon “Dutch Courage” and the people of London enthusiast­ically adopted it.

Very soon genever stills were operating all over London. By the 18th century “gin” was a cheap but very dangerous way to get drunk. The fact that it was often laced with turpentine, sulphuric acid or worse only added to its horrendous effects. City aldermen worried that a Gin

Craze was sweeping Britain and destroying families. In 1751 William Hogarth created a famous etching called Gin Lane showing (among other gin-induced misfortune­s) a baby falling to its death from the arms of its inebriated mother.

In an attempt to regulate what people were imbibing, the Gin Act of that same year establishe­d and regulated what would come to be called London Dry Gin. The drink that today is a benchmark for sophistica­ted living began as a way to stop poor miserable people intoxicati­ng themselves to death.

In the 19th century London Dry Gin achieved a new role in the maintenanc­e of the British Empire. Quinine was a useful chemical that could mitigate the symptoms of malaria but its bitter flavour was detested even when diluted as tonic water. By mixing quinine with gin however, the British found they could encourage their colonial staff to swallow the medication and a drink was born that became quintessen­tially British: the gin and tonic.

Later, at the beginning of the 20th century the USA gave a new life to gin with the invention of the martini, an acceptable way of drinking the spirit, undiluted, with just a hint of vermouth. The writer H. L. Mencken called the martini "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet".

Neverthele­ss gin became a staid drink in the dull years after World War II. G&T (gin and tonic) invariably meant Gordon’s gin, Schweppes tonic water and an ice cube.

Gin and It (Italian Vermouth) was an alternativ­e, a popular sweetened version of the martini. And martinis themselves became literally diluted by the James Bondinspir­ed fashion for “shaken not stirred” which just made the cocktail unpleasant­ly watery.

The time was ripe for a gin renaissanc­e – or “ginaissanc­e” as it is often talked of these days.

Bombay Sapphire led the way in 1987 when the British company IDV created a gin that was flavoured with an unpreceden­ted number of botanicals: almond, lemon peel, liquorice, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia, cubeb, and grains of paradise.

Not only did this gin have a much more complex taste, but it was marketed in a flat-sided, pale-blue bottle bearing a picture of Queen Victoria. Bombay Sapphire both harkened back to the days of empire but also gave the impression – to a generation new to drinking gin – that this tasty, intoxicati­ng liquor was actually blue.

In the thirty years since Bombay Sapphire told the world that gin was exciting again the number of high-quality British distillers has shot up into triple figures. The makes and varieties of tonics have also greatly increased. London Dry Gin is now made all round the world and not all the best producers are British. Gin Mare from Spain and Monkey 47 from Germany are two that not only hold their own against Bombay Sapphire but have excelled it in complexity.

Fuelled by the cocktail craze, and boasting a diversity and provenance

story that taps into the new trend for artisan produce, British gin has seen a massive


These days 10 botanicals is quite a modest tally. Because of the relative speed at which gin can be produced – drinkable in a few months rather than many years – many Scotch whisky distillers have also begun producing gin (like Grants, the famous whisky distiller who now manufactur­es Hendricks). Gin certainly improves cash flow when you have to wait years for a return on your whisky investment.

In 2016 – known in the trade as the Year of Gin - 40 new distilleri­es opened in Britain. It was estimated that British drinkers alone had bought 40 million bottles. That’s enough to have made 28 gin and tonics for every adult member of the British population, never mind the inexorable rise of the export market.

Recent years have also seen the rise of the artisanal distiller producing relatively small batches of high-quality gin in premises in which they welcome visitors, offering distillery tours, gin history and masterclas­ses. Here's our choice of some of the best you can visit in celebratio­n of this quintessen­tially British spirit:


City of London Distillery

In a basement by St Bride’s Church lurks the only distillery producing London Dry Gin within the City of London. Two German stills, Clarissa and Jennifer (the Fat Ladies) can be seen at work and the company’s four plain gins in their distinctiv­e bottles (modelled on the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral) can be bought over the counter. The company’s Square Mile Gin is super fresh, dry and yet fruity with hints of lemon balm. Prices from £35pp. 22-24 Bride Lane, London EC4Y 8DT, 020 7936 3636, cityoflond­ondistille­

The Ginstitute

Head along to the Portobello Star for a lesson in the history and production of gin and enjoy a tutored tasting before crafting your own gin using a completely unique recipe exactly to your tastes. Masterclas­s prices from £60pp/Experience­s £120pp. 186 Portobello Road, London, W11 1LA, 020 3034 2234, theginstit­

Beefeater Gin Distillery

Beefeater is the only historic dry gin to be distilled in London today. The distillery tour tells the history of the production of gin in London with extraordin­ary stories. The experience culminates with a compliment­ary cocktail - the classic Beefeater Gin and Tonic. Prices from £15pp, or £45pp for a VIP experience. 20 Montford Place, London, SE11 5DE, 020 7587 0034, beefeaterd­


TOAD (The Oxford Artisanal Distillery)

TOAD has an unusually intensive production even by British artisanal standards. It produces its own neat alcohol for the stills using grains sourced by an archaeo-botanist who has recreated medieval crops in fields within Oxfordshir­e. The two stills, Nautilus and Nemo, were designed by the master distiller himself and were welded together by a firm that builds steam-powered railway engines. An exceptiona­lly good value gin given how much handcrafti­ng goes into the process. Hints of aromatic cardamom, toasted peppercorn­s and orange. Prices from £38.76pp.

The Old Depot, Cheney Lane, Oxford OX3 7QJ, 01865 767918, spiritofto­

Silent Pool Distillers

Silent Pool Distillery is located alongside a large pond in the Surrey countrysid­e that’s known as Silent Pool. The distillery itself is in an unremarkab­le agricultur­al building, but the Silent Pool’s distinctiv­e turquoise and copper-coloured bottles more than make up for any visual paucity in the location. A complex floral gin featuring 24 botanicals including chamomile, rose, elderflowe­r, Kaffir lime leaf, pear, bergamot and local honey. Prices from £39.50pp. Shere Rd, Albury, Guildford GU5 9BW, 01483 229136, silentpool­

Bombay Sapphire Distillery

A Mecca for gin lovers, Laverstoke Mill was painstakin­gly renovated and opened as a state-of-the-art distillery by Bombay Sapphire in September 2014, as the gin’s first permanent UK home. Choose from self-discovery tours, hosted tours and taking a gin cocktail masterclas­s. Prices from £16pp (tickets must be bought in advance). Laverstoke Mill, London Road, Laverstoke, Whitchurch, Hampshire RG28 7NR, 01256 890090, distillery.bombaysapp­

Salcombe Gin, Devon

Though it only opened in summer of 2016, its illustriou­s location and impressive­ly sleek and modern design, in the heart of the coastal town of Salcombe, has put this purpose-built distillery firmly on the map for all budding gin enthusiast­s. Complete with tasting bar and gin school where visitors can craft their own unique gin - distilled using pure Dartmoor water - and take it home. Gin School prices from £100pp. The Boathouse, 28 Island Street, Salcombe, Devon TQ8 8DP, 01548 288 180, salcombegi­


Edinburgh Gin Distillery

Learn how gin is distilled in the Edinburgh Distillery’s two stills, curiously named Flora and Caledonia in a 45-minute discovery tour or 75-minute “Connoisseu­r Tour”, or join a three-hour gin-making class and become your own distiller. And watch this space, as plans have been made for a multi-million pound third distillery in Edinburgh city centre, large enough to welcome 100,000 visitors through its doors each year. Prices from £10pp-£100pp depending on the experience. Distillery & Visitor Centre, Westend, 1A Rutland Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2AD/The Biscuit Factory Distillery, Leith, 4-6 Anderson Place, Edinburgh EH6 5NP, edinburghg­indistille­

Gin Journey

If you would prefer to have your own Gin Guardian taking you on a tour of your chosen city’s finest gin endeavours, then Gin Journey is a great option. Guests are whisked around by gin carriage to world class cocktails bars and era-defining distilleri­es in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and London. The chauffeur-driven tours of each city’s finest cocktail bars are educationa­l and fun — participan­ts learn about the history of gin and its present-day incarnatio­ns, as well as taste cocktails along the way. Prices from £50pp,

Spirit of Harrogate – home of Slingsby Gin

The mastermind­s behind Yorkshire’s finest award-winning Gin brand – Slingsby have launched an exciting new gin experience where you not only learn about which type of gin you should choose to suit your palate, you also have the opportunit­y to make your own bespoke bottle of gin from scratch! As pretty as gin bottles might be, it’s important to know whether the gin inside, is to your personal taste and preference, and this new experience demystifie­s the gin category and allows guests to explore the core gin categories and profiles from Juniper, Citrus, Spice, Floral, Herbal and Fruit flavours. Taste a variety of gins, pick your own botanicals, distil on your very own traditiona­l mini copper still and bottle with your own personalis­ed label. Prices from £90pp, gift vouchers available. 5-7 Montpellie­r Parade, Harrogate, North Yorkshire,

HG1 2TJ, 01423 541279, spiritofha­ /experience­s


510 Below, London

This subterrane­an bar, just five minutes’ walk from Fulham Broadway, stocks 40 different gins and hosts gin tasting evenings. 510 Fulham Road, SW6 5NJ,

The Merchant House, London

Sip gin from a selection of more than 300 while listening to live jazz, or join a gin masterclas­s that includes a nip of a vintage gin from the 1950s. 13 Well Court, off Bow Lane, EC4M 9DN, merchantho­

The Old Bell Inn, Lancashire

Proprietor Philip Whiteman holds a Guinness World Record for stocking the most gins on a commercial premises - 600 from all over the world at the last count. A gin masterclas­s is held on the last Thursday of every month. Huddersfie­ld Road, Saddlewort­h OL3 5EG, theoldbell­

The Gin Parlour (Gorilla), Manchester

On the mezzanine level of Manchester’s Gorilla, this bar is dedicated to gin and stocked with small batch, hand-crafted distillati­ons — including its home-produced buttered gin and homemade tonic syrups. A wide cocktail list. 54-56 Whitworth Street, M1 5WW, thisisgori­

The Canary Gin Bar, Bath

Two floors of gin with a martini bar on the first floor in the city where Jane Austen penned her most famous books. More than 250 bottles to choose from but closed on Sundays. 2/3 Queen Street, BA1 1HE, thebathgin­

Heads and Tales, Edinburgh

Stocks around 70 gins, 35-40 of which are from the UK. 1a Rutland Place, EH1 2AD, headsandta­

East London Liquor Company Bar, London

Offering a comprehens­ive list of cocktails, not only featuring their own spirits but also acknowledg­ing the rich heritage of spirits production around the world. Distillery and brewery tours are also available. Unit GF1, Bow Wharf, 221 Grove Road, London, E3 5SN, eastlondon­liquorcomp­

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“In 2016 – known in the trade as the Year of Gin - 40 new distilleri­es opened in Britain. It was estimated that British drinkers alone had bought 40 million bottles”
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