Gin - a gloriously English spirit, even though it has its origins in Holland.
Sip gently, on a summer’s day, with the aroma of cut grass on the soft breeze and the distant sound of leather on willow. Such is the advice on a bottle of Gin, produced locally in Chilgrove, near Chichester in Sussex. Chilgrove Gin is one of the ‘new wave’ of handcrafted gins from small distilleries which are gaining greatly in popularity.
Wind the clock back about 20 years or so, and the iconic G & T was dropping out of fashion, regarded as a bit old fashioned, only drunk by retired army majors in the golf club bar, or on cheap cruises or Spanish holidays. That image started to change with some new brands such as Hendricks or Bombay Sapphire, attracting the younger, trendy consumer and starting the new cocktail craze. As this demand for more interesting gins increased, small, handcrafted spirits started to come onto the market and gained market share.
Since 2007, over 70 new distilleries have been established, with 50 of these in the past two years alone. The UK is the world’s leading exporter of gin and it is estimated that 1.4 billion gin and tonics were sold globally last year. The Government is fully supportive of the industry and is keen to see this export trade develop further. Exports of whisky have now exceeded £4 billion, and it is thought that exports of gin could eventually reach the same level.
Quality and authenticity is of paramount importance in this newly flourishing gin market. There are essentially three quality levels of gin. The most basic (and cheapest) is simply a neutral spirit distilled normally from a grain base and flavoured with essences. The next level is Distilled Gin, where the various flavourings are introduced during distillation, and can also be added subsequently. The highest quality level is that of London Dry Gin and is the level of the handcrafted gins such as Chilgrove. Despite the name, it has nothing to do with London, but is the quality name given to gin where the flavourings, or botanicals as they are called, are only introduced during distillation. No further additions are allowed post distillation.
Produced by traditional small batch distillation, Chilgrove gin is unusual in that the neutral base spirit is derived from grapes. It is in fact the first UK gin to use grapes for the base spirit, contributing to its elegant and sophisticated character. Historical evidence shows that the Dutch spirit from which gin evolved, was made using alcohol distilled from wine. The founders of Chilgrove Gin are Christopher and Celia Beaumont-Hutchings, who have carefully selected and blended eleven botanicals, including local Sussex juniper, to marry with the distilled grape spirit. The second distillation is in a copper pot still where the botanicals are added and the process takes place under the watchful eye of eighth generation Master Distiller Charles Maxwell.
The botanicals act differently in the grape spirit as opposed to a standard cereal base, giving complexity with smoothness and elegance. It is distilled using natural mineral water, filtered through the chalk of the Sussex Downs.
Having tasted Chilgrove gin at a recent meeting of the Arundel Wine Society, both neat and in various cocktail combinations, it comes through as elegant and sophisticated, with a very appealing ‘Englishness’. It is marketed as a super-premium gin, and lives up to its name. With one of the ingredients being ‘grains of paradise’ how can you fail to be seduced by its charms? For more information visit www.arundelwinesociety.co.uk, www.sussexwineacademy.co.uk, www.winewyse.com