Cornwall and the West Country has become famous for the quality of its dairy products, pasties and seafood. In recent years, however, it has started to make a name for itself in quite a different market – craft gins. On the list of exhibitors for next year’s show you’ll find several boutique distillers, from Cornwall and beyond. So what’s the story?
A Dutch distillation
Gin takes its name from the Dutch word for juniper (genever) and the earliest references to the drink come from Bruges in the 13th century and Antwerp in the 16th century. By the middle of the 17th century, numerous small Dutch and Flemish distillers had popularized the re-distillation of malt spirit or malt wine with juniper and other botanicals such as anise, caraway and coriander. These concoctions were sold in pharmacies and used to treat kidney problems, stomach ailments, gallstones and gout.
The English got their first taste of gin when our soldiers joined the Dutch side in the Thirty Years War and discovered that a slug of gin took away some of the fear when you advanced into battle – hence the term “Dutch courage”. It established itself in London when William of Orange, ruler of the Dutch Republic, occupied the British throne with his wife Mary. Rough gin, often flavoured with turpentine as a cheap substitute for juniper, began to be consumed in huge quantities by the poor – especially as the government had imposed heavy taxes on imported spirits like French brandy.
Gin goes global
The gin habit, however, was not confined to the capital. In 1793 the Plymouth Gin distillery was established – still operating today it is the oldest working distillery in Britain. Gin also became a popular drink throughout the empire’s tropical colonies, partly because it effectively masked the bitter flavour of quinine, the only effective anti-malarial compound at that time. The quinine was dissolved in carbonated water to form what we now know as tonic water and create the G&T phenomenon.
Fast forward to the present and a new generation of millennials quaffed record quantities of gin during 2016 in a spending spree that outstripped sales growth in beer and sparkling wine. Annual gin sales rose 16% to smash through the £1bn barrier for the first time in the UK, leading the drink industry to declare 2016 the “year of gin”.
About 40m bottles were sold over the year, enough to make 1.12bn gin and tonics, or roughly 28 for every person of legal drinking age in the UK, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. This growing thirst for gin was mirrored by a huge surge in the number of distilleries, with about 40 opening in 2016.
Go west for gin that’s the best
Plymouth Gin now has a lot of local competition – with these three craft distilleries already booked in for Expowest Cornwall 2018.
Colwith Farm Distillery
The Dustow family grow excellent Cornish King Edward potatoes on their 200 acre farm between Lostwithiel and Fowey then turn them into a potato mash before adding yeast and fermenting into a low wine. This is distilled twice, the second time with a carefully selected blend of botanicals foraged from the farm’s hedgerows. The final product has delicate notes of Cornish lemon balm, rosemary, bay & elderflower complimented with juniper, coriander, lime, macadamia & almond. Named Stafford’s Gin after Stafford Matthew Dustow, the current generation’s great, great grandfather who bought Colwith Farm way back in 1904, it’s an exquisitely distinctive, citrusy gin which makes a sublime G&T and Dry Martini. (Stand G9),
Salcombe Distilling Co.
Launched in 2016 Salcombe Gin was an immediate global success. In 2017 it scooped up a plethora of awards including Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards, Gold at the World Gin Awards and 3 stars at the Great Taste Awards. The secret is in the combination of the finest Macedonian juniper, English coriander seeds and hand pared citrus peels that include lemon, lime and ruby grapefruit. These flavours are complemented by a further ten botanicals sourced from the four corners of the globe. Their gin is hand-crafted using a beautiful 250L copper pot still. Each batch is distilled with passion, care, and attention to detail, then blended together with water sourced from high up in the wilds of Dartmoor National Park to produce an exceptional gin. (Stand E31).
Higher Trevibban Farm, St Ervan, Wadebridge, is home to a small family run distillery and their gin is named after head distiller Tarquin. A 29-year-old self-taught distiller, he started making craft gin six years ago on his cooker at home. His efforts were rewarded with a gold award at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in 2014 and a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the Oscars of the spirits world in 2016. Not a bad start, but better was to come. A few weeks ago Tarquin’s Cornish Navy Seadog Gin was awarded Best Gin at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2017. The expert judges blind tasted 268 global entries and his was voted the best of the best. As a special limited edition it sold out immediately but Tarquin has now added it to his permanent collection. (Stand J40).
These three gins, and more, will all be available to sample at the show…but only in moderation. After all it’s best to do business with a clear head! That well-earned, full-sized G&T will just have to wait until you’re safely home again, relaxing after a great day at the show.