Demand for gin just keeps on growing. With the UK market now worth over £1 billion for the first time, and 56 new distilleries opening in 2015 alone, producers are constantly looking for a way to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
You might think that operating in a heavily regulated category where the “predominant” flavour of your product must be juniper would be a significant restriction on innovation, but you would be wrong. Here are six of the UK’s most unusual gins:
The Remote and Seaweedy One (Harris Gin)
The distillery on the spectacular and rugged Isle of Harris opened in October 2015 and while they are gearing up to produce whisky, like many new Scottish distilleries they are biding their time by creating a gin while waiting for their single malt new-make to age to perfection.
Harris is the most north-westerly of the UK’s distilleries, and they include hand-harvested sugar kelp (seaweed to you and me) to give their gin a unique maritime influence – as befits a gin borne of a rugged island community that has been making its living from the sea for generations.
The Airport Distilled One (Nicholas Culpeper London Dry Gin)
Of course, flavour isn’t the only way to distinguish yourself from the competition. Since early 2016, travellers have been able to stop by the Nicholas Culpeper pub en route to security clearance at London’s Gatwick airport.
Nothing unusual there, you might think – after all airports have been havens of 24-hour drinking for stag weekenders for many years. However, the Culpeper is also home to a 12 litre still, Judith, that churns out its house gin. Rumours that the double dose of botanicals is used to ensure no one confuses the bespoke spirit for jet fuel could not be confirmed before we went to press…
The ‘Breaking Bad’ One (Sacred Gin)
The “small batch” and “craft” epithets are all the rage in a number of industries just now, and they don’t come much smaller than the home-distilling set up of Ian Hart of the Sacred Spirits Company. Not only is this the UK’s smallest commercial distillery, the gin is uniquely produced under vacuum and without any of the traditional copper pots and pans found elsewhere.
As well as the use of bespoke distilling equipment, Sacred is remarkable for using unusual botanicals like Frankincense, cardamom and coriander, not to mention their memorable Christmas pudding gin made from infusing whole puddings (cooked to Ian’s Great Aunt Nellie’s recipe) in the spirit prior to distillation.
The Surprisingly Clear One (Masons Slow Distilled Sloe Gin)
Not content with being Yorkshire’s first distillery back in the good old pre-gin boom days of 2013, the clever chaps at Masons have now produced what is believed to be the world’s first slow distilled sloe gin.
In an attempt to approach the seasonal classic from a different angle, Masons worked to balance out the bitterness of the distilled sloes with orange zest to create a clear and refreshing sloe gin that avoids the cloying sweetness of the classic infused version.
The Foraged One (The Botanist)
Another of the great batch of Scottish gins, and another originating from a distillery more famous for its whisky – this time Bruichladdich. The Botanist gin features nine classic botanicals but uses a further 22 herbs and flowers, native to the Isle of Islay, which are hand-picked by a team of enthusiastic foragers.
Foraged ingredients are another growing trend that the drinks industry has picked up from the adventurous chefs found in some of the world’s best kitchens, and the fertile hills, shores and bogs of Islay are the perfect place to find a wealth of unusual and flavoursome ingredients like bog myrtle and lady’s bedstraw.
The Gross Out One (Anty Gin)
While there are some gin botanicals you can only find in a bog on Islay, down in the south of England, the Cambridge Distillery is making gin with an ingredient you can find on any family picnic. No, sadly not sausage rolls, but ants. The red wood ant to be precise, and the ‘essence’ of 62 can be found in each 700ml bottle.
These wee creatures excrete formic acid which gives the gin a unique citrus flavour that other distillers get from, say, citrus. Certainly unusual, and certainly exclusive, the gin has recently been named “the world’s most innovative alcoholic beverage” which is one way of describing it.