The British love affair with gin is well-documented. Its production was once a thriving cottage industry, before legislation curtailed widespread home distillation. A recent legal ruling has seen a sudden boom in independent distilleries, so the subtle complexities of this humble spirit are being rediscovered by a whole new generation. While many of us can name at least five gin brands, can any of us describe their individual characteristics?
While gin’s base flavour is obviously juniper, each gains its uniqueness from botanicals – natural aromatic flavourings. An increasingly competitive market is seeing branding take precedence over quality or taste. Anyone can throw the finest ingredients together, but the team behind Brighton Gin has produced something genuinely exceptional. From the city’s first licensed still, Brighton & Hove now has a proper geographically linked spirit to play with. “It needed to be done,” Helen Chesshire, the brands co-founder tells me. Brighton Gin’s origin is another unorthodox tale of passion and innovation which is ‘typically Brighton’.
A couple of years ago, co-founder Kathy Caton was out for a morning run, in spite of being up until stupid o’clock the pervious night. Her sense of well-being sat at odds with her evening’s excess, something she could only attribute to the quality of the gin she’d been enjoying. She found out most quality gins are forgiving by nature, their purity presenting little in the way of a hangover. A mutual friend then introduced her to Chesshire, and the seeds of Brighton & Hove’s first home-produced spirit were born. After talking to distillers about the process and to botanists about possible flavour combinations, they purchased a small still from eBay and began experimenting.
Five months were spent working on the perfect recipe, with new team members adding their expertise to the project. “That moment when we realised we were actually making gin was really exciting.” With the obvious juniper flavouring, it has fresh orange peel and fresh lime lending citrus notes. Rounding the flavouring off is a touch of coriander, sourced surprisingly from Ringmer. In fact every ingredient is as local and organic as possible. At Brighton Gin’s core is 100% organic British grain spirit. “It’s three times the price of any other base alcohol, but it’s really, really good.” Nearly devoid of hangover-inducing impurities, any liver strain is further reduced by the addition of toxin-fighting milk thistle.
As with any self-respecting brand, the concept travels beyond creating a fine drink. A cheeky call to the council’s maintenance department revealed the exact shade of the city’s trademark colour – Brighton Seafront Blue. The bottle and labelling reflect the colour seen on taxis, railings and signs everywhere. The label design further adds to the mystique, shaped like a ticket it invokes a feeling of journeying and adventure. “We knew what we wanted. It’s a ticket to ride. A ticket for the pier, or maybe a London to Brighton ticket… It’s all about Brighton being a destination.”
Two years on from that morning run, and Brighton Gin is flourishing. Over 100 stockists from The Grand to independent off licences have enthusiastically embraced the brand. The recently refurnished Grand Central has even seen Brighton Gin become their top-selling spirit.
It’s not popular simply because the bottle has ‘Brighton’ emblazoned upon it either. “It’s a time when the gin renaissance is coming. There’s a slightly naughty side to gin.” It fits rather perfectly amongst Brighton & Hove’s flourishing food and drink scene. The city has always been fertile ground for innovations in the spirit market, especially when one embodies the spirit of its home so well.
Chesshire says she is constantly surprised by the overwhelmingly reaction to their craft. There is even semi-serious talk of a Hove strength version being produced, so the city’s genteel half doesn’t get left out. While their new bespoke still is capable of producing 600 bottles a day, they’re wary of expanding too quickly. The aim is to remain relevant, flexible and consistent for now. “I think we’re here to stay. It’s not just an expensive hobby!” Chesshire laughs. “It’s fun, irreverent and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But we really love what we do.”
Words by Stuart Rolt