Features

Published on June 5th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour

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Chin chin, time for gin

It would seem the whole country is making gin these days, so why not Northumberland?

Look on the spirits fixture of any specialist outlet and you’ll see so many brands and styles of gin you’ll wonder at where it all comes from. Pubs too in recent years have cottoned on to the rise in popularity of a drink once regarded as the root of all evil and the opiate of 18th Century paupers huddled in their stinking slums – as the history books would have us believe.

Gin has become a refined, bourgeois spirit; it has lost its disreputable label and taken on a cloak of gentility and desirability.

“Gin is the thing at the moment,” says Charlie Gibbs, owner of the Northumberland Gin Company. Gateshead-based Gibbs, pictured above in Victorian garb, was a home brewer and friends would often encourage him to go into beer making commercially.

“I looked into it, but to make any decent money out of it you have to brew huge quantities,” he says. However, had taken note of the explosion in the gin market, took out a licence and away he went.

“I buy neutral gin spirit and flavour it, then dilute it to commercial strength and bottle it,” he says. “Gin is vodka with a jacket on.”

He produces gin in distinct strengths – the flavoured ones, demurely called Prudence, Celeste and Florence (they’ve all got Victorian women’s names) are sold at 20% abv, while the “meatier” ones such as Steam Punk Gin and Hexam Grand Cru (the dropped “h” is intentional) are a respectable 40% abv and are made with many of the traditional botanicals such
as juniper, star anise and
grapefruit peel.

“Basically we create a big teabag with the botanicals and let it steep in the spirit for a couple of days,” says Charlie. “We also use essential oils such as parma violets.

“We only make between 50 and 100 bottles at a time and that means they’ll vary slightly with every batch – for example juniper berries can come from different parts of
the world.”

Northumberland Gin Company products – “northern, natural and naughty” – are available at Hotel Du Vin in Newcastle, while Fenwick also stocks the range amongst an impressive line-up that represents every part of the country from Shetland to Plymouth.

“We want to keep it a niche product so you’ll never see Northumberland Gin in the big supermarkets,” says Charlie. “We’ve got lots of ideas in development and we’re now looking at gift packs.”


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Alastair Gilmour



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