A special report on the nation’s best-loved spirit

Is there no stopping the gin boom? – Cheers North East


Published on July 10th, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour


Is there no stopping the gin boom?

A special report on the nation’s best-loved spirit

Whether you have fallen in love with the latest craft gin or prefer to stick with the well-trusted big brands, there’s no denying that here in the North East we have some of the most excitingly curated ranges available anywhere.

Look on the shelves, there’s Durham Gin, Alnwick Gin, Lakes Gin, Hepple Gin, Poetic License Gin, Quaker Gin, Noveltea Gin, Jack’s Gin, Geordie Gin… the list goes on.

There were 51 million bottles of the spirit sold in the UK last year, enough to make 1.43 billion gin and tonics. Billion! According to the Gin Guild (who knew?) there are 191 distilleries producing gin in the UK – and more than likely192 or 193 by the time this magazine is printed, so you don’t have to have a maths degree to get the picture.


Ralph Wilkinson, owner of multi award-winning pub Number Twenty 2 in Darlington, County Durham, does nothing by half-measure. If it’s going to be done, it’s going to be done properly, has always been his mantra. So, when considering joining the gin revolution he decided that if they were to be distillers they would be distillers, full-stop.

Taking up a corner of the pub’s nanobrewery is a small copper still which uses the mash for making beer to convert into alcohol – and gins with the ability to take the breath away.

Ralph says: “After a great deal of form-filling and fantastic help and understanding from HMRC we were eventually granted our licence in December 2014. A compounder’s or rectifier’s licence would have allowed us to buy our spirit from Scotland but we opted to ‘travel’ the full journey. We create the genuine article – but it’s a very expensive way of doing it.

“To begin with, we brew a full mash beer Maris Otter Pale Malt which takes up to seven days to reach 14%abv. This, after three distillations, along with carefully-chosen botanicals and special blending, becomes our Wilkinson English Gin.

“The same plant and equipment is used for our Spiced Rum and Single Malt Spirit which is not whisky as it’s only in an oak barrel for three months. We currently have Rhubarb Gin made with locally grown Darlington Rhubarb (from Middleton Tyas last year) and our Pink Gin made with Pink Grapefruit Bitters. We want to keep it small, to make what we do and sell what we do.”

Number Twenty 2’s original distiller, Vicki Ramsay Hammond, is still creating the recipes and doing the paperwork and admin, while Graham Vasey does all the hard work mashing in and so on.

“I just stand and look confused,” says Ralph. “Graham actually helps out at Brewlab in Sunderland on their distilling course, giving the students the benefit of his practical experience.”

Vicki, who has a degree in chemistry, says: “Many distilleries buy vodka in then add flavours, but we make everything from scratch, so it’s very difficult to produce large amounts at a time. But it’s good making gin in such small batches because we can play around with it.”

Wilkinson’s English is selling very well over the pub counter and in Majestic in Darlington and Northallerton, plus a couple of wine merchants.

Other products include Paradise Spiced Rum, Citrus Burst and Small Batch Seasonal, plus Wilkinson’s English Vodka.


A North-East gin distillery expanded its team to assist in its expand market growth. Poetic License, an independent distillery based in Roker, Sunderland, has plans to boost annual production capacity from 100,000 bottles a year to 1.5 million to capitalise on the burgeoning home market and also to help satisfy the growing demand for British gin oversees.

The company has set sights on increasing production volume by 1,400% after signing a new distribution partner in South Africa.

Ben Murphy has been appointed head distiller and Michelle McLean is the new sales manager, while Lewis Hendry has joined the team from Masons Gin in Yorkshire, appointed as senior distiller to help implement new techniques and strategies, which will lead to a more structured production line.

Michelle McLean has more than 20 years experience in the alcohol industry, working for Heineken and even creating her own gin emporium in Durham. Lewis Hendry’s role will also include researching and developing innovative recipes for the distillery to ensure a high customer retention line.

He said: “I’ve been watching Poetic License’s success for a while and when the opportunity presented itself I knew it would be crazy not to get involved.”

Poetic License’s Rarity range was launched in 2017 with the likes of Raspberry & Buddha’s Hand, Sweet Bell Pepper & Nanga Chilli, Tutti Frutti and Strawberries & Cream (stocked by Asda) following on. Lewis Hendry’s first creation is Pink Grapefruit and Tonka Bean.

A thousand bottles of each expression is produced and once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Mark Hird, managing director of Poetic License Distillery, said: “We have expansion plans for the distillery, not only into new product offerings but to also drive our product into new markets. We realised South Africa is a diverse, cultural country with access to unique botanicals which would enable us to create more interesting gins, and also set our sights on expanding our markets into the southern hemisphere.”


Brockmans Gin attracted a record number of entries for its annual #Brocktail contest this year – 273 from 18 countries. The three finalists came from Russia, the UK and Italy. And best of all, the bartender representing the UK comes from Newcastle – and was inspired by the city’s charity shops.

In first place in the online voting was Maksim Evseev, chief bartender at the Brothers Bar and Grill in Vladivostok, Russia. In second place was Joseph Miller, bartender at Blackfriars Restaurant & Banquet Hall in Friars Street, Newcastle, and third was Andrea Forni from La Gintoneria di Davide in Milan, Italy. All three won an expenses-paid trip of a lifetime as guests of Brockmans Gin to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, an annual magnet for the bartending profession.

Voting was entirely by members of the public with the competition attracting more than 30,000 votes in the run-up to World Gin Day on June 8 2019.

“There was no particular theme to the competition which was quite hard for me as I like to have a theme,” says Joseph Miller. “I got inspiration from walking around charity shops in Newcastle looking at various drinking vessels. I found a set of two ducks which seemed ideal.”

The idea was forming in Joseph’s head of a far-eastern slant to his cocktail competition entry and he also referenced a 1933 children’s book, Ping, about a little duck that gets lost in the Yangtse River.

He says: “I began to piece Asian-style elements together for the cocktail. Brockmans is an unusual gin so my idea had to be unusual.

“I kept checking the leader board online every day and I was in the final four the day before deadline,” says Joseph. “The top three got to go to New Orleans, so I was delighted to come second. Tales of the Cocktail is a huge festival with seminars and tastings – and all pretty cool.”

The recipe for Ping’s Obsession is at


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Alastair Gilmour

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