To celebrate the release of their new book, Britain in a Bottle, authors Ted Bruning and Rupert Wheeler share with us their pick of the best little-known gin distilleries in Britain.
Note: this text was accurate at the time of writing (March 2020, before lockdown was put in place). All of the following remain closed in accordance with government guidelines, but do keep an eye on their websites and social channels for news on reopening.
Cambridge Gin Laboratory
10 Green St, Cambridge CB2 3JU
Just what you’d expect to find in Cambridge – a blend-your-own gin lesson in a workshop known as The Classroom where you get a serious talk before settling down to experiment with botanicals gathered from the city’s many wildflower meadows, each distilled individually to capture its distinctive flavour and character.
Founded in 2015 to make bespoke gins for Cambridge’s many high-class bars and restaurants, the company opened this very handsome city-centre shop and venue two years later as a multi-functional space that can do anything from capturing the angel’s share (ie: the portion lost to evaporation) to make a gin costing £2,200 a bottle to hosting poetry readings. Blend your own gin and they’ll keep the recipe to make you another batch to order.
Caorunn at Balmenach
Balmenach Rd, Cromdale, Grantown-on-Spey PH26 3PF
Closely associated with the Balmenach whisky distillery, Caorunn have been making gin here since way before the current gin trend took off – although the venture isn’t quite as old as some of its equipment!
Neutral grain spirit is pumped into a unique copper ‘berry chamber’ where it is vaporised. This chamber, a cylinder that is laid on its side rather than upright, dates back to the 1920s and is a form of infusion still originally used in the perfume industry. It has a copper framework inside it to increase the precipitation of sulphites for an exceptionally clean spirit – very important in perfumery – and trays on which the botanicals are left to infuse. The 11 botanicals include six traditional ones along with five locally foraged. The gin has now become a huge success in the premium category.
Coles Distillery and Brewery
White Hart, Llanddarog SA32 8NT
If you love kitsch you’re going to die of joy when you open the door of this thatched late-medieval drovers’ inn. If floor-to-ceiling knick-knacks, technicolour soft furnishings and wildly over-carved benches and tables aren’t your thing, however, concentrate on the beer and gin.
Brothers Cain and Marcus Coles and their families bought the pub in 1993 and in 1999 added a five-barrel microbrewery in which they now produce upwards of 15 beers. In 2011 they started making cider too, and in 2017 installed a still designed and fabricated by Cain from which comes a range of gins and liqueurs and Wales’s first and so far only white rum.
Pumphouse No.5, Leviathan Way, Chatham Historic Dockyard ME4 4LP
Brothers Bob, Matt and Stephen Russell had scoured the UK for a site for their dream distillery when Pumphouse No.5, built in the 1870s to drain the yard’s dry docks, became available.
Crucially the cavernous hall for Copper Rivet could accommodate their three towering stills and also had space to brew the basic wash, making this one of the few artisan distilleries where you can see the entire process under one roof. Commissioned in 2016, the stills make Dockyard Dry, a classic gin; Vela, a very pure vodka; and Son of a Gun, a grain spirit.
Wigtown Rd, Newton Stewart DG8 6AS
Purpose-built in 2014, the home of Hills & Harbour gin commands panoramic views over the surrounding hills and forests and was always planned as a destination.
Unusually, Crafty brews its own wash and makes its own base spirit and, as is becoming standard practice in Scottish gin distilleries, it source its own botanicals too, using local flora such as noble fir needles and bladder wrack.
The Shops at Dartington, Shinner’s Bridge, Dartington TQ9 6TQ
The 1,200-acre Dartington Hall Estate with the mainly 14th-century hall and its exquisite gardens at its centre has been home to a host of educational, artistic and artisanal enterprises since it was rescued from dereliction by Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst in 1925. One of the denizens of the Shops at Dartington, formerly the Cider Press Centre, is the Devon Distillery, where the Elmhirsts’ great grandson Cosmo Caddy makes Elmhirst Gin and runs gin schools every day.
But as he’s also the grandson of the founder of Sharpham Vineyard, he also makes grappa (or Dappa), which is a form of pomace brandy, made from the skins, pulp and seeds of grapes used in winemaking, and Devoncello – Devon’s answer to Limoncello. Unmissable for so many reasons!
Kirk Wynd, Glamis DD8 1RT
Gin Bothy has the historic and somewhat spooky Glamis Castle right on its doorstep, but aims to provide you, alongside a gin experience, an opportunity to discover the history behind the bothy.
These were originally small refuges for shepherds out on the hills but are also traditional homes for farm workers in eastern Scotland. And, of course, it was also a euphemism for an illegal distillery. The distillery produces a traditional gin but also raspberry liqueur and Gunshot, which is a gin infused with cinnamon, cloves and mixed spices.
West Yard, Camden Lock Pl, NW1 8AF
Half Hitch microdistillery occupies a tiny corner of what was the enormous Gilbey’s Gin HQ from 1871 to 1967 – not only a vast distillery but also the bonded warehouses that held the firm’s spirits (it owned three Scotch distilleries as well) and the majestic quantities of wine it imported.
Half Hitch consciously evokes the history of the Lock – its name is that of a bargee’s knot, and its exotic botanicals echo the days when the Lock was a hub of Empire-wide trade.
Isle of Wight Distillery
Pondwell Hill, Ryde PO33 1PX
Co-founded in 2014 by Conrad Gauntlett of Rosemary Vineyard and Xavier Baker of Goddard’s Brewery, the Isle of Wight Distillery is – as far as records tell – the only distillery in the island’s history.
Their core Mermaids gin delivers a smooth but complex blend of fresh organic lemon zest and peppery notes, with a hint of sea air from locally foraged rock samphire. Their other products include a single malt whisky, a navy-strength dark rum, a dry gin, a pink gin, a navy-strength gin and a barrel-aged gin.
Liverpool Gin Distillery
52–54 Castle St, Liverpool L2 7LQ
The commercial potential of combining an artisanal distillery and a stylish bar-brasserie, especially if it’s in an up-and-coming inner-city wining-and-dining quarter, is huge, and the Liverpool Gin Distillery is the proof of the pudding. By 2016 its Liverpool Original, Valencian Orange, Rose Petal and Lemongrass & Ginger gins were selling so well that the company was bought by one of the biggest independents in UK wines and spirits, Halewood International.
Its new home is in a Grade II-listed former Bang & Olufsen showroom and comprises a dark spirits bar with a limited menu in the basement, a gin bar and the main attraction – the 600l copper pot still itself – on the ground floor. On the first floor there is also a gin lab with 32 miniature pot stills where you can mix your own botanicals.
Trossachs Distillery, The Barn, Upper Drumbane, Callander FK17 8LR
Tucked away up a single-track road not far from the small town of Callander you’ll find the Trossach Distillery, a converted stone barn that is home to McQueen Gin.
Since it first fired up the still in 2016, McQueen has made a name for itself with some adventurous flavour combinations such as spiced chocolate orange and fruits of the forest, which reputedly changes colour.
The Boathouse, 28 Island St, Salcombe TQ8 8DP
Salcombe, at Devon’s southernmost point, has been a port de plaisance since its role as a trading harbour died a death before the war. The distillery is located in an area known for its boatbuilding but also now fast becoming an area known for its art scene.
As is the custom, all gin stills are named and this one is called Provident – named after a Brixham sailing trawler that was the founding vessel of the Island Cruising Club in Salcombe, which once stood on the same site as the distillery does today. If you really want to know more about making gin then make sure you attend their gin school, where you can take home your own personalised 70cl bottle.
35 Aylesbury End, Beaconsfield HP9 1LU
This is hardcore. Be prepared. Standing around glumly waiting for the tasting is not on the agenda for visitors touring the Wayfinder distillery at the Wayfinder’s Retreat cocktail bar, formerly the Treehouse and before that the Charles Dickens and before that – since about 1600, in fact – The Star.
The distillery was installed by a cadre of fanatical experimenters whose first product was a peach, clove and orange-infused American whiskey called Northern Discomfort and whose standard pouring gin has chilli, pimento and coriander seed among its botanicals. Limited editions, the weirder the better, are the house speciality.
Discover more of the best distilleries in the UK with our new book, Britain in a Bottle: