It doesn’t seem so long ago that the only people seen to be drinking gin were the Sloane Ranger set – and Pat Butcher off EastEnders. My, how times have changed. In the past year alone, gin sales have grown by over 12%, with a total of 43 million bottles being shifted across the UK, according to stats from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. And the specialist craft gin movement is very much alive and kicking, and nowhere more so than in Devon.
The newest kid on the block is Exeter Gin, launched this summer by those clever peeps behind Exeter Street Food and Bath Street Food. Having launched Granny Garbutt’s Gin Palace – a pop-up mobile gin emporium in 2016, which sells over 100 different types of gin – they found there was a demand for a more locally-made product.
“Even though people loved the fact we had loads of gins to try, they wanted to buy something home-grown and by the bottle. We looked around the Exeter area for a supplier but kept coming up against a brick wall, so the natural thing for us to do was make it ourselves,” explains Karen Skerratt, who runs the company, alongside hubby Mick, who is head distiller, and daughter Lyndsey, who is head of marketing.
The weather might not be the Indian summer we all wished for, however, you could always pour a glass of Exeter Gin, good book and feet up!
— ExeterGin® (@Exeter_Gin)
September 9, 2017
The gin draws inspiration from Exeter’s Roman heritage and the botanicals used to flavour it are drawn from that period. “We did a lot of research, mood boards and talking to the people of Exeter, and came up with some amazing facts,” says Karen. “What was vitally important to us as a team was to produce a quality product, and to understand what we were doing and how to do it well. Part of this process was to look at what botanicals would have been used in Roman times. So, we took a structured approached and then experimented with the amount of each botanical to get the taste just perfect.”
Aside from juniper, which is sourced from a supplier in Macedonia, Exeter Gin includes coriander and orris root. The botanical that gives the gin its distinctive taste is baked and air-dried oranges, which are complemented by cinnamon and all spice berries.
The Roman influence is drawn from the addition of tarragon, basil and marigolds, which are combined with goji berries, cubeb berries and barberries to provide some sweetness. Finally, pink and black peppercorns bring a bit of spice to the finish.
“The oils from both the juniper and the orange deliver a really smooth taste, combined with the effect from baking and air-drying the oranges, leaving a wonderfully subtle citrus note on the palette,” explains Karen.
To make the gin, the botanicals are steeped in the alcohol overnight in a traditional alembic pot still, which is then lit early the next morning. Once the ‘heads’ (the first output from the distillation) are removed, the distillation process takes around 10 to 12 hours. The resultant ‘hearts’ (the gin) of the process are then diluted with purified Devon water to the required strength. The ‘tails’, the last of the alcohol to be extracted, are reserved and used again in the next batch of gin to add to its distinct flavour.
The gin is currently distilled just outside Exeter, in Teignmouth, but the team are looking for premises in the city. “We’ve got great support from the City Council, local businesses and Exeter residents – people like our Gin Palace customers – who are wholeheartedly behind us, and can’t wait for us to have a central location,” says Karen.
“When we have the premises finalised, we are looking to do distillery tours to expand the operation, creating a local attraction which we feel will enhance Exeter’s current tourism offerings.”
Could Exeter Gin be to Exeter what Guinness is to Dublin, drawing tourists from worldwide? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, we’re more than happy to sample a wee taster of this latest gin sensation. But, might we ask, how best to enjoy it?
“Our preference is a regular Fevertree or Luscombe tonic with a little orange peel,” says Karen, “but it also goes well with lime. It’s always good to experiment with flavours to suit your own individual palette.”
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