December 10, 2018

Gin craze hits York

If the experience of York Gin is anything to go by, the gin craze that’s been gripping the country in recent times is still – well – crazy in this ancient city. 

With the first bottles released on 1 March 2018, York Gin has had a dizzying first few weeks. Director, Emma Godivala, has been astonished at the enthusiasm for the city’s first ever gin: “We thought we’d have a low key launch, with a couple of posts on social media to test the waters. But since we launched we haven’t stopped. We have a beautiful copper still called Ebor – after the Roman name for York, Eboracum. And it’s been working flat out. The other three directors and I have been at it from dawn until dusk and we’ve already taken on our first employee to bottle and label. 

“We’ve been amazed by the demand for our gin. Having said that, we did spend over a year perfecting the recipe. I’m a massive gin fan – and I love York Gin. So maybe it shouldn’t be so much of a surprise that everyone who tastes it loves it too.”

Smart shops, funky bars and tourist traps 

Upmarket department store Fenwick has got behind the gin with a full window display – with the distinctive cat and castle logo covering two of its gift shop windows, while The Evil Eye Gin Shop – holder of the Guinness World Record for having the most gins to buy (over 1,200) – had a record-breaking sales day when York Gin held an event there. Owner of the Evil Eye Lounge, Shelley Green, said: “York Gin has rocketed onto the gin scene and has fast become the biggest-selling non-flavoured dry gin in our specialist gin shop and on our cocktail bar. York may be surrounded by walls but this gin is proving it has no boundaries and will soon be all over the country, if not the world!”

York Gin is also being served on the full fleet of five City Cruise boats that ferry thousands of passengers up and down the river Ouse. And visitors to the York Dungeon tourist attraction will soon be able to enjoy a nerve-calming drink of York Gin in their spooky tavern. 

The famous Jorvik Viking Centre – always keen to support local produce – is selling York Gin in its gift shop, and is working with the York Gin Company on some top secret plans. 

The destination Star Inn the City restaurant is serving the gin to its discerning customers. And a growing number of York pubs and bars are selling the gin, including the cool and funky Evil Eye cocktail bar, the quirky and innovative House of the Trembling Madness and at least 40 more. Several hotels – including all three Hiltons and several beautiful boutique hotels in the city – are reporting excellent sales, with visitors keen to sample the local gin. 

Beyond York 

York Gin has already moved out of its home city and is now on the summer tasting menu at the prestigious London Gin Club in Soho. 

“It was quite a surprise when we found out York Gin had been selected,” said Emma. “The London Gin Club is very highly respected. I’ve just spoken to Julia, owner of the London Gin Club, and she said one of their most demanding customers tasted York Gin and absolutely loves it.”

The company is concentrating on getting York Gin in as many pubs and bars as possible in its home city and the surrounding area. Then it plans to move to Yorkshire and has aims to go nationwide and international. 

Fellow director, Harry Cooke, said: ‘York is the second-most visited city in England so it’s a major brand. We’ve got a fantastic product and we think there’s a real demand for York Gin not only across the UK but overseas too.’ 

Collaboration 

As well as the Jorvik Centre tie-up, York Gin is working with the city’s chocolate maker the Cocoa House on several projects, and with the UK’s number one fish and chip shop Millers, also based in the city. 

“We definitely want to collaborate with other fantastic local companies to make some more brilliant products,” added Emma. “We’re very proud of our classic dry gin and know that will become more and more popular as word spreads. We want to make sure our next products are just as great.”

And with the company’s summer calendar filling up with gin and food and drink festivals, starting with the Malton Gin Festival in late April, the next few months look set to match the first gin-crazed few weeks. 

The story behind York Gin 

Over the past two years, five local friends have been working on developing York Gin. Landlord of The Swan pub (and three other York pubs) Paul Crossman and Jon Farrow, his close friend and business partner at The Slip pub, teamed up with longstanding friends Pete McNichol (the previous Swan landlord) and Harry Cooke (a local friend with a passion for fine food and drink). Harry says: “We’d go on and on about how we needed a gin – how Durham, Newcastle, Leeds and Liverpool were all getting their own gins. But it took a little while for us to get the idea, strong as we felt it was, past the drawing board.” 

(L-R) Paul Crossman, Emma Godivala and Pete McNichol

Meanwhile, unbeknown to this team, local neighbour, marketer and gin lover Emma Godivala was also keen to give the city its own spirit. 

Emma said: “I started to look at registering York Gin as a trademark – and I saw someone else had already started the process. I did a bit of digging and found Paul’s name – The Swan’s Paul! We knew each other fairly well as local residents and fellow parents at the local school, and I’ve been enjoying his lovely pubs for the last 15 years.”

All five got together and formed the York Gin Company – an entirely self-funded start-up. 

The project quickly gathered momentum, and was all set to launch in summer 2017. The company found some great premises for a distillery in Acaster Malbis within the boundaries of the City, and the first equipment was on order, when tragedy struck with the sudden death of Jon. Inevitably this stalled proceedings as everyone came to terms with this profound loss, but now we’ve picked up the pieces and are now more dedicated than ever. 

Paul says: “Jon would definitely have urged us to keep going with the plan. He loved the whole idea of  York Gin, and was absolutely dedicated to making it happen.” 

Pete adds: “We were unanimous that Jon’s share in the company should remain completely intact as a tangible long term legacy for his family. He was at the very heart of the project, and we all agreed that’s where he should stay.”

The distillery is a hive of activity, distilling, bottling and labelling hundreds of bottle of York Gin each week. The 300 litre copper still, Ebor, doing its fair share of work. 

York Gin includes the mandatory juniper as well as orris root, coriander and black pepper, although the exact recipe is, of course, a closely guarded secret. 

York Gin celebrates the city’s long history and association with cats on its label – with a hand-drawn picture of the walls and a black cat. The iconic font is a revival of 17th Century ‘Fell Fonts’ – widely used in print at the time of the 18th Century Gin Craze. There’s a nod to York’s medieval past in the label, yet a bottle of York Gin also feels perfectly contemporary with its strong square, weighty design. 

Emma, a designer, user researcher and marketer by trade, who designed the cat and castle logo, said: “While we were doing our research, we found that drinkers associated York with our wonderful history and the cat trail. And none of them could quite believe York didn’t already have its own gin. Well not officially at least! I suspect in reality that plenty of people have made their own gin here over the years – especially in the 18th Century during the Gin Craze. Now we’re doing it legally – with a gin tailored to the 21st Century expectations, but with a definite nod to the drinkers of the past.”