When it burst onto the Gin scene back in 2014, Brighton Gin landed with more of a fizz than a bang. It looked fantastic, all dressed up in a cute, kitsch bottle, but there was something about the botanical configuration that made us whisper little more than a soft “oh” upon tasting it. It was quite normal, you see; so classic. From such a wild and spirited city we expected something a little strange, a little quirky and ahead of its time but instead we had something with broad appeal and more than a whiff of the straight-laced about it…
We realise now, of course, with the clarity of hindsight, that we were in the wrong.
As Gin has grown increasingly strange and distorted, it’s the ones that didn’t jump the shark that are holding the fort. Brighton Gin is a delicious, juniper-forward superstar flanked by lime on one side and milk thistle on the other. It’s a Gin as Gin should be, with the milk thistle helping it stand apart from the rest by asserting a contemporary twist, though only by an inch or two.
Sticking with the progressive edge but shoving flavour to the side for a second, we think it’s probably well worth mentioning the efforts in sustainability made by founder Kathy Caton and her band of merry helpers. They use vegan wax and glue for the labels, the bottles are made from 40% recycled glass, the botanicals are composted and their still system recycles its cooling water, rather than dumping hundreds of litres into the ground unnecessarily.
“We want to try and be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem,” Caton explained. “We encourage people to volunteer and be part of the beach cleans, saving tons of plastic being washed into the sea. We’ve worked with a charity to get our Brighton Gin delivery bikes made – they are old Post Office ones that have been saved from landfill and reconditioned to our spec by a community project aimed at getting people back into employment. For each one we’ve had made, a bike goes to a micro-finance project in Malawi, which supports people starting their own business.”
There’s also the matter of Pride – a movement close to Brighton Gin’s heart. For the past couple of years the distillery has released a Brighton Pride bottle, with a proportion of proceeds heading to the Rainbow Trust. They are also one of the few gin distilleries in the world to actually have a web page dedicated to how to ask them for support from charities and community associations. Basically, where they can find the opportunity to be kind, the team seem to be the first to take it and when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility they have systematically shown that they do indeed take it seriously, that they look for it to be more than a tag line and actually practice what they preach. We embrace them and their efforts wholeheartedly.
Back to the Gin, though, which is why we’re really here. The Brighton Gin recipe is a closely guarded secret. When you consider the amount this team moved around in the early days, you realise there must be some pretty good people around them, as the botanical mix has never quite tumbled out of anyone’s lips. The recipe development began around various kitchen tables in the Brighton area, and while all of the houses remained intact, Caton will admit to a few close shaves… Booze + heat = catastrophe waiting around every corner.
For a while, the team was station in the basement of The Urchin pub, where they’d cart huge vats of booze downstairs and huge cases of Brighton Gin upstairs. They moved again a year or so ago, and now have a property big enough to not only allow them to fix a cup of tea or two during the working day, but to invite guests in by the dozen. Finally, Brightonians and tourists alike have a boozy rainy day activity – a Brighton Gin tour, complete with G&T. You can book that HERE
What does Brighton Gin taste like?
Juniper, lime and milk thistle we know about, but other notable botanicals within that almost secret list are coriander seed, fresh orange peel and angelica root. It doesn’t take a detective to taste those a mile off, with each clearly influencing the overall flavour package.
The milk thistle is evident on the nose, blossoming ahead of a resinous juniper. Slightly reminiscent of Edinburgh Gin in the early days (a brand that’s changed formula since then) the herb adds depth to the overall aroma and its complex nature, both herbal yet creamy, compliments the gin’s core “Dry” characteristics well. To taste, following a quick flush of citrus the piney juniper takes the fore in Brighton Gin, with a touch of coriander seed and softer citrus underlying it all and emerging once more towards the finish. We’d recommend serving it with a slice of orange in a G&T, although doubling down on the savoury nature pays off for those brave enough to pursue it – do so by opting for a sprig of rosemary.
Perhaps the biggest news to have emerged out of the Brighton Gin story in the past couple of years is a whole new gin: Seaside Strength. While the original sits at an easy sipping 40%, the Seaside Strength is an eye-watering, full blown “Navy Strength Gin” at 57% ABV. The gin was a very intentional release in 2018, landing smack bang in the middle of Pink Gin mania and looking very much the part of the incredulous time traveller. This striking, sensible and tongue numbing tipple is miles away from the bandwagon hopping the team could have done, so we’re issuing loud applause and a silent prayer that it will start amassing something of a following. It certainly deserves one.
Caton, herself, is quite confident. “What I hope with all think Pink – which looks like it’s going to continue booming – is that is provides an introduction to the Gin category for a whole new range of people, who’ll then go onto experiment and try all sorts of gins. The versatility of our category is such an amazing thing, there’s so much to explore.
“With our Seaside Strength we wanted to do something that is complementary to our original gin and sits comfortably beside it. It’s made to the same production values and uses the same quality of fantastic ingredients. I’m sure there’ll be some playing with future limited releases and seasonal editions, but ensuring we maintain our focus on our core product and making it reliably brilliant each time has to be the main focus.”
Brighton Gin Seaside Strength to taste…
Despite the higher proof nature of it- there’s a clear zesty citrus on the nose with hints of candied orange, sappy juniper and underlying spice. At 57% vol, it’s unashamedly butch and bold, but it’s surprisingly sippable neat too – perhaps a sign of the amount of oils captured that lend their smoothing abilities (it uses twice the amount of juniper in the mix). We preferred it with a wedge of lime to cut through the resinous juniper in a G&T, although a similar orange / rosemary combo also works well.
We mentioned the kitschy bottle design earlier, but we didn’t quite delve into the full package. It’s a mightily impressive one – the team has looked to incorporate the city’s rich history into the design of the gin wherever possible. Landmarks such as the Pier and Royal Pavilion, individuals such as Phoebe Hessel and Max Miller and widely recognised events such as the Veteran Car Run and London to Brighton are all referenced on the Brighton Gin label.
Incidentally, the bottles’ wax seals and labels are the same colour as the railings on the prom – Brighton Seafront Blue. The label is ticket-shaped, itself a nod to the idea of representing an invitation to a new adventure, to all sorts of fun possibilities. What’s evolved in the years since their launch is a real tribute to the town it calls home, one that over time reflects the vibrancy of the area in a way that’s complex and layered. Sure, there are moments that are a little on the money for some – but that’s modern branding for you and through their social feeds, events and aesthetic they are managing to navigate through harnessing what makes them easily recognisable – Brighton – while actually placing values over veneer as the driving reason for the choices they make.
This is classic, palate pleasing stuff that deserves a place on the shelves of any Gin fan, it’s also a really impressive company to look at in the way they have opted to double down on giving back and being forward thinking – and not to cash in on their geography or the easy excess of the category. Just think how easy it would have been to have made a candy floss pink “Penny Arcades” Gin and flogged it to tourists. With the millions that visit the city each year – that’s a lot of temptation to have avoided as the pay out would have been huge, if incredibly short term and disingenuous.
Right at the start we mentioned that our initial review for Brighton Gin wasn’t the most friendly we’ve ever dished out. It wasn’t a disaster, it was fine by any means, but we did say that for a town as free-spirited as Brighton, a gin as by the book as theirs seemed a little (perhaps ironically) on piste.
Over four years later we rescind that wholeheartedly and are genuinely grateful to this team for not panicking and going down any obvious roads. This is a gin that seems to have a lot of soul at its core, led by a team that are brave when they need to be and who have evolved into a fuller version of themselves over time – bringing out more of the city and it’s quirks as they have gone on.
So what does the future look like you wonder? They are tight lipped for now but the Seaside Strength is plenty of proof that the Brighton Gin team can play around and experiment. Now they’ve got a steady home, open doors for tours and a confident team, we hope there’ll be a few more close to home expressions. There are so many coastal botanicals left to be explore, many of which are brilliant. Export also looks like a strong possibility now as there are many places around the world that recognise the Brighton Gin name, have followed the brand’s steady growth and can see it’s now a confident savvy team with a brace of offerings that would hold strong appeal… All we can say on the matter is this:
Have at it, troops. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!
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