Produced in the former warehouse vaults of Camden Lock, Half Hitch Gin is made using a gin base that is blended with tinctures of black tea, pepper, hay, English wood and bergamot.
Unbeknown to many, the North London borough of Camden was once a gin haven. With many famous brands based in nearby Clerkenwell (Gordon’s and Booths to name a few), distilleries & warehousing stretched over 20 acres from what is now the picturesque Lock all the way to the world famous Roundhouse Theatre. Camden began its connection with gin when W&A Gilbey Ltd took over many of the area’s larger industrial buildings in the late 1800s. It was here that every stage of the production process took place, including installing soaring copper pot stills, bottle washing production lines and bonded warehousing with a capacity of 800,000 gallons. On a daily basis, a whole train known as “the Gilbey’s Special” left for the docks to supply markets around the world.
Whilst the distillery and warehouse buildings in the borough still remain, they have since changed use and those who walk on its surrounding cobble stones are blissfully unaware of its history. Only subtle commemorations now exist in the form of street names such as ‘Juniper Crescent’.
Thankfully, in late 2014 Mark Holdsworth – formerly of Barcardi – launched Half Hitch Gin, bringing parts of the process back to Camden by distilling elements of the gin in disused Victorian vaults located right next to one of the biggest former gin warehouses, the Interchange Building.
The Half Hitch name and bottle label stems from the type of rope knot – a round turn and two half hitches – used by those mooring up their barges along Camden Lock. To create Half Hitch Gin, Holdsworth takes a base gin distilled at Langley’s and adds distillates in addition to tinctures that he makes in Camden Lock to create a bespoke blend of Gin unique to him.
Malawian black tea and Calabrian bergamot are the two key elements to Half Hitch Gin. The whole loose tea blend is from different harvests, fields and tea varietals across the estate. The key ingredient of black tea is re-blended each season to achieve the optimum flavours and achieve consistency. The bergamot, a natural cross between a bitter orange and a lemon, is sourced from ancient citrus groves in Calabria, Southern Italy.
Taking a base gin consisting of angelica root, cassia bark, coriander seed, juniper, liquorice root, sweet lemon, orange peel, orris root, Holdsworth adds tinctures of black tea, bergamot, wood & pepper as well as a vacuum distillate of hay. Bottled at 40% ABV, Half Hitch Gin has an auburn hue reminiscent of lightly barrel-aged gins.
Half Hitch Gin has distinct aromas of sticky, waxy pine and zesty lemons. To taste black tea is much more prominent, so too is the bergamot and cracked pepper. Both flavours combine to form a rich caramel, slightly sweet and viscous feeling. It’s not a particularly layered or subtle gin in terms of a flavour journey but the flavours are smooth, complex and exceptionally tasty. There is a prolonged finish with tea and dry pepper lingering behind. Half Hitch Gin makes for a very enjoyable G&T and it’s easy to see why they suggest using it in a modern version of the classic gin cocktail, The Bronx, which uses orange juice.
While Beefeater 24 being the only other tea intensive gin available (there are others who use tea as a botanical in their gins but the flavour is less pronounced) it’s interesting to see that in comparison the tannins are far less pronounced with more citrus notes. We find there is less leafiness in Half Hitch Gin compared to Beefeater 24. If the aromas of tea appeal to you but not the sometimes bitter ‘tannic’ after taste of green teas then this is a gin you will enjoy.
It’s nice to see that the wrought iron cues of Camden’s industrial heritage have been incorporated into the label and the way Half Hitch Gin commemorates the infamous London neighbourhood. Half Hitch Gin has a lot to be credited for in resurrecting a once glorious Gin district and as Londoners, we thank them for doing so.
With the Gin category still enjoying a prolonged moment in the limelight and with an owner who has a decade of experience in marketing and sales at one of the largest drinks companies, it’s easy to predict that we’re going to see rapid growth for Half Hitch Gin.
That said, with a category fast approaching the wall as less than genuine products are beginning to flood the market – Gold-leafed gin, Worm Gin etc… we’re talking about you here – the real question for Half Hitch Gin was whether it can establish a niche for itself and cement a place as being authentic and worthy of its super premium tag. With more and more distilleries adopting an open door policy, was adding tinctures to a base gin as captivating as those macerating and distilling from scratch? Not to mention those who combine this with their ability to give tours around their stills and distillery? Moreover, was the fact that it is half made near Birmingham something that will hinder the long-term credibility of the gin’s ‘Made in Camden’ USP?
We hoped not. Half Hitch Gin is an intriguing gin and worth trying out regardless of where it’s made. The black tea and bergamot twist adds a refreshing dimension that will please many, especially in a G&T.
Thankfully, these concerns became mute a year later – with some careful positioning during 2015 and no small amount of hard graft, Holdsworth managed to acquire a premises in the heart of Camden market. He also commissioned a still of his own to take more of the production elements in house and has established a small tasting bar to host the public. With his glorious pot still in full view of the bustling market, 2016 will be a year of integration with the gin being fully made in Camden as soon as the recipe is consistent. This move has already been a huge step forward and a boost to the long term credibility of the brand.
We will revisit this article once his distillery is fully operational and add more technical information and details regarding the set up – at the time of writing (Oct 2015), the still was still covered in plastic and being installed.
It’s been a while since Camden has been known for its Gin heritage and we hope that both Half Hitch Gin and Camden gain a reputation for producing world-renowned spirit once more. To bring it back to the canals that meander through the borough for a parting metaphor; they say a raising tide floats all the ships in a harbour. Hopefully, this will be the case and that Half Hitch Gin can bring the longstanding reputation of distilling back to Camden.
For more information about Half Hitch Gin, visit their website: www.halfhitch.london
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