Marriage is all about compromise – just ask Ricky and Felicity Malt, a husband and wife gin team who’ve combined their respective love of beer and gin into Hopton Gin – a hops infused spirit made by the English Spirit Distillery in Essex.
The Malts founded Pell & Co. as a company through with which they could develop their gin. The name was originally set aside for a sibling venture creating bespoke furniture, but Felicity, in a fit of sheer sibling naughtiness, stole it for her own endeavour. “It’s a little off what from they hoped Pell & Co would be,” she told us, “but luckily they love gin!”
The Malts run the White Horse Inn on the Norfolk Broads. The inn, when they came to it two years ago, was a very rundown version of a village pub, but the Malts managed to find an investor to buy it and have working hard to transform it since then, earning it both the title of CAMRA Rural Pub of the Year this year and a name as a brewpub worth visiting.
The White Horse Inn has played an integral role in the life of Hopton Gin. It’s here that Ricky started playing around with gin flavouring, and it has provided a great platform from which to launch the product.
The most remarkable thing about the story of this gin is its speed. The Malts hadn’t considered gin until earlier this year, then met with John Walters of English Spirit in May. The turnaround time from meeting, to recipe design, to creation, to branding and bottling was 10 weeks, with the gin launching in July 2016.
Walters, who makes his own gin, Dr. J, on site – as well as several third party offerings – developed the recipe himself, putting his doctorate in bio-chemistry to good use as he worked out which botanical elements would pair well with others. The only specification the Malts had was that the gin would incorporate the two hops Ricky uses to brew his beer – East Kent golding hops and cascade hops.
The other botanicals included in the mix are juniper, coriander, macadamia nut, lavender and Seville orange. These are macerated separately in Walters’ sugar cane base alcohol, with individual components added into the still at different times prior to the distillation run.
Walters makes his own base alcohol on site, using local sugar beet to produce a spirit of over 96% ABV in his 200l copper alembic still. Interestingly (for us still geeks at least!) the still features an internal diameter reflux column, which helps the spirit clamber up towards its requisite ABV. Though the liquid reaches the necessary percentage, its raw agricultural cane origins are never quite cleansed away, lending an underlying sweet smell and distinct depth (for better and for worse) to many of the gins and vodkas produced by the company.
Hopton Gin to taste…
Sugar claws at the nose, followed by the cereal-like hops, which bring a toasty citrus to the smell. A fresh, green juniper creates the backbone for this gin, though it also bestows medicinal properties.
Sweetness rushes the tongue to taste, too. That base spirit is like a John Walters signature – his gins may be packaged separately and made to wildly different recipes, but they are still notably of the same family. To taste, the hops are more citrus than cereal – this is supported by the coriander seed and Seville orange, which take turns to dominate, oscillating the citrus tones between fresh and crisp and warm and dry. Lavender brings a slight floral note, though it works in tandem with the juniper to bring an overall herbal feel to the gin.
Juniper and hops dominate the finish, leaving a savoury taste on the tongue, something of a surprise given the sweet nature of the base alcohol. A good G&T serve would be Mediterranean tonic with a dehydrated orange wheel – the tonic will up the herbal elements, whilst the burnt caramel feel of dried citrus will complement the sweetness of the base spirit nicely.
It’s a nice, well-anchored gin, with a great mouthfeel – smooth, too, for 45%. Rich and thick with bright citrus notes, this will be right at home in a Martini with a twist.
The branding is cute, classic and quite unlike many other gins out there. Rather than go for the cheapest option (glass), Hopton Gin is encased in a black, ceramic bottle and decorated with a delicate, light green label featuring the Pell & Co logo and vintage botanical illustrations in black and white. It’s really very pretty and almost certain to achieve vase status in many a household.
Hopton Gin is currently on the back bar of the Malts’ pub and sold online via their website and in various Norfolk shops. Their standout feature in a crowded market is the use of hops (it’s not rare, but it’s definitely not common) and there has been a good start to the brand identity. That said, they need – and quick – to get hold of some decent imagery, a functional website and to start working their way up the social media chain – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are great tools with which to interact with a potential audience, so getting on board and building a following should be the next step.
Without the stronger toolkit for people to engage with and the moves to develop a wider identity and audience however, this may well just become one of those micro-gins that eek out an existence through direct routes to market, eventually stopping when the owners lose interest. There’s nothing wrong with this, yet we feel Hopton Gin could be so much more than this and have confidence that given time – it will be. A fast turn around form inception to bottle means that while corners haven’t be cut, they just haven’t been taken yet. What has come to fruition is good and so, with a little time and a little TLC to push things further, Hopton could well develop into a Gin with strong regional appeal. “Overnight success” stories are typically years in the making and putting together the full ensemble takes time. We’ll be checking in to see their progress over the next few months and will update the article as we do.
For more information about Hopton Gin, visit their website: www.pellandcospirits.com
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