Spirit of Harrogate was founded in 2014 by Marcus Black and Mike Carthy, two enterprising residents who captured and bottled their desire to share the restorative nature of Harrogate in the form of Slingsby – a London Dry Gin bursting with local botanicals.
Carthy – a qualified chemist – had worked in the drinks industry for over three decades before co-founding Spirit of Harrogate, whereas Black is still a relative newcomer, having worked in mergers and acquisitions for 15 years before backing a partial management buyout of InterContinental Brands and joining the firm as Commercial Director. The duo formed Slingsby in order to pursue a different direction, though one that complemented their on-going work with ICB.
The gin is named after William Slingsby, an English adventurer who is said to have discovered the valuable properties of Harrogate’s Tewit Well water in 1571. The well opened up the town’s spa potential, transforming it into a place of leisure and restoration, bringing what was then a small but prosperous town to life.
Spirit of Harrogate wanted to make a gin that would celebrate this heritage – using both the transformative water and botanicals grown in the area. Working with consumer focus groups to talk through flavours (and making their way through 18 variants in the process), Black and Carthy spent 15 months developing Slingsby until it was a product that they were truly happy with.
Though the gin is made at the Alcohols distillery in Birmingham, the recipe for Slingsby was created entirely by Spirit of Harrogate. They drove the flavour profile from the off and still supply Alcohols with pre-mixed botanical packs ahead of production.
The gin features a whopping 24 botanicals in total, with many citing local provenance. The Kitchen Garden of Rudding Park Luxury Hotel in Harrogate supplies seven seas rosemary, silver posie thyme, citrodorous thyme, vulgaris thyme, rhubarb, sage, lovage, chervil, hyssop, primrose, sweet cicely and oregano. (The garden, incidentally, incorporates the brand into its map – marking the areas in which Slingsby botanicals are grown with an S.)
Famed tea suppliers Taylors of Harrogate provide Slingsby with green tea and jasmine, and the others – including the more traditional gin botanicals – are sought from the world over. These are juniper from Madagascar, as well as angelica, cassia, orris root, coriander seed, liquorice, nettles, heather, rhubarb and grapefruit.
Once the botanicals are weighed, measured, portioned off and sent toAlcohols, they’re mixed with a seven-times filtered English wheat spirit and left to macerate for 12 hours. The spirit is then distilled in Jenny, Alcohols’s youngest still at just over 20-years-old, which stands tall at 10,000 litres. The gin is a multi-shot, made to a concentrate which comes off the still at 87% ABV. This is then blended with more neutral grain spirit and then watered down to its bottling strength of 42% ABV with Tewit Well water.
Langley do not perform any bottling at their distillery, so the finished liquid – which currently is bottled in around 580 bottles per run – is sent to ICB’s bottling site in the North East.
Slingsby gin to taste…
A soft, caramel smell greets the nose, with a stewed fruit sweetness leaping forth. Strong grapefruit leads a citrus charge, while the primrose, hyssop and sweet cicely lend a delicate air. Rosemary and thyme combine to bring a herbal twang, adding a somewhat savoury tone to the subtle juniper.
Sweetness laps at the tongue – with liquorice, angelica and orris bringing an underlying earthiness and a rich, almost gloopy mouthfeel. The sweetness gives way to the more citrussy herbal botanicals, which allows a soft and pleasant juniper to land slap bang in the middle of the taste. When tasted neat, the nettles increase in prominence the longer the spirit is held in the mouth, bringing a fresh, green heat that really and truly only belongs to that particular botanical. Rhubarb – as it has a habit of doing – dominates the finish. It’s fresh and sweet, redolent of an English country garden.
We’d serve Slingsby in a classic tonic with a spring of dried lavender, which would very well complement both the herbal and floral elements of the gin. It would also make for a fantastic Martini served with a grapefruit twist, as it carries with it such a flavour journey and luscious mouthfeel.
To launch Slingsby, Spirit of Harrogate established a physical presence in November 2015, taking out a six-month lease on a shop in the town centre and creating brand awareness by sharing Slingsby’s story and its potential varieties by hosting tastings and master classes – focusing on the history of gin, cocktails and tonics.
The shop was merely intended as a starting point and a way to have a brand home for the initial months, to help them explain the gin and the concepts behind it and to engage local residents. It has since taken off, though, and began paying for itself in no time. So much so, in fact, that the six-month lease has been extended to five years. This is great news for gin fans, as for the foreseeable future, Slingsby Gin will have an open door to all of those who wish to try it!
Spirit of Harrogate are always innovating and use their store as a test bed for new ideas. For example, they have a constant line of kilner jars filled with experimental gins at their store. Flavours have included saffron, elderberry, strawberry, mulberry and an oak-aged. Last year they invited visitors to the store to try gin with a rhubarb distillate thrown into the mix. It was such a hit that it became a limited edition, and when the limited edition sold so well (shifting almost as much volume as the regular Slingsby Gin did in that same period), that they decided to turn it into a permanent offering.
Slingsby Rhubarb Gin is made using the London Dry base, with a rhubarb distillate created by ICB added to the mix. The rhubarb is grown in Wakefield and transported straight to the ICB team in order to preserve freshness. The rhubarb is then blended with water before being mixed with spirit so at to pull the maximum flavour possible from the fruit. The extraction takes between 7 – 10 days, then it is transferred to Spirit of Harrogate’s rhubarb still, where it is used to create a rhubarb distillate of 80% ABV.
Distillation, of course, removes all traces of colour, so Slingsby have added natural red food colouring to the liquid and once combined with the base gin, this ruby-red liquid is bottled at 40%. In their opinion the slight reduction in ABV helps create a smoother and more sippable spirit and by adding a visible pink hue, it helps set the gin apart from the Flagship expression, while also helping to lead the senses when it comes to tasting the gin.
We were lucky enough to be sent a sample of Slingsby Rhubarb Gin, which smells entirely of the Rhubarb and Custard sweets of yesteryear. The herbal qualities of the flagship hint at the nose, but boiled sweets dominate the senses.
The sweetness of Slingsby is amplified and – though delicious – there is a slight hint of the more artificial, perfumed elements on the nose, as opposed to the caramelised notes when cooked or fresh notes when harvested. This is either a result of flavourings or true testament to the flavour extraction team at ICB, as the rhubarb edition of Slingsby Gin smells rich and botanically sweet enough to be a dessert in itself.
It’d be lovely in a G&T with a handful of red berries, but even though this is not a liqueur and there is no added sugar, those with a sweet tooth should just sip this neat over ice. While intense on the aroma, the underlying gin makes a comeback to taste and helps balance the gin out. Those who are not the biggest fans of rhubarb should, however, steer clear, as this is a gin that places the quintessentially Yorkshire vegetable on steroids.
Slingsby is a gin that stands out on shelves – its striking blue bottle (designed with the help of Allied Glass) shouts louder than others and its rectangular shape is evocative of an old medicine container. This is no coincidence – the packaging was inspired by a 19th Century chemist shop bottle and is embossed with William Slingsby’s signature. The logo – an intricate gold and silver/grey carries forward the theme of a bygone era, tying in with the gin’s historic themes. It’s a formidable offering and one that’s not easy to overlook.
Spirit of Harrogate set out to create a product that celebrates their town and in working with local suppliers and forging ties with the community, have more than beaten their initial goal. Black told us: “We see our products enhancing Harrogate’s longstanding reputation as a place where people expect something to help them relax, indulge and socialise and through our partnerships with local businesses we see this as the best possible route to build that sense of community engagement and pride.”
We couldn’t agree more, although, we’d even take it one step further. Clearly, Slingsby Gin will appeal to many from a flavour perspective. Place this aside however and if one considers the wider “package”- this is a brand with all the attributes to make it big. There is just enough provence to be authentic and enough transparency over what is and what isn’t local to be credible. The story is great, the owners impassioned, the bottle stands out, the bottle boxes give it a premium edge, the price offers great value for money and the production has a lot of scale it can grow into. They might be a small brand today, but we anticipate them being real contenders in both the UK and with a little time and some careful nurturing, on the global stage too. Given Yorkshire has one of the highest concentration of gin drinkers in the UK as well, it’s just a matter of time before the name Slingsby is either recommended by fellow gin drinkers, or on a drinks menu in your local bar.
For more information about Slingsby, visit their website: wslingsby.co.uk
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