Emma Godivala – York Gin
If there’s any friendship group to aspire to, it’s the one behind York Gin. The team, including pub landlord Paul, former landlord Pete, designer Emma and engineer Harry have assembled a wonderful little distillery in their local boozer and have crafted a range of delectably sippable spirits that really test and push the boundaries of Gin. We spoke to Emma about innovating whilst staying true to Gin, and also got her to share her advice for any wannabe distillers…
Hi Emma, let’s dive straight in! There are three gins in the York Gin Range, the flagship Dry, the Cocoa and the Roman Fruit. Which came first and is there an idea that underpins the range?
Emma Godivala: Our historic city of York should have had its own gin for centuries. The London Dry came first and underpins everything we do. Our motto is ‘History in the tasting’ so we use botanicals that would have been available during the Gin Craze and before. We use a traditional still to create a balanced gin, consistent batch after batch. York is famous for chocolate – and our clear dry cocoa gin is a collaboration with the York Cocoa Works factory. Our Roman Fruit uses fruit introduced to Britain – and Roman York, Eboracum – two millennia ago.
Who’s the team behind York Gin and what kind of size still do you have?
We’re a group of friends from the same area of York centred on the local historic pub, The Swan where the idea for York Gin was first mooted. Landlord (Paul) and former landlord (Pete), lifetime gin enthusiast and designer, Emma, and engineer and gastronome, Harry make up the team. But only myself and Pete work at York Gin full time.
We have a 300-litre copper alembic still called Ebor, after the Roman name for York, Eboracum.
Looking at your process, you vapour infuse the botanicals rather than steep them – was there a reason you chose that over say, macerating or something else for example?
We really wanted to make sure our gin was consistent and balanced, batch after batch. In early trials we found that the flavour from some of the more delicate botanicals – particularly the lemon and cardamom – were brought through more clearly in vapour infusion, and the punchier elements from the juniper and coriander were tamed and more balanced.
We also noticed the personalisation part on your site, where people have the option to engraving their own bottle. It’s a lovely touch to add – how was it received over the Christmas period?
We had lots of orders over Christmas – some people ordered six bottles (sorting all their presents at once!) Actually, engraved bottles have been really popular since we launched in March 2018 – for birthdays, anniversaries and (over the summer) weddings. We can fit 12 words on the bottle and, yes, some of those words have been a bit naughty!
Pink is in right now and here to stay. Is the rise of gin liqueurs a positive or negative thing for the category and how do you see you Roman Fruit sit in that area?
Within our first month of launching, customers were asking us for a fruit or pink gin – and definitely expected more than one variety of York Gin straightaway. Our York Gin Roman Fruit is a full-strength juniper-led gin. We wanted an authentic gin made with all natural ingredients that we’d want to drink ourselves. We’ve not really looked at liqueurs, though it’s fair to say they’ve hugely expanded what customers think of as gin and what a pink gin is! (Not limited to an angostura cocktail any more!)
Interesting that they expected it straight away too. Expectations aside, what in particular are you working towards in the next few months?
We are working on some more history-inspired and traditional gins – we’re planning an overproof gin and an Old Tom. We have several other ideas that require a bit more testing and experimentation before we decide whether to go ahead!
As soon as you say Old Tom’s our mind goes straight to those with four paws… and we notice that you didn’t need any encouragement to already have one on the label – where does the inspiration for the cat depicted on it come from? Also, who’s the crazy cat person in the team?
The cat on our bottles of gin is inspired by a cat that appeared in a 17th century woodcut. ‘Rutterkin’ – which means ‘a swaggering gallant’ – was the familiar of a group of witches – who, as it happens, were also accused of bewitching the Earl of York and his family.
Cats have a long and distinguished connection with gin – and with York. From cat-shaped gin vending machines during the Gin Craze of the 18th century, to the Old Tom sweet type of gin – to Rutterkin on the bottles of York Gin. York has its own Cat Trail – with cat statues attached to over 20 of the city’s old buildings. Some say the tradition started to scare off mice, rats – and even evil spirits in this most haunted of ancient cities.
Emma is the craziest cat person in the team – but we are all animal lovers! One of our official charities is the Cats Protection charity in York. (Emma’s three cats were adopted from there.) Each new adopter has the option of taking a little bottle of York Gin home to toast their new friend.
What’s the best advice you could give a new distiller looking at honing their gin recipes?
Try lots of gin – really. I know it’s a hard job. When you’re honing your recipes, only vary one of your botanicals or methods at once – be scientific. And if in doubt, cut it out. We’ve found simplifying processes and botanicals has worked well for us. It can be very easy to try and be too clever or complex. Gin making is centuries old – if it’s not broken, don’t fix it!
Are your gins available internationally or is that in the works for 2019?
That’s in the works… though we’ve had a lot of interest.
We can’t wait to see it all continue to expand!
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