Mark Holdsworth – Half Hitch Gin
In 2015, Half Hitch Gin founder, Mark Holdsworth set the foundation for long term growth by building upon his Gin’s already exciting launch in late 2014. We caught up with the pioneering entrepreneur who is looking forward to the future yet remains grounded in history.
Gin Foundry – You’ve brought distilling back to Camden, an area with amazingly rich history of gin in particular. Could you tell us about what inspired you to create a gin so steeped in this local heritage?
Mark Holdsworth – Born and bred in North London, I worked in Camden Lock market in my youth then worked for a large spirit manufacturer for 15 years, still live just up the road but, up until 2 years ago, was blissfully unaware of the historical past of the area. I then stumbled across Camden’s former industrial glories and the long-forgotten gin distilleries during the period 1869 to 1964.
What’s your personal favourite story about Camden’s Gin history?
The largest gin warehouse which dominates the Camden skyline is called The Interchange. When I delved into its history via the work of a local heritage campaigner and now friend, Peter Darley, I found out that as many as 3 train carriages at a time could enter at ground level and there is still a sign outside at one end which says ‘no engines to enter the shed’ presumably due to the danger of intoxicating fumes!
This building also still has a waterway underneath which turns out into the canal – known locally as Dead Dog Hole – in here 6 barges could be moored and gin and other produce was laden down into them from trapdoors in the building’s ground floor alongside the train track….
As you mention, everywhere you look there are remanences of the area’s industrial (and gin related) past, from Juniper Crescent to the buildings. Is that where the name Half Hitch came from?
My gin’s name comes from ‘a round turn and two half hitches’, which is the rope knot that was used by the barges mooring up along the canal. It is an extremely strong knot and one that can be tied under tension.
I love the fact that you can still see rope marks on the stonework by Camden Lock and years of industry has led to huge indentations on the lock’s iconic wrought iron bridge which you can still run the fingers through – another tell-tale to the past.
In terms of heritage – Gin & Tea are two great British institutions and, in the case of Half Hitch, make for one tasty gin. What made you choose it as a botanical?
Tea has long-been a fantastic partner in many a gin cocktail and a local friend of mine is a master tea blender. Its place as the key botanical in my gin was firmly decided when I found an illustrated newspaper from 1900 with a photo from a Friday at Camden Market showing a pitch serving tea refreshments. In addition to tea, we use bergamot, pepper, English wood, hay. Together these create a complex, bold taste profile – one that intentionally stands out in a G&T – but also is really balanced for making cocktails and can even be enjoyed sipped neat or just over ice.
Talking of cocktails… What’s your favourite way to serve Half Hitch Gin?
Whilst the Gin & Tonic will no doubt remain the mainstay gin drink of choice, before the 1820’s tonic did not even exist and Brits used to drink gin neat or with juice.
With a nod to the past, we like to showcase HALF HITCH in a classic gin n’ juice cocktail ‘The Bronx’ – one part fresh orange juice, two parts gin, with sweet and dry vermouth – our Camden twist is an added dash of maraschino liqueur.
It’s an underrated cocktail for sure – really delicious. In 2015, you moved into a former stable in the heart of Camden Market, installed a beautiful still and are open for visitors! That’s quite a big journey and a lot to take on – what’s it been like from the inside?
The support of both new and old friends has been absolutely outstanding. One year on, I am looking forward to getting a UK and export distributor on board who can take on the very heavy load of logistics, sales and distribution off my shoulders. Doing direct deliveries from my motorbike is not sustainable or scalable!
The move into the new location has been exciting to watch from our perspective because you also commissioned a still and are open to the public. What’s the response been like from visitors and do you feel it’s important to bring back that level of distilling visibility to an area most don’t realise is steep in Gin heritage?
My landlord, Camden Market, have been fantastically supportive as they are preserving all the heritage aspects of their old buildings. Those who visit us, especially locals, seem to appreciate the lengths to which we have gone to bring back small-scale gin distilling. They appreciate we can’t do everything, such as bottling, in our premises but love that gin-making has returned.
As do we, it’s just fantastic to see the trade being revived. How have you found the early days of operating your own still? That’s quite a big challenge in its own right.
It’s fantastic to realise my plans and acquire my own copper pot still. However, I knew taking on more of the production was not going to be easy. Indeed, parts of my still were initially missing, some of the electrics were wrongly-supplied and so needed changing.
We are still tweaking and optimising but, having been involved in organoleptic testing for much of my spirits career, I am very confident of producing a consistent liquid.
You touched on it earlier, we are hoping that you’ll bring back a Half Hitch version of the Gilbey’s Gin train that departed Camden each day and ensuring that we’re at the destination… But really, what’s the big aim for you in 2016?
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