In a new series called Hamiltonic, Northern Soul’s Robert Hamilton will be sampling the best gin the North has to offer and talking to the people who make it. First up, he takes a trip to Manchester Cathedral to spend some time with The Gin Society.
It was with a fair breath of excitement that I approached Manchester Cathedral for the visit of The Gin Society. The GS travels the country proselytising the joys of gin to an inquisitive and thirsty audience and, as such, the cathedral is the perfect location. It is a grand and pious space in which to indulge a decadent passion for those already converted and to convert new followers to the cause. Gin is a growing industry worth a billion or so to the unsteady coffers of a pre-Brexit economy as we crash out of the EU in a hail of empty gin bottles and Little Britain begins to resemble a Hogarth print again.
I am greeted by the wondrous Shelagh Bourke with a gin list, a glass and a fistful of vouchers to illuminate my evening. The GS provides 50 or so gins divided into British, World and Fruit bars. There is also a cocktail bar, a food station and several guest producers who will give you a little taste of their wares and an enthusiastic pocket history of their small batch gin.
Small batch and craft gin are some of the biggest growth areas in this born-again devotion to the divine liquid. They are made with a variety of methods using small production techniques rather than the large-scale industries like Beefeater or Gordon’s. They are devoted to the craft of gin-making and individual in the type of botanicals (flavours) they bring to their product. Tonight we have representatives from Four Sisters, Whitby Gin, Kuro and Fenney Street among the guest tipples. The latter is made by Paul and Becky in Manchester with spring water from the Eden Valley and 13 botanicals including elderflower, lavender and rose. It is light to the taste but with a complex finish.
Next door is Whitby Gin. Moorland heather, Yorkshire honey and sugar kelp gives it a distinctive North Yorkshire character. Four Sisters is great, and I hope to speak of them soon. I finish with a Scottish gin with a Japanese twist. As with many of the gins on show, Kuro is made by the London Dry method – 96 per cent alcohol spirit is distilled with natural flavours or botanicals to give the finished gin its unique flavour. For Kuro these are Japanese-hued silver birch, spruce and bamboo. With a splash of good tonic, it’s a blast from the east. I can’t stress how important a good tonic is to your G&T. There is no point drowning your expensive craft gin (and they do not come cheap) with local low cal tonic from whatever supermarket happens to be close. It’s like pissing in Dom Pérignon. GS is supplied by Fentimans which does a fab connoisseur’s tonic so no problem there.
Two more northern gins for the road, 3Pugs from Warrington and Batch from Burnley, before I make my way happily home.
The Gin Society is always a good night out as well as an education, even if you don’t remember the lesson. I hope to bring more coverage of the developing northern gin cottage industry and more in my new column for Northern Soul, Hamiltonic. Watch this space.
By Robert Hamilton, Gin Correspondent