What did you do before creating York Gin?
I worked in digital marketing, user experience and design for 20 years. The York Gin logo is the result of some doodles I made during a meeting towards the end of my corporate career. York Gin hasn’t spent any money on design, PR, marketing or copywriting in the first year. Some people might say you can tell (ha ha) - but doing all this work ourselves has kept the brand and our corporate communications authentic and has helped us to invest in our distillery and other priorities.
What made you decide to start making gin?
I’ve been a huge gin fan for many years and my fellow directors and I just love York. We’ve all been here for decades and adore the place. Establishing a gin company in York had been on my ‘dream list’ for several years.
In 2015, I decided to take things more seriously, but when I tried to register the name ‘York Gin’ at Companies House, they said someone had already applied for the name. I did a bit of digging and found out it was Paul Crossman, the landlord of my local pub, The Swan. We’d known each other for years so we had a chat and I learned that Paul had some friends with great complementary skills interested in the project. They were Pete McNichol, a former landlord and works full time with me at the distillery, Harry Cooke - all round science & flavour genius - and Paul’s friend and publican Jon Farrow.
Together we agreed to establish the York Gin Company. We were all very clear that a historic city like York deserved its own historical and quintessentially British spirit. Other cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh were establishing their own gins and we thought: “Why not York?” - famous for its pubs and hostelries.
What is the inspiration behind York Gin?
The inspiration for our gin is the summed up in York Gin’s motto - ‘History in the tasting’. For our London Dry, we wanted to make a classic, rounded, smooth gin that would be a go-to gin year after year. We also wanted to use botanicals that would have been available during the early 1700s in the first Gin Craze, so we didn’t want to create anything wacky with weird and wonderful botanicals. We’ve had a bit of fun with some other gins, but we were adamant about what we wanted from our London Dry and we’re very, very proud of it!
Can you tell us more about the distillery?
The distillery is a glorified chicken shed located in the countryside but within York’s limits. Once you get inside and see our beautiful copper still, our stainless steel tanks, the other accoutrements of gin-making plus the lines of bottles, there’s quite a lot to love about it. We’re starting distillery tours but we’re warning potential visitors that it’s not a beautifully-crafted, purpose-built distillery. Then again, we expect they’ll love our copper still, Ebor (short for Eboracum - the Roman name for York) and will enjoy seeing where and how York Gin is distilled, bottled, labelled and packed.
What can people expect if they visit York Gin for a tour / tasting?
We are moving from our original distillery - a glorified chicken shed - to a brand new building that gives us much more space to fit our growing business. We are still located in the City of York - now we are near the railway line. So give us a wave if you’re visiting by train!
The new distillery has far more room for extra stills, more space for bottling, labelling and packing. And just feels like a a more permanent home for the York Gin distillery. And we have plans for distillery tours and tastings - so you’ll be able to come and see it for yourselves!
What have been the biggest challenges so far?
Covid has been a massive challenge for everyone. For us, it meant a big chunk of our sales has gone (with hospitality taking such a hit) so we have had to ramp up our online offer. We launched a new website to make sure we were making the most of this opportunity.
What have been the biggest achievements so far?
Winning major golds at the world's most prestigious spirits competitions has been truly inspiring. Our Outlaw Navy Strength won Double Gold in San Francisco, our Old Tom has cleared up with an IWSC Gold Outstanding, Spirits Business Gold, Best English Old Tom at the World Gin Awards and a Gold at the New York International Spirits Competition (our London Dry also won Gold in New York).
All our gins have won awards - and we seem to win gold and silver with consistent regularity. Also to get amazing reviews from The Gin Guide and people like Olivier Ward at Spirits Kiosk, Susy Atkins at the Sunday Telegraph and ordinary gin drinkers makes all the work worthwhile!
What has been you favourite story since starting York Gin?
Our favourite story is drafting in Dame Professor Mary Beard during research for our Roman Fruit Gin. During this research, we found a newspaper article from 2005 that said it was an offence to be in charge of a Roman chariot while drunk. We thought we would fact-check our article by asking some of the world’s top classical scholars on Twitter, never for a minute thinking they would respond. But of course they did.
Mary Beard wondered about the source for the drunken chariot riding claim and we spent 24 hours trying and failing to find one. Professor Catharine Edwards of London University wrote to us: “Looks good to me. One of Rome's most famous drinkers was Mark Antony, vilified by Cicero for vomiting, in the aftermath a drinking bout, in front of a large public gathering. Roman magistrates should feel ashamed even to belch in front of others, Cicero asserts.” Despite not finding any evidence that Roman chariot drivers weren’t allowed to drink on the job, we still love our Latin road safety motto: Non bibere et agitare. (Don’t drink and drive).
How would you describe York Gin in 3 words?
History int’ tasting!
What's your favourite way to drink your gins?
What's next for York Gin - any exciting plans?
The new distillery is a big part of our plans and making our business as sustainable as it possibly can be is central to those plans. We’ve made massive strides with the bottles, packaging and labels all being made in Yorkshire, with our use of electric vehicles, and our continued use of 100% renewable energy. We are working with sustainability consultants to make our business as transparently green as it possibly can be.
Our brand new station shop is taking us in a new direction of looking after travellers. And we have other gin experience plans too. Nothing ever stands still at York Gin! We are very excited about the next phase in our development and we’ll share more details with the Gin Guide as soon as we can!