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 the distillery for a tour/tasting?
We’re about to start more organised visits where you can enjoy 3 single York Gin & tonics - choose from classic York Gin, York Gin Cocoa, York Gin Roman Fruit (all 42.5%) and York Gin Outlaw (a Navy Strength 57%). Visitors will meet the makers of York Gin and learn about the history of gin from the 18th Centru until today, how cats and gin are related, and the York Gin story. In addition, guests can see where York Gin is made (including our copper still, Ebor and our recipe still Julie) and see and feel all nine botanicals that go into York Gin.
What have been the biggest challenges so far?
A massive challenge was the sudden death of one of our directors, Jon Farrow, just as we were getting things moving in the summer of 2017. That really knocked us, but we regrouped and knew Jon would not want us to give up. Jon’s children are now an integral part of the company, helping with events, bottling and labelling. Another challenge was trying to work out the regulatory system. The rules surrounding setting up a distillery can be slightly Kafkaesque. Lots of late nights, scratching heads!
What have been the biggest achievements so far?
As far as our biggest achievements go, we have been totally amazed by the way other businesses have embraced our ideas and collaborated with us to make some brilliant products. The JORVIK Viking Museum worked with us to create their own branded Viking gin and medieval gins. We have a collaboration with York Cocoa Works - a chocolate factory inside the city walls. We use cocoa nibs in the distillation process and then they take these nibs back to create York Gin chocolate.
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 gins would you always have on your gin shelf (other than York Gin of course!)?
What's next for York Gin - any exciting plans?
Taking a stand at Junipalooza for the first time. We’re hoping to launch a new gin there. Also the tours and our Outlaw Gin. We feel it’s incumbent not only to create superb gins but to create experiences that support the city in general. The 'Bloody York Gin Tour' is the first but by no means the last of these endeavours. More of this here https://www.yorkgin.com/article/bloody-york-gin-history-tour.