The story of Brighton Gin begins with a morning jog by local resident and restauranteur Kathy Caton, feeling slightly worse for wear after a very late night out. Luckily for Kathy, her beverage of choice the night before had been gin and, surprised at how well she was braving the distance, she found herself thinking that Brighton needed to have its very own gin.
A mutual friend introduced Kathy to spirits specialist Helen Chesshire and together they enlisted the help of three other Brighton residents: Ian Barry, a laser physicist turned distiller, Jonathan Ray, drinks editor of the Spectator, and local entrepreneur Nigel Lambe.
Kathy and Helen purchased a glass vacuum still from a film score composer on eBay which had been used in the film The 51st State as a prop for drug making equipment! With the help of Ian’s soldering skills and Helen’s largest saucepan for a water bath, they commenced their distillation experiments.
Kathy and Helen worked on the gin in the early mornings and late evenings between their day jobs and soon found that the realities of craft distilling included 8am tasting sessions of still warm gin from the previous night’s distillation! Their distillation licence was granted on 11 June 2014 and they moved into new premises in a single-windowed room under the Urchin pub in Hove.
Soon they upgraded to a 30 litre copper pot still and, after five months of patient distillation with Ian’s technical assistance fine tuning and ensuring consistency from batch to batch, they hit upon the perfect recipe. The final blend was agreed by the five of them in Brighton station at nine o’clock in the morning. They use a base of British 100% organic wheat grain spirit in which the botanicals are cold macerated for 24 hours before distillation to break down the essential oils and maximise flavour extraction.
The botanicals are a mix of the traditional and unusual, including juniper, orange peel, lime, locally grown coriander seed and the all important milk thistle. Milk thistle is native to south-east England (and has an amusing sounding Latin name, Silybum Marianum) and has been used for over 2000 years as a herbal remedy for all sorts of ailments and particularly as an anti-oxidant to cleanse the liver. By a happy coincidence, the active ingredient in milk thistle is not soluble in water but is in alcohol, so gin is a great way to imbibe it!
The team really wanted to capture the spirit of Brighton in their gin and even the bottle itself speaks to its origins. With bespoke bottle design prohibitively expensive, they sourced an old whisky decanting glass bottle manufactured in the UK and based the label for their gin around the shape of a vintage Brighton pier ticket. Helen called Brighton council’s maintenance department to find out the exact shade of paint used for the railings by the beach and arranged for a pot of Brighton Seafront Blue to be mixed so their printers could match it. The first batch of 400 bottles was launched on 11 December 2014 to an enthusiastic local fanfare and Brighton Gin quickly popped up all over the city’s bars and restaurants.
The whole process is carried out on site in the distillery including bottling and labelling by hand. In their first year of production, each bottle top was waxed using a makeshift iron-bottomed pan and a hotplate, although thankfully for the safety of all concerned, they now have a professional waxing pot. They have since moved onto their third still, which was custom designed to their own specifications but the operation remains an extremely small scale enterprise with Kathy and Helen distilling, bottling and delivering their gin to eager customers all over the city and beyond (our first delivery came with some complimentary Brighton rock!).
Brighton Gin is a superb and truly authentic gin that is a wonderful hymn to the vibrant city that inspired it. Try it with a slice of orange for a refreshing and delicious G&T – one of our favourites, especially on a hot summer’s day by the seaside.