From seasonal gins to limited-edition vodkas, the Northeast is quietly busy producing a range of spirits that rival the best.
For many, this news could be a revelation. While we may know the names of some spirits produced, and have probably sampled more than a few in local pubs and bars that stock them, less is known where – and certainly how – they are made.
We tend to know our beers and pride ourselves on our range of top local brews, but what about other boozy treats? We have the only winery in the area – Laneberg Wine in Gateshead – which is a hidden treasure in Team Valley where it takes English grapes and then crushes, processes and bottles them at its Team Valley factory to produce award-winning wonders.
Read more: The first whiskey stills arrive at Wooller
And there are other premium drinks, including liqueurs and mead. To give an idea of what the region has to offer, here is a guide to some of the North East’s distilleries and other top tipple makers and creators.
A tiny distillery in the Vallée du Coquet collects the savages of nature and tames them into a spirit with great multi-layered flavors. Making it is a journey that began in Hepple, Walter Riddell’s hometown in northern Northumberland, with the help of childhood friend – and now food writer – Valentine Warner.
Ingredients include green juniper from the local moors and the likes of lovage and blackcurrant leaf, all harvested at different times of the year. The company is green in every way, and also runs one of the most ambitious juniper restoration and propagation projects in the UK.
It was the brainchild of Charlie Gibbs and developed from a conversation around the kitchen table in his Gateshead home with his wife Julie. Soon to be a winner with the original SteamPunk gin, the company sold its Northumberland Gin Company and Hexham Gin to focus on its core brand which won gold at the 2016 World Gin Masters in London.
It also spawned tastes of an extra strong pirate gin, in a distinctive poison bottle; flavored varieties and an Angel of the North Gin to mark the 20th anniversary of the sculpture – which added an herb from their own garden, close to the Angel, to the original botanicals of juniper, lemon, grapefruit, star anise and cardamom. He followed the spiced rum too. Even in tough times – 2020 – the company was voted Alcohol Producer of the Year by Aspire magazine. To learn more about the company, see here.
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This Durham-based independent distillery, which produces premium, handcrafted spirits with an emphasis on small-batch gins and nature at its heart, was founded by Sunderland, Australia-born Scott Wilson-Laing. 2019 with the help of crowdfunding and success soon followed, with the 1st Edition gin debuting an award-winning success.
He had been inspired by sampling European and Mediterranean flavors while volunteering abroad as an archaeologist and returned eager to capture an authentic taste of his home region. The favors are heavily inspired by the great British garden and he wanted to translate nostalgic childhood memories like blackberries, pears and autumnal apples into his mind which alongside hand picking uses spring water natural mineral in the process.
Packaging is also hand-labeled packaging, ensuring no two bottles are alike, and the company is thinking outside the box with themed seasonal additions, such as limited-edition festive gins in mini Christmas trees and star-shaped bottles and heart-shaped gin. sets for Valentine’s Day. The enterprising company switched to making disinfectant for the NHS during the pandemic, but thankfully normal gin-making service has resumed. Learn more here.
Anyone who’s ever thought gin was boring or winced at the quinine in its accompanying tonic hasn’t tasted the range from this Sunderland company which offered endless variations on a theme and whose arty bottle labels are familiar to well-stocked premises. bars.
From a summery Picnic Gin with flavors of strawberries and cream to a warmer Fireside Gin for winter, the pioneers are constantly experimenting beyond their main line of Northern Dry Gin (43.2%) and Old Tom Gin. – and there’s also a Graceful Vodka – all of which are produced in a 500 liter pot still called Gracie. And the team is smartly keeping people interested in limited-time, single-batch newcomers – such as Cherry and Basil – alongside its unique line, The Rarities. Keep up to date here with what’s on offer.
Northumberland Gin Company
Read here the story behind the company that tells how family inspiration and nostalgia shaped the small-batch artisan success story that is Alnwick Gin. This award-winning product created in the rural heart of Northumberland has become a favorite with its local botanicals – 11 of them – and its key flavors of juniper, rosehip and lavender – complemented, according to the company, with “just a hint of fennel”.
The original Alnwick Gin is a recreation of the family recipe that combines sweetness with a sweet smoky finish. Also in the range is a Firestorm Gin, described as having “a subtle afterglow that captures the true spirit of ancient Northumbria”, as well as sloe gins, limited editions and liqueurs: see here.
The world famous mead – with its label inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels – is made, blended, labeled and bottled in-house at a cellar on Holy Island. Production dates back to the late 1950s and is itself inspired by ancient meads and the history of the island where St Aidan’s monastery was founded in 643 AD. In fact, the production of mead can date back to the Roman occupation.
There are now different versions of its traditional mead – spicy, black and pink – as well as fruit wines and spirits such as Toffee Vodka & Wild Strawberry. He describes Alnwick Rum producers, below, as his sister company. See here.
Alnwick Rum Company Ltd
Founded in 1914, the company began with a uniquely blended “legendary dark rum” considered a favorite of sailors and fishermen in the Northeast. It was taken over by the Harry Hotspur Holdings group in 2013 and the business now extends to a full range of rums and liqueurs. There is now also a Lindisfarne Gin and a resurrected 1950s Glen Aln Whisky.
Alnwick Rum, based on a 90-year-old recipe, is now blended (with rums from Guyana and Jamaica) in Holland and bottled in Scotland, but its sense of local history lingers long, like the finale of the beverage.
Ad Gefrin Distillery
We may have some time to sample Northumbrian Single Malt from what will be Northumberland’s first commercial whiskey distillery, but it will certainly be worth it.
The stills have only recently arrived at Wooler where the distillery – part of the hugely ambitious £10.4million visitor center in the north of the county – will use ingredients from a 25 mile radius. Local farmers will grow barley and water will be drawn from the Cheviot Hills.
This craft distillery launched in 2014 and – under a logo whose design is a modern interpretation of Durham Cathedral‘s rose window – created the popular Durham Gin and Durham Vodka which began selling at establishments such as Fenwick Food Hall in Newcastle and the UK. – Majestic wines in scale. He also has big ambitions, planning a move from the outskirts of Durham to the city centre, the first whiskey to be distilled in the North East and ideas for developing a tourist destination. Follow his news here.
Ok not quite a spirit but an inspired blend that makes this drink suitable for pretty much any time of the day. And it’s worth mentioning because it has such a great story behind it.
German nationals Vincent Efferoth and Lukas Passia, who met while students at Newcastle University, were inspired by their experience of British culture – namely our love of tea and Geordie’s equal passion for alcohol – to merge the two into a single drink they launched at Fenwick in 2017 and won awards. There were initially two versions – The Tale of Tangier, which brews cold brew mint tea with rum, and The Tale of Earl Gray which is our beloved brew with gin – and now it has a third. : Oolong Tea with Whisky. Oo indeed: see here.
With a pitwheel emblem capturing the local Wingate monument and the area’s mining heritage, this small distillery is part of the home of the Rickard family who in 2019, faced with dealing with redundancy, decided to make a business of a passion for home brewing. So gin making saved the day and the result is an award-winning range that includes a classic, handcrafted dry gin; spices, raspberry and vanilla, orange and ginger and marine strength. Learn more here.
The Newcastle Gin Company
The gin company, founded by Harry Vaulkhard in 2013, has its home at the town’s bar and restaurant Bealim House where the gin distillery is described as Newcastle’s first: ‘the only in-house gin in town’, says the pub which also hosts tastings. .
The making of Newcastle Gin is described as “every drop lovingly handcrafted for 72 hours and brought to bottling strength using highly purified Newcastle water”. It’s a light floral gin infused with subtle notes of juniper, sumac, orange peel, Iranian hibiscus, rose petal and coriander – and a few secret ingredients. There is also a pink gin and a flavored variety. See here for more information on the company and here for more information on Bealim House.