Raising a glass to Lancashire's gin distilling boom

Stand aside craft brewers, small-scale gin distilleries are exploding onto the market.

Saturday, 23rd September 2017, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th September 2017, 11:39 am
Mark Long from the Brindle Distillery based at Holmes Farm, which produces Cuckoo gin from their own barley. Picture by Paul Heyes, Tuesday September 19, 2017.

In Lancashire there’s no shortage of new flavours and bars getting in on the act with festivals dedicated exclusively to gin, gin gardens, gin tours and gin distilling sessions.

In the heart of Preston a gin garden with an Alice in Wonderland theme and a quirky name is kicking up a storm.

Restaurant and bar 1842, based at the city’s old Corn Exchange on Lune Street, threw open its doors to their Rabbit Hole gin garden at Easter.

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Brindle Distillery: Liz and Mark Long, Cath and Gerard Singleton and Alice and William Singleton; and 1842s General Manager Brandon Seddon, inset above left.

“We had to take up on the gin craze so we opened the gin garden with 45 gins,” said 22-year-old Brandon Seddon, whose family owns the bar. “Now we have 75.

“Because of the short distillation time it’s quite easy for gins to come out.

“People who normally wouldn’t like the taste of the more traditional dry gins like the flavour of the more fruity gin liqueurs that are popular at the moment.

“The gin garden’s been packed, we’re so busy, people have really jumped on it.”

1842's General Manager Brandon Seddon stands in front of the thistle filled bed which his customers have had to pass to access the restaurant/bar.

The name of the bar, 1842, is a hat tip to a workers revolt which took place outside the venue among cotton workers but it is the year 2009 which bears greater significance to craft gin companies.

It is the year that Sipsmith became the first copper-pot based distillery to start up in London for 189 years.

The significance lies with a two-year battle for the company with HMRC.

At the time, the government said the quantity of gin they planned to produce – less than 300 litres at a time – was so small it was technically classed as “moonshine”.

Brindle Distillery: Liz and Mark Long, Cath and Gerard Singleton and Alice and William Singleton; and 1842s General Manager Brandon Seddon, inset above left.

It took almost two years of lobbying for the law to be changed and in 2009 their licence was granted.

The change in the law has enabled craft gin distilleries across the country flourish.

Perhaps the latest contribution to gin in Lancashire is Cuckoo Gin, made from scratch at a fledgling company in Brindle, near Chorley.

The idea for Cuckoo Gin, which is already flying off the shelves, was hatched just over a year ago by entrepreneurial village family, the Singletons.

1842's General Manager Brandon Seddon stands in front of the thistle filled bed which his customers have had to pass to access the restaurant/bar.

Mark Long, the self-confessed “lucky man” who married into the family, tying the knot with actress and singer Liz Singleton, 28, last year, has the task of heading up Brindle Distillery at Holmes Farm.

He says the name for their gin, which is only 13 weeks old, has its roots firmly embedded in folklore. “Anyone born and bred in Brindle is known as a Brindle Cuckoo,” says the 30 year old from Wheelton.

“According to legend villagers in Brindle tried to build a wall around a Cuckoo.

“The first call of the bird means that spring season has arrived and they wanted to keep it, believing it might bring them good farming all year round.

“But the Cuckoo escaped and ever since anyone born and bred in Brindle is known as a Brindle Cuckoo.”

Cuckoo Gin has made a timely entrance into the market as the popularity of gin has soared with new bars, such as Filling Factory No 1 in Buckshaw Village, making gin a key focus.

“It took us 18 months to learn how to distil gin and more than 30 recipe developments to come up with Cuckoo Gin,” says Mark, explaining how they came up with the final ingredients for Cuckoo Gin.

“We would buy gins that we liked from the shops and then blind taste our recipes against them with family and friends around the dinner table until our recipe came first.”

Brindle Distillery has secured deals with the likes of upmarket grocery chain Booths, prominent restaurants and bustling gin bars.

But it all came from a humble desire for the Singletons to find a new way of making their farmland work for them.

“All this land hasn’t been doing anything for 30 years,” says Mark. “It’s been in the family for about 100 years and they wanted to invest in it. The whole thing is about making the land work again.”

The artwork on the bottle, by Preston-based graphic designer Graham Walker, has been specially designed to represent Holmes Farm where the Singletons grow all their own Barley to make the base spirit for Cuckoo Gin.

“Graham has been integral to who we’ve become, he’s done a great job on the branding,” says Mark, whose background in marketing is informing him in his new role.

“The drawing on the bottle depicts the scene outside. It shows the blue sky, the crops growing and the sun, which is also meant to represent the copper colour of the stills. We needed the brand be distinctive and to tell our story.

“It’s quite rare in the spirit world to make your own base spirit. The majority of gin distilleries would buy it in.

“We have 20 acres of Barley planted here with room for more in the future.”

So that they can use fresh water for the gin Gerard Singleton, 54, Mark’s father-in-law who also has another business called Singleton Landwork, dug a trench from a spring on their land all the way to where the gin is distilled.

It goes into a biomass boiler tank which provides 80 percent of the heating for the distilling process. Giving their brand its sustainable edge, it is also fuelled by wood which Gerard collects through his business contacts.

And nothing which comes out of the distillery is wasted. Mark says: “When we finish boiling the grains up the cows eat the waste grain and the chickens eat the waste botanicals, even the wash back is used as fertiliser.”

At his land in Withnell Gerard, whose wife Cath, 52, looks after the financial side of her family’s business exploits, has two herds of 30 cattle, Aberdeen Angus and Hereford and about the same number of chickens.

Growing the business organically, by word of mouth, Mark is appearing at as many drinks festivals and local fairs as possible.

Cuckoo Gin even made a successful appearance at the inaugural Plungington Gin Festival, presented by Plau Gin & Beer House, which ran for three days at The Plungington Hotel on Lytham Road, Fulwood in August, attracting some 1400 visitors and 105 different gins.

Mark hopes have a gin bar in place by the Winter and long term he would like to set up a gin school with 10 small gin stills so that the distillery can welcome in gin enthusiasts for a tour or a gin-making session.

His immediate challenge is to have the gin bar ready in time for November when the distillery is hosting a group of 70 women.

“We’re going to sell our own gin and beer when we open the bar as well as other local gins and beers as well,” says Mark.

“There will be a partition in the distillery so that visitors can see everything that’s happening. We can get 80 to 100 people in here. It will have a rustic feel.”

Gin is all the rage... Why not also try out:

Ormskirk gin. The craft gin is produced by hand and developed by local gin enthusiasts who wanted to produce a quality gin with character linking it to Ormskirk.

Given the history of gingerbread making in the town it is no surprise that ginger is a key ingredient.

Batch Gin which has been perfected by a family-based team at a distillery in Burnley.

Batch initially established its reputation brewing of craft beers.

However a chance visit to Spain set them on a path to satisfy a new irresistible passion: Gin.

Watch this space:

The Emporium in Chorley is teaming up with Birkdale Craft Distillery to provide their customers with their very own bespoke premium gin.

The Rivington Heritage Trust is also hoping to produce their own gin made from shrub Gaultheria shallon in time for Christmas.

Advice on how to have your gin, from owner of Filling Factory No 1 Liam Morrow:

“Each gin really suits a different garnish. For example one that’s quite a good seller is rhubarb gin with ginger beer.

“One of the most popular gins at our bar is Edinburgh Raspberry gin which goes very well with a strawberry and raspberry mixer.

“For the more traditional dry gin drinkers which probably has more of a juniper base they work best with citrus garnishes so pink grapefruit, orange or lemon.

“Typically gin bottles will say on the back labels what garnish goes well with it.”

Liam, whose bar has enjoyed huge success after it opened at the beginning of the year, has plugged into a niche market in the Chorley area.

He is now looking to open an off license in his bar during the week where he will host taster sessions and panels with gin-lovers coming to learn how to make their own gin.

“We’ll teach people how to make our gins, what goes with what and also the glasses we use which help with the aroma which is all part of the experience.”