Harrogate is the queerest place with the strangest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading and dining."
- Charles Dickens, upon his 1858 visit to Harrogate
Below is an excerpt from the November 2015 edition of GINNED! Magazine about Slingsby Gin from Harrogate. Every month, Craft Gin Club Members receive a new and unique bottle of amazing small-batch gins along with several surprises that maximise enjoyment of the gin and GINNED! Magazine which is full of information about the gin, the distillery and loads of fascinating features.
"Relaxing, indulging, socialising" - Slingsby Gin's slogan
“Harrogate is unlike other towns in the UK. We don’t have the industrial heritage of other places,” explained Marcus Black, one of the conceptual giniuses behind Slingsby, when speaking of the origins of the Slingsby concept. “So the starting point for us is Harrogate’s heritage of going to the theatre, flower shows, enjoying a nice meal, shopping, etc. We wanted Slingsby to capture the essence of Harrogate, the reason why people have historically come here: to relax, indulge, and socialise.”
To capture this essence of Harrogate it was necessary to integrate local essences in each bottle. Seventeen of Slingsby Gin’s twenty-four botanicals have a tight link with Harrogate and the surrounding area. The Slingsby founders worked with the luxury hotel Rudding Park, which established its own kitchen garden, to find twelve botanicals all overseen and selected by the hotel’s gardner. Engagement with local businesses extended to the Harrogate icon Taylors of Harrogate which contributes the gin’s green tea and jasmine elements. Slingsby also worked with local botanists to source nettle, heather and primrose from the nearby Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
But the primary Harrogate essence in Slingsby Gin is the spring water on which the town’s history is built: not only does this new gin take its name from the man who discovered the first wells and their restorative properties, but also these historic waters are in every bottle. Slingsby works with the family-owned Langley Distillery near Birmingham for the first step of the distillation process - the maceration and distillation of the botanicals in the base spirit - a process which now takes only a day to complete but which took twelve painstaking months of trials and tribulations in order to get the recipe just right. After the distillation, the 87% ABV spirit is shipped back to the Slingsby team where the gin is brought down to its 42% bottle strength with Harrogate spring water and single grain spirit.
The bottle itself is also reminiscent of the restorative properties of Harrogate water in that it was inspired by an old chemists bottle from the late 1800s that the Slingsby team found at a local antique shop. The association with chemistry harks back to the history of gin which was first conceived as a medicine in 13th century Holland and was further used as a sort of medicine in the British Empire as it was mixed with quinine tonic to stave off malaria (thus the creation of the Gin & Tonic). Dimples on each side of the bottle make it easy to hold and the carefully selected Portuguese cork afford Slingsby drinkers easy opening and a proper cork pop.
This packaging combined with the “light, refreshing and versatile” gin make for an experience that Slingsby concocted to encourage drinkers to have more than one serving per sitting. “We want people to say they love the experience and for them to experiment with tonics and garnishes as Slingsby himself did with spring water all those years ago,” explained Marcus, who went on to say they want people to see Slingsby in the same light as they might see Grey Goose in the vodka market - as the best in its class.
As visitors to Harrogate have for centuries come for its spring water and more recently to indulge in Bettys Café and Tea Room, now they can travel to the city for a local gin experience. Slingsby Gin has opened a shop in the town centre dedicated to gin, its unique history, the story of William Slingsby and Harrogate’s famous water. Conceived as a flash to the past of Victorian chemists shops, the “retail experience” features a Gin Lab for creating and tasting new botanical mixtures, a botanical wall with herbs from Slingsby and other common plants and spices used for gin growing on it, thirty different tonics from around the world with which to mix and match different gins, and a Spirit of Harrogate room that takes visitors through the history of the town and its new gin.
THE SOURCE OF HARROGATE’S HAPPINESS
A visit to the shop and a dram or two of its signature gin is certain to leave a smile on your face, a smile similar to those which you’ll also see on the faces of Harrogate’s inhabitants. For three years, running, the town has earned the venerable top-spot on the list of “happiest towns to live in the UK.”
What brings this happiness? Is it the health benefits that the 88 springs within a two-mile radius of the town bring? Is it the lovely Victorian architecture that portrays the town’s heritage?
According to the survey conducted by online property portal, Rightmove, Harrogate brings happiness to residents for a mixture of reasons from neighbourliness to safety. Harrogate MP Andrew Jones told the Guardian after the 2013 survey, "I think it is about the sense of community in the town. It's also a very down to earth place. There are lots of really good businesses which have grown organically and sensibly with little boom and bust.”
Slingsby Gin is just the latest incarnation of one of these “really good businesses”, a delicious gin poised to grow as organically as the botanical wall in its flagship shop and to perpetuate the happiness of Harrogate. Perhaps if Mr. Dickens were around to stop off at Harrogate today, he would still find it the “queerest place with the strangest people”. But just a sip of the town’s signature gin and he would see the lives of the town folk are not the “oddest”: they simply enjoy a bit of relaxing, indulging and socialising all with a glass Slingsby.