In the fall of 2012, the whole world’s eyes turned to a carpark. There, the remains of a king had been found after centuries under the tarmac – and the city of Leicester was thrust into the international limelight. Meet Burleighs Richard III Gin, hand-crafted to celebrate the city, and the king who found his final resting place there.
The battlefield would have stretched for miles. Thousands of men and hundreds of horses had gathered on the marshy land outside of Leicester, armour glinting in the early morning light.
At the back of one army was Henry Tudor, who until recently had resigned himself to passing his life as a minor nobleman at a provincial French court. Exhausted from a 200-mile march into England, outnumbered almost three-to-one and with no experience on the battlefield, he can’t have liked his chances.
Facing him was Richard III, King of England. A ruthless politician and experienced military tactician, Richard had been expecting an invasion. He had mustered his allies and stood to face the would-be usurper with a force of 15,000 men and 140 cannons. It wouldn’t be enough to save him.
By the strike of noon, Richard III would be dead, Henry Tudor would be king, and the brutal civil war now known as the War of the Roses would be finished. Over the coming centuries, the machinations of power would cast the vanquished king as a villain and erase the memory of his final resting place – though local legend always held that King Richard III was buried in Leicester.
In 2013, archaeologists shocked the world when they proved the legends true, announcing the discovery of his remains under a carpark. The incredible discovery inspired another local legend – the craft distillery Burleighs – to give the city one more reason to raise a glass in celebration.
Right from the beginning, Burleighs Gin was thoroughly a Leicester affair.
Founded by two born-and-raised Leicestershire lads, this gin brand was always inspired by and deeply connected to the county.
As Sam Watson of Burleighs explains, “We like to view Leicestershire as the epicentre of the Great British food and drink. Steeped in history and culture, our county has so much to offer. We’re the curry capital of the UK, the home of the mighty pork pie, Red Leicester and Stilton. Adding an artisan gin into the equation is another reason for us to be proud of our Leicestershire heritage.”
Everything about Burleighs is an ode to its home county. First, the botanicals: all three gins in their signature range were inspired by the landscape of Leicestershire, and local botanicals like silver birch, dandelion, burdock and elderberry give every bottle a homegrown flair.
Even the name is a shout out to Leicester. Burleighs was named after a local wood, where the botanicals that inspired its flavour profile grow wild. Watson says, “We drew so much inspiration from our surroundings and grow our local botanicals in the wood. It seemed only fitting that the ancient woodland would lend its name to our artisan gin.”
And, of course, the gin is distilled within the confines of the county. In fact, the Burleighs team – under the guidance of Head Distiller Ed Gibson – work out of Bawdon Lodge Farm, nestled deep in the Charnwood Forest. They set up shop in a converted milking parlour and have been working there ever since.
“Space is definitely at a premium in our location,” laughs Gibson, who works on a 450-litre pot still nicknamed ‘Messy Bessy’. “Many of our visitors find it hard to believe that every bottle of Burleighs is hand-distilled and bottled right here on site!”
In recent years, Burleighs has grown to encompass two bars: 45 West Shop and Bar and 45 St Martin’s Vitners and Bar. Serving a full range of Burleighs Gin cocktails, 45 West is just a stone’s throw from the King Richard III Discovery Centre. You can also learn to make gin with the Burleighs team at their Distiller’s Kitchen in the city centre.
The range is now five strong, and encompasses Burleighs’ signature gin, an export-strength bottled at 47%, a Distiller’s Cut and two special editions: Pink Gin, inspired by Japan’s cherry blossom festival, and an expression made in honour of Leicester City Football Club’s surprise victory in the 2015-16 Premier League.
But LCFC’s shocking victory was only the second most unusual thing to happen in Leicester in recent years. After all, a king had only recently been found beneath a carpark – and the Visitor’s Centre built to commemorate the shocking discovery was doing great work to dispel the myths that had made Richard III history’s greatest monster. Gibson was fascinated and wanted to do something to commemorate the occasion.
He says, “The story of Richard III truly is fascinating, and on that captured the hearts of the whole county. I don’t think anyone in Leicestershire was expecting to hear that a lost king had been found in a council car park in our City Centre!”
Gibson and his team set to work creating a gin fit for a king – and the result is the stunning Richard III Gin in your October Gin of the Month Box.
The Devil’s Brood
To find any king under the tarmac would have been a bizarre twist of events. But the discovery in Leicester was made even more amazing thanks to the reputation of Richard III. The last of the Plantagenet kings had been introduced to millions as a villain in Shakespeare’s plays, where he was written as a hunch-backed monster willing to slaughter his brother, wife and nephews to grasp the throne.
Richard was a natural villain. A mere duke, he had no real right to the throne; in fact, he deposed his own nephews, just children, to become king. And, as a Plantagenet, he would always be haunted by rumours that he was descended from the Devil. Calling themselves ‘The Devil’s Brood’, his forefathers had played up myths of their fearsome heritage.
As a character in Shakespeare’s play, Richard is horrifying; the world’s best actors, from Benedict Cumberbatch and Laurence Olivier, have clamoured to play the role. The plays also worked as Tudor propaganda. The view of Richard as a ruthless usurper – and therefore rightly deposed by the Tudors – travelled around the world and through the centuries.
But one English city always held out for a more nuanced take on the story: Leicester.
As Emma Lay of the King Richard III Visitor Centre says, “Leicester is one of the few places where Richard III has always been more venerated, not just because Leicester was a particularly important place during his reign, but because of the draw he felt to the town, and the fact that it’s his final resting place.”
In fact, several places in the city bear Richard’s name, from a primary school to two pubs. But that doesn’t mean that the tragic king’s story was front-and-centre through the centuries.
Emma continues, “Although there are numerous connections with Leicester, most people barely remembered a handful of historical facts unless they were particularly interested in history, and most people didn’t hold a strong opinion on Richard one way or the other – until his discovery.”
When the skeleton under the carpark’s identity was confirmed, interest exploded. There were lines around the block to see the spot where he’d been discovered. A visitor centre was built to help the public get to know more about how the king had ended up in the carpark – it had once been a churchyard, it transpired – and provided a more balanced view of his life and reign.
Thanks to the hard work of the centre staff, Emma says, “the prevailing view of Richard now is as neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but as a man who can be admired for what he overcame and sympathised with for how his reputation was unfairly smeared. This Richard is neither hated nor admired. Posterity now has sympathy for the man found under the carpark – a story known around the world.”
Fit for a King
For Gibson, it was completely natural to make a gin in honour of Richard III’s story.
He says, “Much like the history of gin, Richard III’s story has great depth and has been fascinating to discover. Developing a gin that ties in and pays homage to this incredible story seemed only natural.”
Gibson drew inspiration from the life of Richard III himself, and the turbulent times in which he lived. The War of the Roses was a long and brutal conflict, but there was also beauty to be had in Medieval England.
“I delved into a wealth of information on culinary tastes and customs of the time,” Gibson says.
The botanical blend of Richard III Gin combines herbs and spices that would have been used by Medieval cooks. Sage and thyme give the gin an herbaceous base note and pay tribute to the richly-scented broths of Richard’s day. Clove and mace, which were used in the wines of the time and would have been lit as incense in Richard’s palaces, give his namesake gin a warming spice.
“Finally, we added rose,” says Gibson. “It’s a nod to King Richard’s role in the War of the Roses. It complements the wonderfully historic flavour profile, elevating it and adding a delicious, delicate floral note on the palate and the nose.”
As with every Burleighs gin, the Richard III Gin in your October Gin of the Month box is handcrafted at Bawdon Lodge Farm. It’s bottled in regal purple and gold, resplendent with Richard III’s royal emblem. Whether in a G&T or cocktail, this gin is truly fit for a king.
“We’re very proud of our Leicestershire heritage,” says Gibson, “and we’re hoping that the Richard III Gin can capture the imagination of those enjoying it – and that it gives some insight into the great depth of history that Leicestershire has to showcase.”