A Tippler's Tale - World Gin Day
As it was World Gin Day on Saturday 12th June, I decided to taste a few local gins with interesting tales and write about them. When blogging, it’s always best to keep a clear head – just like when you are guiding, so you’ll be pleased to hear that I wrote this article first before going tippling!
These three producers are not only a short hop away from my home but they also have really intriguing and uplifting background stories and people like to get that feeling of “attachment” when they visit somewhere don’t they? It’s that link between the area’s heritage and the gin that I’d like to talk about here.
The nearest distillery to my home is THE MARLOW DISTILLERY.
Blink while you’re walking past it and you’ll miss it! Marlow Distillery is a bijou distillery 4 minutes’ walk from the river Thames, alongside the 18th century Marlow Place. Impressive address! Formed just a few years ago, the owners have definitely got the knack – one of their three gins is an IWSC (International Wine and Spirit Competition) Silver Award winner!
The background story here is based around the names of the stills: they are called “Matilda” and “Alice”, two great ladies from Marlow’s past. Queen Matilda became owner of the manor of Marlow through the generosity of her husband William the Conqueror (would she have preferred a nice piece of jewellery instead I wonder?) and Alice Borlase was the great grand-daughter of William Borlase who founded William Borlase school in 1624. She commissioned the construction of Marlow Place in 1730 and is also known in the history books as Lady Wallop. If you want to learn more about Lady Wallop, come on one of my walks!!!
A little further along the river, my second gin comes from HOBBS OF HENLEY, in Henley-on-Thames. Although there is no room for a distillery on the premises, (as it’s full of boats (!)), this gin has a great story behind it!
In 1870, the founder of Hobbs of Henley was Harry Hobbs, publican of The Ship Hotel, boat owner and life-and-soul-of-the-party-type, regularly out on his boat with a bottle, and also good at making it at home.
A few years ago, the current owners of the company, Jonnie Hobbs and his wife Suzy, found a recipe whilst rummaging about in the archives and discovered it was a recipe for gin which had been developed by his great great grandfather Harry. Having followed the recipe and elaborated it a little to suit modern-day tastes, they created MR HOBBS gin which is on sale all around the area. Its distinctive label, showing Harry Hobbs and his bushy beard and cheerful smile, is very attractive. They make 4 gins: the 1870 recipe; a modern recipe celebrating 150 years of the company; raspberry and elderflower and rhubarb and ginger.Selling it is one thing, but going one step further and replicating the character of Harry Hobbs, boat builder, into a gin is another. And how have they done it? By offering 5-course gin-tasting cruises! Gin ahoy!
My third gin producer is one I only recently discovered, based at Penn Street, near High Wycombe called GRIFFITHS BROTHERS. Formed in 2017, they were Buckinghamshire’s first micro distillery. It all started as the result of a challenge between the two Griffiths brothers to make a Christmas gin which their friends and family would enjoy. Not only did their family love the gin, but the brothers enjoyed making it so much that they decided to form a company. Through a family friend they obtained space in a former furniture factory and that was when they learnt about its amazing history.High Wycombe is a very famous furniture making area. From very small beginnings back in the 1800s where furniture was being made in the sheds at the back of the local pub in Penn Street, a company known as Dancer and Hearne was formed. As it developed, it moved into the factory buildings and by the 1930’s it had become one of the biggest furniture making factories in the area, manufacturing 450,000 chairs a year.
When business slumped at the end of the 1930s, the owners cleverly used their contacts to diversify. Working with Geoffrey De Havilland (who was born in the area), they taught their woodworkers to build Tiger Moth aeroplane parts, business which was to develop further during World War Two with the manufacture of wing skins, spars, fittings and assemblies for the Mosquito aircraft.
Despite returning to making furniture again to supply schools after the 2nd World War, plastic furniture was too attractive for their biggest client, the government, and Dancer and Hearne closed down in 1970.
As a nod to the building’s heritage, the Griffiths brothers named one of their gins “Mosquito” after the plane. So if you have a bottle, you will now know why! A tight-knit team of 7 people makes and bottles 3 standard gins and 4 limited editions. Despite being a young company, they have won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition with one of their gins (it was in the top 40 out of 1,700 gins world-wide)! They have three stills: “Roberta”, “Aretha” and “Amy” named after three great women of music: Flack, Franklin and Winehouse. All fantastic names, although I feel a special warmth to Roberta!