Now I’ll be honest, I don’t have many vices and I’m not a big drinker but a long cold gin and tonic is one of my not-so-guilty pleasures in life. And thanks to the recent rise of the craft gin movement, there’s a gin for every palate and every mood, whether it’s pink (from local firm Pinkster, accessorised with raspberry and mint), light and floral (my G&T at a restaurant last weekend was adorned with flower petals), herby (with a charred rosemary twig, that’s The Botanist G&T at the Cambridge Union Bar) or lavishly garlanded with enough fruit to give Carmen Miranda a run for her money (that was just absurd, from a hotel bar on the Suffolk coast).
So when a friend told me there’s a new gin in town, I scurried down to Hope Street Yard, off Mill Road, to meet John Saul, General Manager at English Spirit Distillery, who have just opened their first tiny but beautiful bricks and mortar shop in this pretty, eclectic enclave.
While we sipped a gin and tonic, John told me the story of how the business came into being nine years ago. Founder, Dr John Walters, is a biochemist from Oxford. Listening to a Radio 4 programme, he heard an “expert” say that it’s impossible to make eau de vie in this country. Spurred on by the challenge, John built a still and made an eau de vie that was really good. Better, in fact, than the expensive eau de vie sitting in his drinks cabinet.
Today, English Spirit Distillery’s range includes gins, for which they make their own vodka base from sugar beet, to be assured of quality and provenance. There’s a Cucumber Spirit which contains no juniper and a digestif Sambuca, which is distilled three times. John tells me it’s too fine to do the coffee bean/flame thing! Rum is distilled from sugar cane molasses while 1.2 tonnes of apples from the Sandringham Estate make just 90 bottles of apple brandy. A single malt spirit is flavoured in the still and distilled five times, making it super smooth with layers of flavour. Gin based fruit liqueurs are distilled and also macerated with fruit while their top seller, Toffee Vodka liqueur, is best enjoyed over ice or ice cream.
John has lived around Mill Road with his wife, Eloise, and their family for many years. They love the area with its sense of community and will be holding informal, laid back acoustic mic nights in Hope Street Yard with future plans for gigs, craft markets and food trucks. The Tasting Room is open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. At the moment you can have a free tasting and buy bottles while they wait for a bar licence to come through.
But back to the gin … we sat in the sunshine outside the shop, chatting to John and Eloise and sipping the limited edition Hope Gin, which is distilled especially for this new Cambridge venture. It’s an aromatic London Dry gin, flavoured with bergamot oil, orange zest, rose petals, coriander, bay leaf and juniper and it’s just delicious. I reckon Earl Grey himself would have approved!
Unit 1, Hope Street Yard, Cambridge CB1 3NA