Two years ago, Kathy Caton was out for her morning run along Brighton seafront. Despite being up until 3 AM the previous night drinking gin with friends (we’ve all been there), she was committed to her sensible routine and surprised to note that she felt just fine.
Suddenly, it struck her. Brightonians embody the motto “work hard, play hard,” and gin—which is known for its forgiving hangovers—was the drink that allowed them to put that adage into practice. Brighton needed a gin of its very own.
Caton immediately rushed home and Googled “Brighton gin.” Relieved to see that nothing was returned, the former restaurateur hurriedly sent an email to fellow booze enthusiasts, and arranged a meeting to discuss her thoughts. She ended up with a spirits industry guru to help sell the idea, a laser physicist to assist with the science, a Spectator drinks writer to get the recipe just right, and a local coffee shop entrepreneur to get the company off the ground.
Two years later and Brighton Gin now hosts the city’s first ever distillery, with the product being sold in 20 independent bars and grocers across the city. But how did a bunch of amateurs turn their morning-after-the-night-before vision into a reality?
“On paper it seems simple. Gin is essentially vodka, blended and redistilled with various botanicals and juniper berries,” says Caton. “But in practice, it’s like having all the ingredients for the world’s most perfect souffle but not having the technical ability to get the thing to rise.”
The recipe was deliberated over for months, with various ingredients added and subtracted, until the perfect balance was found.
“I was looking forward to the tasting part but after coming out of the still we had to leave the new batches out overnight to give the flavours a chance to settle,” says Caton, “Tasting neat, warm gin at eight in the morning isn’t as fun as it sounds.”
The core idea behind Brighton Gin is that it’s forgiving. Gin is touted as a spirit that leaves little hangover, as the raw spirit is distilled several times; removing most of the impurities that usually team up to pummel the liver into submission.
Although the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, Brighton Gin combines the staple juniper berries with fresh orange and lime, along with milk thistle. Milk thistle is native to southeast England and contains an active ingredient, silibinin, which has been shown to protect liver cells against damage from toxins.
Combining multiple distillation and the milk thistle means that, in theory, you should be able to spend a whole night on Brighton Gin and wake up in the morning relatively toxin—and hangover—free.
But getting the perfect balance proved tricky, urging Caton to call on a scientist for some help.
Enter Dr Easy (also known as Ian Barry), a Brighton-based laser-physicist-turned-distiller. He was enlisted to help avoid a George’s Marvellous Medicine scenario, in which an ambrosia is discovered but can never be recreated.
On paper it seems simple. Gin is essentially vodka, blended and redistilled with various botanicals and juniper berries. In practice, it’s like having all the ingredients for the world’s most perfect souffle but not having the technical ability to get the thing to rise.
“The manufacturing process is very precisely controlled to ensure that quality and taste don’t vary between batches,” says Barry. “As well as the accurate qualification of ingredients, the main control methods of a run are the vapour temperature and the rate of collection. This feeds back into the pot heater to control the rate of evaporation.”
The distillery currently runs out of the basement of The Urchin, a craft beer pub in Hove co-owned by Nigel Lambe, who also owns Brighton coffee chain, Small Batch Coffee Company. The operation is not only the first of its kind in the city but also one of the few independent distilleries across the entire country.
Until recently, the process of applying for a license was so long and tedious that legitimate independent distilleries were simply unheard of. This all changed in 2009 when the Sipsmith distillery in London became the first to be established in over 150 years.
In took over two years for the Sipsmith team to fight for their license; but new precedents set as a result of their battle mean the process has now become much easier, sparking a boom in the independent spirits market. As a result, it took the team at Brighton Gin just three months to get their application approved.
So what’s the plan going forward? Helen Chesshire, the team’s PR specialist says the initial focus will be to maximise popularity at home.
“It’s really important to us that Brighton Gin is loved locally. Brighton has a reputation for being a city of much diversity, for its tourism, for dirty weekends, and now for having a booming food and drink scene,” she says. “A gin made locally has been welcomed and we aim to build on this.”
It might sound like a small market, but Brightonians are famed for knowing what they like and sticking to it. Take Tuaca, for example—an obscure Italian brandy liqueur which Helen says enjoys 90 percent of its international sales in Brighton, despite being owned by a Kentucky firm.
And if Brighton has been enduring imported brandy hangovers, it’s about time its bleary-eyed residents had a low-toxin, gin alternative.