Gin a firm favourite after a chequered history

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Sally Pavey speaks to a local couple about the renaissance of gin.

My girlfriends have gone from a chilled glass of wine early evening to becoming part of the ‘G&T set’ - this is clearly a trend as gin sales have enjoyed a boom in recent years.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association hailed that 2016 was the ‘Year of Gin’ after success here and abroad with domestic sales of gin passing the £1 billion mark by October, while in the same month the trade body reported that exports of gin had grown 166% in value since 2000.

The spirit’s main ingredient is to be added to the UK’s national seed bank at the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, Ardingly as, due to a fungus-like disease, the juniper tree was endangered.

Horticultural experts at the UK National Tree Seed Project have collected and preserved seeds of juniper plants gathered from different parts of the country.

Since it began in 2013, the project has ‘banked’ 5.8 million seeds from 6,500 UK trees. Juniper has become the project’s priority, owing to the threat posed by Phytophora austrocedri infecting tress initially across Scotland and the north of England according to the Forestry Commission.

Last year I discovered the organic Pinkster Gin that exhibited last year at the Pink Gift Fair, where adding raspberries and tonic made a really refreshing drink.

This year the Pink Gift Fair will welcome Tom Cat Dry Sussex Gin, an artisan small batch gin that has the wonderful flavour of orange captured within.

Eighteenth century history tells us between 1700 and 1760, London was involved in a destructive love affair with gin, popularly known as ‘mother’s ruin’.

London was positively drowning in the stuff with an estimated 7,000 gin shops selling a shot of gin for a penny. The Old Tom Gin was slightly sweeter than London Gin but slightly drier than the Dutch variety from where gin originated. The name came from the black cat shaped sign mounted outside some pubs above public walkways.

The 1751 Gin Act put a stop to the Gin shop and saw independent distillers disappear, removing what was a rather unpleasant tasting substance that simply helped to put aside the hunger pains

Lack of housing and had also led to many deaths, such as that of Judith Dufour in 1734 who strangled her two-year-old son and sold his clothes for gin.

After the Act, that brought prohibitive taxes and licensing, illegal gin sales were driven under the ‘cat’s paw’; a sign where a slot for money could be found and a lead tube would dispense a shot of gin.

So the reference to a black cat has history, but this new Tom Cat Gin is special, based on the London dry gin and started by local brewers, Paul and Kate Wratten.

It took Paul and Kate four months to perfect Tom Cat Gin, spending much of last summer discussing it, only to launch at a school fair in November that year.

They are not strangers to the alcohol trade, as around two years ago they bought the Black Cat Brewery that had been established in a back garden shed for five years.

Paul and Kate moved the brewery to new premises and have gone on to develop the brand-winning drink.

They did their research before launching the brand, calling upon the services of a friend Mark Denton, from the film world, who with one swipe of his expertise produced the symbol of the black cat that is featured on all the bottles now made even more striking by the orange background.

Pure Sussex mineral water from Sussex Pear Tree Well is added to the distillate to create the perfect final product.

The story behind Pear Tree Well is pretty amazing as in 1998 David Pursglove had a vivid dream about the withered old pear tree in his back garden, the dream indicating that there was treasure at its base.

David hired a metal detector but found nothing. He took the tree down with roots and found nothing but a muddy hole.

Several nights later he had a second dream and so he hired the services of geologist. After several days of drilling a layer of rock was found, once this was breached they found an underground stream and heard the flow of water.

The rest is history, but to say that the testing of the water showed signs that it may offer protection against many disease and maintain a healthy body – not sure how it works when mixed with juniper as Tom Cat Gin is 40 per cent proof!

Anyway, with the hint of orange, served with orange peel, a sprig of rosemary and quality tonic, it is very refreshing.

What’s next for the brand? Paul had ideas of a rhubarb and ginger flavour but Kate seemed to think otherwise. I guess we will have to wait and see what emerges at the Pink Gift Fair this September 16 and 17, at Horsham council offices.

We can be assured that this Tom Cat Dry Sussex Gin is set to boost gin sales yet again as whilst chatting with them both they were selling large and small bottles as quickly as they could package them.