The Spirit of the Season
Look no further than Devon for some inspiring spirits to keep you in very good cheer, writes Clare Hunt
It’s fair to say that as a nation, we’re quite enthusiastic drinkers of beer, wine and spirits. And in recent years we’ve become ever more enthusiastic producers, too. Surging interest in consuming local produce, supporting local producers and understanding the heritage and provenance of what we eat and drink means the climate is better now for setting up new food and drink ventures than it has been for a considerable while.
The rising interest in ‘craft’ production of alcoholic drinks began with beer. Then enterprising and long-sighted English landowners revived or planted new vineyards and brought about a revolution in wine making. And in the course of the past few years, spirits – predominantly gin – have seen a massive upsurge in the number of artisan distillers bringing products to a reinvigorated market.
With innovative ideas, enthusiasm and vigour, new distillers are taking on the big boys at their own game. And consumers are keen to experience hand-crafted spirits made via small-batch processes, with a strong nod to heritage and a huge focus on flavour and drinkability.
Having a long heritage of producing some of the world’s best-loved gin, Devon is already established as a distilling heartland. A legacy some new distillers are very keen to take to the next level.
Inspired by the buoyancy of the British gin industry, and with a family connection to the vineyard at Sharpham, Cosmo Caddy of Devon Distillery spotted a gap in the market for a unique British take on grappa.
“Dappa is the UK’s first and only version of Italian grappa. It’s a spirit normally enjoyed as a digestif with espresso coffee or dark chocolate. To the uninitiated I would say that it’s somewhere between a brandy and a vodka. It has the grape notes of a brandy… and is clean-tasting like vodka”, says Cosmo.
Dappa is a produced using the skins left over from the production of red wine and is carrying on the Italian tradition of frugally making use of a by-product. The distillation process separates the harsh “heads” (the first elements that come through the still) from the “heart”. It is the heart that rests for a year before being blended with local spring water, cold filtered and bottled.
A perfect Christmas drink, Dappa can be bought at the Sharpham Vineyard shop, the Shops at Dartington or Darts Farm and can be enjoyed at the Seahorse in Dartmouth. Or visit devondistillery.com to buy online.
Distilled and blended on the banks of the River Lyn, Wicked Wolf is a premium craft gin from Exmoor and the brainchild of husband-and-wife gin enthusiasts Pat Patel and Julie Heap. A true artisan process, Wicked Wolf is distilled in 25-litre batches and blended, filtered, bottled and labelled by hand.
Combining 11 exotic aromatics, including coriander, hibiscus and kaffir lime as well as juniper, Pat and Julie have created a contemporary gin with distinctly Asian inspiration. Their aim is to deliver a smooth, consistent drink, which they do by distilling each of their botanicals separately in a copper alembic still.
“Our gin makes a wonderful martini,” says Pat, “however, if cocktails are not your thing, we recommend Fever Tree tonic. For a shorter drink, just add ice and lime, and for a spicier winter’s drink try Wicked Wolf Gin with a good fiery ginger beer to compliment the Asian-inspired botanicals beautifully.”
Wicked Wolf is widely available at pubs and restaurants across Devon and at selected branches of Majestic. Visit wickedwolfgin.com for a full list of stockists.
Undoubtedly the big daddy of Devon distillers, and with a history closely linked to that of the city itself, Plymouth Gin is one of the UK’s oldest and best-known gin brands. It’s distilled in the same building it always has been, to the original recipe from 1793, using soft Dartmoor water, pure grain alcohol and a Victorian copper still.
Since the 1920s, Plymouth Gin has been acknowledged as the perfect gin for cocktails. Its balance of botanicals – juniper, lemon peel, orange peel, orris root, angelica root, cardamom pods and coriander seeds – combining fruity and spicy notes with a smooth, full-bodied taste.
“We see the rise in the popularity of gins over the past couple of years as a positive thing; new product launches generate excitement for gin lovers all over the world, which only means consumers gain a deeper understanding of the world of gin”, says Master Distiller Sean Harrison.
Visit plymouthdistillery.com to shop online or book distillery tours.
“Exceptionally smooth, balanced and very moreish” is how Howard Davies, Founder and Director of Salcombe Gin, describes their product. Part of this smoothness is credited to the soft Dartmoor water that’s used in Salcombe’s distillation and blending, with a complex concoction of 13 botanicals giving it a unique and distinctive flavour.
Not satisfied with distilling top-quality spirits, Salcombe Gin will soon also be opening a tasting bar overlooking the sea and a gin school where enthusiasts can blend botanicals and distil their own bottle.
Salcombe Gin is available at retailers and bars across Devon, including Bowers Wine and Spirits, regional Majestic stores, Salcombe Harbour Hotel and The Pig at Combe. Or shop online at salcombegin.com.
Lyme Bay Winery
Probably best-known for their ciders and fruit wines, Lyme Bay Winery has now made the natural progression into the production of liqueurs. Inspiration is drawn from the abundance of hedgerow fruits that flourish in the Devon countryside, and this is coupled with traditional recipes and cutting-edge production techniques to produce liqueurs featuring everything from elderberries and damsons to sloes and blackcurrants.
All made by hand and in small batches, Lyme Bay Winery’s liqueurs make complex, fruity additions to cocktails as well as being perfect on their own as after-dinner digestifs. Their cherry brandy or ginger liqueurs are the ideal Christmas tipples to pop in a stocking.
Find the range at local Devon farm shops and delis, visit the Lyme Bay Winery shop near Axminster or shop online at lymebaywinery.co.uk.
Yarde Devon Cider Brandy
The cider brandy from Yarde starts off as award-winning cider made with up to 15 varieties of local apples. Sulphite-free, unpasteurised and unfiltered, the cider ferments for at least 6 months until fully crisp and dry, making the perfect raw material for a unique brandy. Distillation takes place at The Somerset Cider Brandy Company in authentic Calvados stills, after which the brandy returns to Devon to age for 5 to 10 years in oak barrels. During the years of maturing, the spirit – which starts off clear – turns the perfect mellow golden colour.
“We don’t try and compete with the big spirit producers”, says Rebecca Jack from Yarde. “We believe our appeal is to customers who are looking for a quality artisan product that isn’t mass produced and not available on the high street.”
Yarde Devon Cider Brandy is stocked by Totnes Wines and Dartmouth Wine Company and is served at The Waterside Bistro in Totnes and The River Shack in Stoke Gabriel. You can also buy it online at yardecider.co.uk.