If the queue outside Betty’s Tea Room in Harrogate is too long – and it’s usually so long you’d be forgiven for thinking the place was actually a cinema – then you might consider turning round and ambling down Montpellier Parade instead, where, a few doors along, you’ll find one of Harrogate’s newest attractions: The Spirit of Harrogate.
The genteel northern England town of Harrogate is more noted for its spa waters than its spirits, and where the term ageing is more usually applied to the visitors rather than to gins and whiskies. The Spirit of Harrogate, though, wants visitors to take away with them the memory of the more pleasant taste of a gin cocktail rather than the sulphurous smelly taste of the spa water available at the Royal Pump Room Museum.
But what is the Spirit of Harrogate? Gin, I found, and to be more precise the Slingsby Gin made in Yorkshire. It uses the same local water for its source, which shows what a little purification and distillation will do. Yorkshire botanicals go in there too, and the gin is named for William Slingsby, who discovered the Tewit Well in Harrogate in 1571. He felt it displayed the same medicinal properties as the water in the town of Spa in Belgium, which gave its name to the spa town craze that had spread across Europe, and from then on Harrogate was in the tourism business.
Only launched in September 2015, Slingsby Gin (which is a London Dry style of gin) has already won a Silver Award in the spirits equivalent of the Olympics, the San Francisco World Spirit Awards.
The gin’s botanicals include three types of Yorkshire thyme, sage, rhubarb, milk thistle, and both jasmine and green teas. The key one is grapefruit, though, the essential citrus note in a gin. Some of these are found in a living wall, part of the upstairs display area at the Spirit of Harrogate. Here too you’ll find a history of gin, and of Harrogate too.
I was beginning to wonder again – just what is The Spirit of Harrogate? It’s hard to define, especially as when I popped in they were open but not fully operational. It’s part shop, where you can just call in and buy a bottle of Slingsby Gin if you like (and they also make a Slingsby Vodka). It’s part museum, and beyond the upstairs displays is a bar area where you can also engage in a Gin Experience.
These various gin experiences are not available on tap, as it were, and have to be booked ahead for parties of at least ten people. Options include a cocktail masterclass and a Spirit of Gin session, which relates the fascinating history of this spirit and teaches guests how to make their own gin cocktails. There’s also a third experience I especially like: Just the Tonic.
When I visited the bar at The Spirit of Harrogate the barman told me they have 25 different tonics from all over the world, and they’re aiming for about 30-35 in total, with Fever Tree their tonic of choice for mixing with Slingsby Gin. In Just the Tonic you’ll learn the story of the creation of the first tonic waters for medicinal purposes, be able to sample different tonics to find the one that suits you, and learn how to make cocktails where the choice of tonic water makes a difference.
The barman also tells me they’re working on a rhubarb gin at the moment, Yorkshire being home to the Rhubarb Triangle, and also a 57% ABV Navy Strength Gin. They’re also experimenting with ageing gin in three different types of barrel, and hoping to produce a dessert sipping gin. I settled for an intriguing mix of Slingsby Gin with a shot of prosecco, which made for an unusual drink that was both potent and refreshing.
Unlike my one experience of sampling the spa waters on my first visit to Harrogate about twenty years ago, to which the only response was ‘never again’, my reaction to The Spirit of Harrogate and Slingsby Gin was definitely, ‘I’ll have another one, please.’
Spirit of Harrogate
For more information on Harrogate and the surrounding area see the Visit Harrogate website.
All Photos (c) Mike Gerrard.