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Top Ten Independent Spirit Brands In The UK

July 13, 2020 by The Cocktail Service

The drinks industry in the UK is as healthy as it’s ever been.

We have hundreds of independent brands crafting their products to incredibly high standards, focussing on provenance, production methods, innovation and sustainability.

We are incredibly lucky as a consumer to have such as rich bounty of products at our fingertips and it has certainly been one of the driving factors of the UK becoming one of the leading cocktail cultures in the world.

As we are seeing across the food and beverage sectors, there is a strong trend towards artisan production and the provenance of ingredients used.

It’s a fantastic trend, as this is allowing brands who perhaps ten years ago, may have been eclipsed by the big boys, to stand out and be recognised for the incredible products they produce.

Our team have spent the last few weeks researching and speaking to British independent spirit brands to find out about what makes them stand out in the saturated drinks market.

Blackfords

It’s very likely Blackfords may not be on your radar but they should be.

They have been crafting their delicious products for some time. Bucking the gin and whiskey trend, they create a signature Limoncello and a Pompelmocello from their farm in the Cotswolds.

Made in small batches, with unwaxed Amalfi lemons and British grain spirit, Blackfords Limoncello has a clean and sharp flavour. A twist on the traditional Cello, Blackfords Pompelmocello, is a grapefruit liquor with a tart and citrusy heart.

The Blackfords team are a sustainably committed, family-run, Cotswolds drinks company and all liquors are made with the best ingredients, they can get their hands on.

As well as super tasty Italian inspired digestivo, the branding and bottle design deserves some plaudits.

Bold, bright and striking, it’s the type of bottle everyone wants on their shelf. Drinks brands need a perfect balance of great-tasting products and branding that is on point – very few get both right.

Best served as an ice-cold digestif, straight from the freezer or its also beaut in spritz cocktails.

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Cooper King Distillery

We are massive fans of the guys at Cooper King here at TCS.

Their sustainability credentials are next level and should be emulated by their peers in the UK distilling industry. We caught up with the CK team and other sustainability champions recently in this article.

Sustainability aside the products they produce are to be applauded too.

Led by Chris Jaume and Dr Abbie Nielson, the venture was inspired by their desire to leave the rat-race of the corporate world. Chris and Abbie travelled across the globe and became fascinated by the eight operational whisky distilleries in Tasmania. With a mission to bring their discoveries back to England, the couple gave up their established careers and set up a truly independent gin and whisky distillery back home in Yorkshire. The rest is history.

The distillery has wicked ongoing collaborations with chef Tommy Banks and his Michelin-starred restaurant The Black Swan at Oldstead, creating a range of spirits distilled with fresh ingredients grown in the Black Swan gardens. Collaborations also include working with artisan bakery Haxby Bakehouse to upcycle spent gin botanicals into delicious breads, and working with Neil Bentinck, head chef at Skosh, York, to create a bold smoked + spiced gin.

The outcome of these collaborations and their signature, multi-award-winning dry gin is sensational.

Ones to watch in our industry, they are producing drinks the right way and to an exceptional standard.

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The River Test Distillery

A remarkable story.

Run by a husband and wife team, Sarah and Jonathan Nelson, who retired from education and were looking for a new challenge, so they set up a distillery. The drinks industry is famously challenging, but this did not deter them. Good job too.

Their first expression, The River Test Distillery London Dry Gin, has had a phenomenal start being awarded Best London Dry Gin in England at the World Gin Awards within months of launching their new distillery.

They clearly know a thing or two about creating a beautiful product – the liquid and bottle are superb – but they also have that all-important provenance.

The product is produced in the idyllic surrounds of the River Test in Hampshire and some of the key botanicals such as meadowsweet are sourced on their doorstep.

Expect more beautiful products and awards from the newbies of the distilling industry.

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Gibson’s Organic

We met Miles Gibson recently at his organic farm and we were blown away. The care, attention to detail and hard work that goes into producing small-batch, organic spirits is quite something.

It’s also an absolute pleasure to see these independent brands carving their way in such an authentic way, given the noise created by the spirits behemoths in the industry.

Gibson’s Organic is a from bud to bottle operation, they only use fruit they have grown on their farm in the Cotswolds to make the award-winning liqueurs, which include elderberry, raspberry and redcurrant among others.

What’s more, the products are being increasingly used in top nightspots and restaurants including the legendary Nightjar in London, who have started to cotton on to the fact that these products are a labour of love and that shines through in the products.

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Isle Of Wight Distillery

The first and only distillery on the Isle of Wight was licensed in 2014 by friends Xavier Baker and Conrad Gauntlett.

Combining a wealth of experience in brewing and wine-making with locally sourced ingredients, they have created a range of premium spirits that express the beauty and character of the island they love.

What really caught our attention is their Mermaid Gin, which is hand-crafted on the Isle of Wight using ten ethically sourced botanicals including rock samphire.

The story behind the name is fascinating and once again shows the care and attention that has gone into the brand.

The name Mermaid was inspired by the local name for rock samphire, our lead botanical, ‘mermaid’s kiss’. Rock samphire grows above the high tide line, but never far from it.

The fortunate among shipwrecked sailors and smugglers who were washed up on the Island’s shoreline hauled themselves up the beaches until they could smell the subtle aroma of rock samphire.

This was a signal they were safe from the ravages of the sea and the rising tide behind them. It was a moment of huge relief – like the kiss of the mythical mermaid, saving lost sailors, the rock samphire was a sign they were safe from raging sea and approaching tide, on dry land.

We love what the guys at the Isle Of Wight Distillery stand for, their approach to ethical production and the stunning Mermaid Gin, yet another award winner among our top independent brands

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Asterley Bros

Being unique and different in such a crowded market is essential, many new brands simply don’t survive. What the Asterley Bros have achieved through their products is something absolutely unique, by crafted unusual spirits, by hand from their London base.

The brothers create English vermouth, amaro and fernet which we have to say are absolutely delicious. What really resonates again here is the passion for the products. They care and it shows.

We love the fact that the team at Asterley Bros, has bucked the trends and the norm and sought to bring a unique, English perspective to products traditionally created on the continent.

We are truly excited to see what other products are on the cards from the team at Asterley Bros.

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Fattys Organic Spirits

Founded in 2017 by Phillipa Gee, Fatty’s Organic Spirits was one of the early entrants into the organic spirits market and if the awesome branding and bottle is anything to go by it has made quite a splash.

Speaking to Phillipa, its clear the attention to detail in producing the product is huge. The product is Soil Association Organic Certified, which in organic circles is both essential but also incredibly stringent to achieve. So we have another producer who cares deeply about the product and as is always the case, with passion comes epic results.

Fatty’s (by the way in case you’re wondering Fatty is Phillipa’s nickname!) are another award-winning outfit and produce two products – the flagship organic gin and also an intriguing grapefruit gin which sits at a lower abv of 20%.

This is a deliberate and clever move. We have talked a lot about the new wave of mindful drinking and the nolo category exploding. Now, at 20% it doesn’t necessarily sit in the nolo category, but we feel it sits in a sweet spot of being a low abv spirit but with bags of flavour and that all-important depth that alcohol brings to the party.

Phillipa has achieved great things so far and is another drink entrepreneur to watch.

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White Heron Drinks

Founded by Jo Hilditch, White Heron Drink is another indie that is crafting best in class British products, with their signature British Cassis and raspberry Liqueur. Jo has had a bit of a journey.

She started the brand in 2005 at her families farm in Herefordshire, using the produce to craft her liqueurs. After initial success, Jo then made the decision to pitch her brand to Dragons Den and after receiving four offers, decided to decline them all.

Fast forward to the current day and White Heron Drinks is a multi-award-winning field to bottle brand, produced in a beautiful part of the UK, to exacting standards.

As is important with many brands in the current era, there is distinct quality in the product but also a deep-rooted history. The farm where the products are produced have been in Jo’s family for generations and the fruits used to produce are grown on the farm.

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Conker Spirits

Conker Spirits, has been growing at an impressive rate and it’s no surprise. Head Distiller and brand owner, Rupert Holloway, founded Conker after becoming fed up with the day job in 2015. We’ve all had those days but while most sit it out, Rupert threw in the towels and launched his brand with £6,000.

His story is remarkable and is one that any budding drinks entrepreneur should take note of. Building a quality drinks brands does not need hundreds of thousands in investment.

The story today is that Conker has a range of brilliant products including their Dorset Dry Gin, Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur, Mojito gin and an innovative Tea Liqueur. The brand has genuine authenticity, a highly innovative approach to flavour and is quite rightly making a significant stamp on the UK spirits industry.

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The Oxford Artisan Distillery

Believe it or not, for a city as steeped in history as Oxford, TOAD is the first legal distillery in the city of dreaming spires. Blimey. So although our roots are in Oxford, this was by no means a shoo-in.

Founded by the eccentric trio of Tom Nicholson, Cory Mason and Tagore Ramoutar, the distillery is a certified organic, grain to glass spirits producer. This is no mean feat, many simply don’t understand the intensity, and expense, of this method of production.

What we get though is superb liquid. Couple this with the eccentric innovation of the founders and you are onto something special. They produce a number of products including a gin, a vodka and they are embarking on a whisky programme currently (which includes a super limited edition first batch of their rye whisky)

The story, the idiosyncrasy, the fine products and the innovation makes The Oxford Artisan Distillery one of our favourites indie brands in the UK.

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