The Spirit of Brighton: a Sussex Craft Gin

I’ve seen a lot of very pretty places in Sussex during my travels over the course of the last year, so I quite enjoyed some time spent on the grittier (quite literally) side of our county with a trip to Shoreham Harbour and Portslade recently. Grittier because Shoreham Harbour is what I’ve always known as an aggregate harbour full of industrial reality and noise. I was there because my nose had sniffed out a soft and subtle local gin and I wanted to find out more from the people at Brighton Gin whose still and distillation premises sit almost immediately opposite the harbour. And yes, that’s a poorly veiled excuse for a trip to the coast and drinking neat gin before midday but it works for me.

Brighton Gin

Brighton Gin is an award-winning gin that was born following an epiphany by gin lover Kathy Caton after a night of overindulgence (or over indulGINce!). Getting up for her morning run, she realised that gin is one of the few alcoholic drinks which is forgiving enough to allow you to do that – namely party hard at night and then get up the next day and crack on with whatever creative or industrious pursuits require your attention. This, she decided, represents the very spirit of Brighton and she decided to capture that essence.

I want to be a gin pedlar 

From early days on Kathy’s kitchen table, to a stint in the basement of The Urchin pub, Brighton Gin finally found a home here in a small unit in Portslade. Their distilling is all done on-site and their production facilities are compact and efficient. For my visit, I was met by Rachel who has the enviable titles (amongst her many roles) of gin pedlar and gineester (does anyone know how to spell that?). She told me that her Mondays start with a cycle to work at the Master Gin Cave on one of their gin bikes followed by gin tasting of the gin that has been resting over the weekend. And by this point, I can tell you, I was already a little in love.

Brighton Gin

There are only seven full-time staff at Brighton Gin but their passion is palpable. Kathy’s mum is on corking and waxing wearing the obligatory but uber stylish Brighton Gin t-shirt and socks and others are busy about the place with a sense of purpose. They are on their fourth still (you can see the very cute stills two and three but still number one is no more having exploded in the early days!) and there is a large vat of resting gin in the middle of their premises. Oh hello.

Brighton Gin

The development of the first Brighton Gin took over two years and involved painstaking attention to each and every botanical used. This attention to detail is apparent in everything that they do, from the copy on each bottle (“Gin made in Brighton for free thinkers and good time girls and boys everywhere” and “Brighton is…Pride, naughty weekends, illicit pleasures…”) to the tactile touch of their cans and their ticket shaped labels. The alcohol in their gin comes from wheat but their distilling process results in a gluten-free and vegan spirit.

Choose your strength 

They now have two gins available, the Pavilion and the Seaside strength gins (as well as a small Pride Limited Edition range) and all are very drinkable. I happened to have a bottle of the Pavilion in my study (don’t judge me) and I taste tested it neat before my visit in the name of research. It doesn’t have the burn factor you sometimes get with a neat gin (I don’t drink it neat often, honest) and you can taste soft, subtle and earthy flavours with a hint of citrus.

Brighton Gin

The Brighton Gin bottles are a thing of beauty in themselves too and made from 50% recycled glass. Their corks are topped with sustainably sourced birch wood and the whole bottling, corking and labelling process is still done by hand. They’ve even designed their own cooling device for the wax tops of the corks to give them an extra shine and there’s a rather lovely hand painted Brighton Gin sign hanging above the bottles.

Brighton Gin

The Brighton Gin team’s talk about sustainability seems to be genuinely backed up by positive action and they support a number of local communities and events.  Local deliveries are done using a large box on the front of an e-bike, something I saw wine distributors using in La Rochelle over the summer and which does seem to be a great idea for cities like Brighton.

And refill 

Like most businesses, during lockdown they had to innovate and as a result they now produce their own gin based hand sanitiser (no, you can’t drink it and yes, I tried). They’ve also opened a refilling station and customers can save £5 per bottle by bringing their empties for a top up. By this stage of the tour, I couldn’t have been more happy and was honestly thinking of moving to Portslade.

Brighton Gin

It remained only for me to admire their bespoke Brighton Pride labels and gaze longingly at their selection of pre-mixed cans. I left Brighton Gin with a sense of things being done “right” as well as a large box of their Brighton Gin Lemon Verbena Garden Collins (gin paired with lemon verbena and cucumber). And somehow, I get the feeling it won’t be long until I’m back. Those bottles won’t refill themselves after all!

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