Feature – Brighton Gin
There’s a bit of a “ginaissance” going on, as an exciting new wave of hand-crafted, small-batch gin-makers continue to entice discerning drinkers from the big-money brands. One key player, Brighton Gin, is the brainchild of Kathy Caton and Helen Chesshire, an instantly likeable duo who are quickly taking the Brighton drinks scene by storm. So, how did it all begin?
“About two years ago, I was going for a run the morning after a very late night, and I had this realisation that gin is the most forgiving of all boozes,” says Kathy. “You can get up to no good at all, and still function the next day. I thought – Brighton totally needs its own gin! There are so many people here who work hard and look after their families, but also like to go out and behave badly. So, for me, gin is the spirit that completely embodies Brighton.”
Coming at it solely from a passionate consumer angle, Kathy had no idea where to start until a mutual friend introduced her to Helen, who worked as a PR in the drinks industry. They decided to give Brighton Gin a whirl. Their first still – a prop used in the film The 51st State – was bought on Ebay, they were granted their license, and they began to experiment.
“We found an office on a residential street in Hove, but didn’t tell the landlord what we intended to do there,” laughs Helen. “We pretended one half was a trendy media agency; the other side of the room looked like something from Breaking Bad. We had to make all our gin early in the morning or late at night, too, in between doing our day jobs.”
The distillery now has a permanent home in a single-windowed room beneath the Urchin pub in Hove. A gleaming copper still stands proud in the corner under the striplight, while old school desks and metal shelves house empty bottles and rolls of labels. There’s a small waxing station, and bags of ingredients sit in Tupperware boxes along one wall. It’s not sleek and it’s not fancy, but it is utterly charming.
The bottles’ wax seals and labels are the same colour as the railings on the prom – Brighton Seafront Blue (it’s an actual shade!) – while the label itself is ticket-shaped. “The ticket idea comes from the fact that Brighton’s home to lots of blow-ins,” explains Kathy. “It represents an invitation to a new adventure, to all sorts of fun possibilities. The Prince Regent came down here and changed the town from a fishing village to somewhere to enjoy yourself and get up to seedy no-goods. That’s what we want to embody.”
So what are the flavours that make their gin so special? “From the start, we wanted to make something strong, yet smooth,” says Helen. “There’s juniper – that’s a legal requirement – orange peel, lime, coriander seed and milk thistle, which is liver cleansing. So, really, it’s actually a health drink!”
Brighton Gin is available all over town – even in Harvey Nichols stores across the UK and in Dublin – yet Helen and Kathy remain humble about their snowballing success. “The people of Brighton are so supportive of us, they shout about us and are willing us to succeed. It’s really exciting,” says Helen. “I think part of the appeal is that we offer something that’s handcrafted from beginning the end, from making the gin to waxing and labelling the bottles ourselves.”
“At first, we agonised over how we were going to make every bottle identical,” adds Kathy. “But the imperfections are testament to the hours that go into making this. We think it’s a very Brighton thing – we just rolled up our sleeves, got stuck in and made it happen.”
First published in the Brighton & Hove Independent on Friday 17th July 2015
All photos by Emma Gutteridge