FROM MOTHER’S RUIN TO HIPSTER’S HOOTCH
Gin is back and it’s back with style! In the mid 18th century, gin was commonly known as the poor man’s drink and soon became the ruin of many men and women: 10 million gallons of the stuff was distilled annually in London. The government was forced to pass the ‘Gin Act’ and followed by the ‘Sale of Beer Act’ which raised the duty on drink and led to the demise of gin while sparking a rise in the popularity of beer.
Today, there’s a resurgence in passion for this juniper-based spirit. Demand for craft gins, made by small scale and artisan producers saw an increase of over 20% in the total amount of spirit sold. According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), in 2017 over 40m bottles worth almost £1.2bn were served up last year, that’s enough to make 1.12 billion gin and tonics - seems we’re a thirsty lot!
With our reputation as a foodie destination and surrounded on all borders by orchards, vineyards and fruit farms, Ludlow has been quick to jump on the drinks’ bandwagon. We have our own brewery, specialist wine bar and more than 15 pubs in the town alone selling artisan beers, fine wines and craft spirits. The Church Inn boasts over 70 gins at their bar, have their own dedicated gin menu and even offer quirky gin boards (trays of different, gins, mixers and fresh fruit).
A more personal taste
Leading the field in the business of bespoke gin tasting is Taste at No.1. Upstairs a light filled room styled with glass shelves and wooden benches that wouldn’t look out of place in any London hipster joint, serves fresh coffee, herbal teas and tempting patisserie. This is also the retail area with a good variety of local jams, chutneys, gins, tonics and spirits.
But it’s downstairs in the medieval cellar where all the fun happens. Here the gin, spirit and wine aficionado can feast their eyes on a large library of spirits and savour a deeper appreciation of gin. On site staff offer anecdotes and a brief history of the spirit, talk about the distillation process and introduce different flavours, garnishes, botanicals and mixers. Public tasting nights usually take place twice a month (the next one is due on Saturday, 6th October 2018 from 7-9pm) or you can book privately for groups of 8 people or more. Private tastings start from £25 per head but you can ask for tapas and a little bit more at an extra cost. If you happen to pop in without a booking, you can try a mini tasting (subject to staff availability) but don’t expect the full variety or generous portions of the public tastings, this is more a shot-size of up to three different bottles.
Ludlow can now also claim it’s very own artisan gin producer. Last month at Ludlow’s famous Food Festival, Ludlow Dry Gin was launched on to the public market. The company is the passion and brain child of the multi-talented Shaun Ward, Director of Music and Clerk of Works at St Laurence's Church, organ recitalist, continuo player and now proud gin producer under the Wardingtons brand.
So why gin?
We managed to grab a quick chat with Shaun and fired off a few speedy questions about his new venture. The first obvious question, why choose gin? In his own words, “I've always been a gin drinker, I love it, it’s as English as Morris dancing and cricket! I wanted to make a real gin by hand myself.”
We were also keen to find out how confident Shaun was in producing a unique product in a fast growing market and as he explains, “Our gins are unique in a number of ways: I distill the gin as it has been for hundreds of years in England, using only natural botanicals, and no artificial additives, in a single copper pot distillation. The unique recipes were all developed by me, after many, many experiments”.
Although Shaun has worked in Ludlow for the past 12 years, he actually lives in Hereford so we were keen to discover why he chose to keep the business Ludlow-based. He explains, “Ludlow is where I spend all my time; being Director of Music and Clerk of Works at St Laurence's has been a six day a week job over the last decade. I've met lots of great people, I've seen the food scene grow and develop, I spotted a gap and thought I could combine my passion for Gin and my passion for Ludlow”.
What plans for the future?
Shaun has teamed up with neighbouring Church Inn and local Cleobury brewery, Hobsons to launch an exciting, new festival in Ludlow, The Ale Wife’s Beer Fest. Taking place next month on 19th and 20th October 2018, it promises 30 championship and local beers, ciders and perries, all day food, live music, family activities and of course, Wardington’s Original Ludlow Gin Bar.
Shaun revealed the inspiration behind this new event and the unusual origin of its name: “Simple: in medieval times, parish churches had beer festivals to bring communities together and raise funds to repair the church! A number colleagues across the UK have started beer festivals, Grantham had 3-4k people attend last year, Hull is equally successful. As with the Gin, its good to bring something new to the Ludlow food scene”.
As for the name, “The Alewife is depicted in the 15th century misericords in St Laurence's, she's being thrown into hell for shortchanging people of their beer...poor punters, poor alewife!”.
The ginsurgence has well and truly arrived in Ludlow. If you hadn’t considered gin as your tipple of choice, now’s the time to reconsider. And , if you’re not a fan of this versatile spirit, fear not, there are still plenty of drinks to try and plenty of places to try them; from sophisticated palettes to the social drinker, our diverse town has something for everyone*.
For other local Gin Festivals, try:
The Great British Gin Festival - https://www.thebuttermarket.co.uk/event/the-great-british-gin-festival-shrewsbury/
Shropshire Oktoberfest - Beer, Gin and Live Music Festival - http://www.shropshireoktoberfest.co.uk/
To book a gin tasting at Taste at No.1 - call 01584 879410
For more information on Ludlow Dry Gin -