Over the course of the past few years, spirits – predominantly gin – have seen a massive upsurge in the number of artisan distillers bringing products to a reinvigorated market.

With innovative ideas, enthusiasm and vigour, new distillers are taking on the big boys at their own game. And consumers are keen to experience hand-crafted spirits made via small-batch processes, with a strong nod to heritage and a huge focus on flavour and drinkability.

Already producing some of the world’s best-loved gin, Devon is already established as a distilling heartland. A legacy some new distillers are very keen to take to the next level.

Dappa

Inspired by the buoyancy of the British gin industry, and with a family connection to the vineyard at Sharpham, Cosmo Caddy from Devon Distillery spotted a gap in the market for a unique British take on grappa. “Dappa is the UK’s first and only version of Italian grappa,” he says. “It’s a spirit normally enjoyed as a digestif with espresso coffee or dark chocolate. To the uninitiated I would say that it’s somewhere between a brandy and a vodka. It has the grape notes of a brandy… and is clean-tasting like vodka.”

Dappa is a produced using the skins left over from the production of red wine and is carrying on the Italian tradition of frugally making use of a by-product. The distillation process separates the harsh ‘heads’ (the first elements that come through the still) from the ‘heart’. It is the heart that rests for a year before being blended with local spring water, cold filtered and bottled.

A perfect Christmas drink, Dappa can be bought at the Sharpham Vineyard shop, the Shops at Dartington or Darts Farm, and can be enjoyed at The Seahorse in Dartmouth.

Wicked Wolf

Distilled and blended on the banks of the River Lyn, Wicked Wolf is a premium craft gin from Exmoor and the brainchild of husband-and-wife gin enthusiasts Pat Patel and Julie Heap. A true artisan process, Wicked Wolf is distilled in 25-litre batches and blended, filtered, bottled and labelled by hand.

Combining 11 exotic aromatics, including coriander, hibiscus and kaffir lime as well as juniper, this is a contemporary gin with distinctly Asian inspiration. Pat and Julie’s aim is to deliver a smooth, consistent drink, which they do by distilling each of their botanicals separately in a copper alembic still.

“Our gin makes a wonderful martini,” says Pat, “but if cocktails are not your thing, we recommend Fever Tree tonic. For a shorter drink, just add ice and lime, and for a spicier winter’s drink try Wicked Wolf Gin with a good fiery ginger beer to complement the Asian-inspired botanicals beautifully.”

Wicked Wolf is widely available at pubs and restaurants across Devon and at selected branches of Majestic.

Plymouth Gin

Undoubtedly the big daddy of Devon distillers, and with a history closely linked to that of the city itself, Plymouth Gin is one of the UK’s oldest and best-known gin brands. It’s distilled in the same building it always has been, to the original recipe from 1793, using soft Dartmoor water, pure grain alcohol and a Victorian copper still.

Since the 1920s, Plymouth Gin has been acknowledged as the perfect gin for cocktails. Its balance of botanicals – juniper, lemon peel, orange peel, orris root, angelica root, cardamom pods and coriander seeds – combines fruity and spicy notes with a smooth, full-bodied taste.

“We see the rise in the popularity of gins over the past couple of years as a positive thing,” says Master Distiller Sean Harrison. “New product launches generate excitement for gin lovers all over the world, which only means consumers gain a deeper understanding of the world of gin.”

Salcombe Gin

“Exceptionally smooth, balanced and very moreish” is how Howard Davies, Founder and Director of Salcombe Gin, describes their product. Part of this smoothness is credited to the soft Dartmoor water that’s used in Salcombe’s distillation and blending process, with a complex concoction of 13 botanicals giving it a distinctive flavour. 

Salcombe Gin is soon opening a tasting bar overlooking the sea, as well as a gin school, where enthusiasts can blend botanicals and distil their own bottle.

Salcombe Gin is available at retailers and bars across Devon, including Bowers Wine and Spirits, regional Majestic stores, Salcombe Harbour Hotel and The Pig at Combe.

Yarde Devon Cider Brandy

The cider brandy from Yarde starts off as award-winning cider made with up to 15 varieties of local apples. Sulphite-free, unpasteurised and unfiltered, the cider ferments for at least six months until fully crisp and dry, making the perfect raw material for a unique brandy. Distillation takes place at The Somerset Cider Brandy Company in authentic Calvados stills, after which the brandy returns to Devon to age for five to ten years in oak barrels.

“We don’t try and compete with the big spirit producers,” says Rebecca Jack from Yarde. “We believe our appeal is to customers who are looking for a quality artisan product that isn’t mass produced and is not available on the high street.”

Yarde Devon Cider Brandy is stocked by Totnes Wines and Dartmouth Wine Company and is served at The Waterside Bistro in Totnes and The River Shack in Stoke Gabriel.

Black Dog Gin

With a long list of award-winning beers under his belt, John Lawton from Teignworthy Brewery is now developing his first gin at Dartmoor Distillery, based at the Brewery.

John designed his own still earlier this year, and Black Dog Gin is his latest alcoholic adventure. Using 22 botanicals – a mixture of those of standard gin and those hand-picked from Dartmoor – plus the addition of Dartmoor spring water, John describes the flavour as “grassy and herbal. This is a new-style gin – it’s a craft drink produced in small batches from our 250-litre pot.”

This brand new gin is ready to buy now – be among the first to try it! It is being sold at the Brewery’s new micro-pub, and will soon be available in selected pubs locally.

“With innovative ideas, enthusiasm and vigour, new distillers are taking on the big boys at their own game”

Christmas Cocktails, Devon Style

The Pennant

  • 3.5 parts Plymouth Gin Original
  • 1.5 parts Plymouth Sloe Gin
  • 1.5 parts Sweet Vermouth
  • 0.5 parts Apricot Liqueur
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 1 part orange juice
  • 0.5 caster sugar
  • 7.5 parts soda water

Method 

  1. Gently combine all the ingredients in a tall glass, carefully topping up with ice and garnishing with a large mint sprig, a thin lemon wedge and a large orange twist.

Citrus Twist

  • 15ml clementine juice
  • 10ml lemon juice
  • 10ml Cointreau
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp sweet mincemeat 
  • 50ml of Dappa Devon Spirit

Method

  1. Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake hard.
  2. Strain, then return to the shaker and shake for a second time to break down the proteins in the egg white.
  3. Fine-strain into a chilled flute and garnish with thinly cut orange rind.

Salcombe Toddy

  • 1 tsp local honey
  • A double measure of Salcombe Gin Start Point
  • 3 dried cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • A half measure of lemon juice

Method 

  1. Place the honey in a warm glass, add the rest of the ingredients, then top up with boiling water.
  2. Stir until the honey has dissolved, for a light and aromatic take on a traditional toddy.
Clare Hunt

Published 21 October 2016

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