I came away pretty inspired by everything I tried and everyone I talked to and thought I'd do a few posts of some of our favourites. And with Christmas just around the corner, you may just find a few ideas for presents...
First up are the vodkas and gins. Four British spirits with some serious punch.
We first caught sight of Black Cow when they were mysteriously crumbling cheese around their little cups of samples. Never ones to shy away from unusual combinations, we just had to check them out. Black Cow make the world's only vodka made from milk from grass grazed cows in the West Dorset coast. This means it's unbelievably smooth and creamy without any of the harshness that comes from vodka distilled with water passed through minerals. Whey is fermented into a beer then transformed by yeast into alcohol before being distilled, triple filtered and finished. And the curds? Used to make their tasty, crumbly cheddar that are ideal stocking fillers. The vodka is fab in cocktails because there's none of that back-of-the-throat-bite (check out some perfect recipes here) and you can find where to buy the perfect pair here.
Despite having a name quite similar to another vodka (ahem), 55 Above is a completely different kettle of potatoes. Established in 2014, they make the vodka by hand from British potatoes and distil them in the smallest commercial copper pot stills in the world, producing a few hundred bottles at a time. They were showcasing their range of vodkas - three flavoured and two pure - and invited us to try a couple. C and R were drawn to the pineapple and the toffee respectively while I tried the coconut which was light rather than too sweet and I imagine an interesting alternative in a pina colada. But what intrigued me (surprise surprise) was the 56% vodka, diluted with less water for a stronger, more intense flavour. As well as the large bottles, they also sell smaller mix & match kits of three so you can try and find your favourite.
Half Hitch Gin
Forget what you think you know about gin, the guys at Half Hitch are rewriting the rule book. Bringing history back to life on the former Camden site of London's traditional distilleries, they take a different approach with their flavours. Think less juniper, more bergamot. And black tea, English wood, pepper and hay. Resulting in a slightly smokey, slightly spicy gin that is a world away from some of the headblowers on the market both in taste and dusky appearance. Each year they reblend their tea to add depth to their distilling and beautiful with Fevertree tonic. They've put together a few suggested cocktails here which are begging to be tried out and invite you to post photos of your concoctions over at #TheGWithTea. If you're looking for a gin with a difference, these guys should be top of your list.
City of London Gins
You'd be forgiven these guys have been around for a while. From their coat of arms to their traditional glass bottles modelled on St Paul's, you wouldn't suspect that they've only been distilling since 2012. There are five gins to choose from (helpfully numbered and named), each with different combinations and balances of botanicals. Their No.2 Christopher Wren gin has been designed by Tom Nichol, the former distiller at Tanqueray, and boasts juniper, coriander and angelica root for a slightly sweeter, complex taste. But the City of London Distillery know that finding the perfect gin can be like finding a needle in a haystack so for your fussiest family members and friends, they offer you the chance to design, distil, bottle and label your own gin. And prop yourself up at the onsite bar for a sample or two.
Next up: the best whiskies.