Spitfire Heritage Gin takes spirit of icon to soar to new heights

Spitfire Heritage Gin

There’s a new gin on the block, Spitfire Heritage Gin. Yeh, right, you say. There’s new gins created every day.  A butterfly flutters its wings somewhere in the world and lo! there’s a new gin.

There’s certainly wings involved in this new single estate botanical gin as it is inspired by the wartime terrier of the skies … the Spitfire.

Judging by first impressions it could soar to dizzy heights.   

Spitfire Heritage Gin is the brainchild of Lancastrian Ian Hewitt, a designer by trade and inspirational by nature.  Just four months ago, Christmas 2015, he and his wife Sarah began to tease out an idea of creating a new gin with the spirit of the Spitfire at its heart.

You might think they had their heads in the clouds, but a few weeks later a master distiller has created the gin; wartime-retro branding has been designed and printed; and best of all, Spitfire Heritage Gin has won a UK and international distributor and is to be sold by Wine Rack (RRP £45).

Wine Rack’s Head of Retail Operations, Haydn Hicks says of the gin: “A fantastic product and a great story that sells itself within the British psyche. An iconic brand that I believe will set new precedents in the industry.”

Pretty amazing.   And it all began with a book.

Ian, from Mawdesley, wrote a story for his own children,  the Ghost of Cameron Crowe, about a granddad who has a Spitfire hidden in his shed.

The Ghost of Cameron Crow -Spitfire Heritage Gin
The Ghost of Cameron Crow

When Ian decided to publish he checked technical details with Spitfire expert David Spencer Evans. That began a connection which saw them launch the Spitfire Heritage Trust and years later, with the Spitfire at its heart, it is helping communities and young people both in the UK and in Africa.  

Through his work with the trust Ian has realised that the Spitfire is an icon which both resonates and motivates people across the world and all generations.

He told me: “A Spitfire is a very special thing. It hasn’t been tainted like the Union Jack, the flag of St George or the British Bulldog.

“People talk about 1966 and they go ooohhh aaahh, that was amazing when England won the Cup. But when the Spitfire won the  Battle of Britain, they didn’t win a cup. They won this nation’s right to continue under its own identity. That’s a bit more than a cup. And that’s why people still go glassy-eyed.”

The Spitfire is a very powerful brand and Ian asked himself what was the “quintessential English product” he could pin that to. His instinct was gin.

Spitfire Heritage Gin Ian Hewitt
Ian Hewitt

So began his journey to create Spitfire Heritage Gin but Ian wanted to do the Spitfire justice.

Says Ian:  “You can’t pay tribute to the Spitfire with a mediocre gin. That wouldn’t feel right. It would have a limited lifespan and would just be an all-right gin with a cool label. I didn’t want that. I wanted a top gin with a cool label.

“The Spitfire allows you to punch higher than your weight.  I started looking around to see who was making the best gin and was introduced to John Walters.”

John is an award-winning single estate distiller.  He was a geneticist and developed a wheat suited to the distilling industry.  He now grows wheat, harvests it, and distills it in Cambridgeshire.

Ian shared his vision with John.  He wanted a gin which harnessed the spirit of the 30s, a retro gin which would also represent the heritage of the Spitfire.

Distiller John embraced that vision and on February 29, Leap Year’s Day,  Ian and Sarah took their own leap into the future by tasting the new gin expression created by John. Botanicals include juniper, two types of orange, almonds and borage alongside coriander, rosemary, star anise and rose petals.

They loved it. Their dream was finally taking off.

The next step in the Spitfire Heritage Gin journey was the labelling and marketing. They brought in another partner Denise France, and the Hewitts turned to French artist Romain Hugault whose passion is aviation illustration.  

Says Ian: “I commissioned him to come up with a character and Bunny was created. She’s an Air Transport Auxiliary girl – the  ATA girls delivered newly-built unarmed Spitfires by flying them to the wartime airbases, knowing that Messerschmitts were out there hunting Spitfires. They were amazing women.”

Spitfire Heritage Gin
Spitfire Heritage Gin

Bunny is Spitfire Heritage Gin’s launch label and over time Romaine will create more labels, and  in themselves they could become collectable.

Now then, down to business, what of the Spitfire Heritage Gin?

I sipped it with Ian, Sarah and Denise; and Ian was taking no prisoners. He asked us to start by tasting it neat.

He explained why. “I want to encourage people to start drinking gin with the reverence you assign to a whisky. This is delicious – there’s not many gins on the market that can stand to be drunk as pure as this.”

Ian is right. The gin is soft on the nose, an enticing citrus bomb within a liquorice cloud. Orange takes centre stage; my senses were pulled from memories of  Southern Comfort to Cointreau; to the orange tease you find inside some Christmas puddings. Natural borage oil helps to distribute the botanicals through the gin, so there isn’t a soapy, chemical “linger” on the nose which you can get from some gins.

Spitfire Heritage Gin
A twizzle of rosemary in Spitfire Heritage Gin

There’s a seek-me-out underlying citrus vibe in the mouth and when you stir the gin with a twig of rosemary, the herb notes tickle to life and rise in the glass, as if you’ve just brushed against them in a herb garden. The texture on the tastebuds is soft, velvety, with a  creamy nut-feel.

Sarah Hewitt is very happy. She says simply: “I love gin, it’s the best gin I’ve ever tasted. This has been such a short quick journey but  I feel proud. Very, very proud and delighted.”

Follow updates from Spitfire Heritage Gin via its Facebook page here or on www.spitfireheritagegin.com
Learn more about the Spitfire Heritage Trust and the work it is doing to support communities in Lesotho and the UK here.  

It’s World Gin Day … hurry up and grab the ice!

Today, my dear friends is World Gin Day. A day to celebrate the lovely spirit which eases us at the end of the 9-5; which is delightful with ice on a summer’s eve; and is a relaxing sip with pals. Yes, it has its own day.

I spoke to the enigmatic Gin Monkey (I’m not revealing identities) who now organises World Gin Day. The concept of the day is simple, says Gin Monkey.

It is to get people drinking gin and “celebrate the spirit in all its juniper-filled-glory”.

World Gin Day
World Gin Day

OK, Gin Monkey, explain the history of G&T and why we Brits love it so much.

“The history goes back to India and the army of the British East India Company.

“Malaria was rife, and quinine powder made from the bark of a native tree was known to prevent the disease.

“The problem was that the powder had a very bitter flavour and was therefore often mixed with sugar and carbonated water to make it more palatable, effectively creating tonic water.

“Given the army received a gin ration, it was only a matter of time before the spirit was incorporated.

“When the army returned to Britain, they brought a taste for this drink with them and the rest, as they say, is history.”

So, I asked, it’s about botanicals. Is that right?

World Gin Day , Gin Monkey
Gin Monkey

“Absolutely, the botanicals are what make gin different from other spirits, and particularly the juniper berry. Without juniper your spirit is merely a flavoured vodka.”

Gin and tonic is the popular way to enjoy gin, but Gin Monkey says a great alternative is a Tom Collins, a mix of lemon juice, sugar syrup, gin and soda water.

Says Gin Monkey: “It’s long and refreshing like a G&T. I often recommend it for people who don’t like tonic water.

“There are hundreds of classic cocktails that feature gin. In the cocktail ‘golden age’ of the 1930s vodka was pretty much unheard of in the western world.

“When it came to white spirits, everybody drank gin.

“Consequently there are countless gin cocktails in classic cocktail books. My favourites are citrus-led such as the White Lady, Aviation or Last Word.”

Thanks Gin Monkey.

To mark World Gin Day I tried three new gins (well, new to me) simply with ice and Fever-Tree Tonic (£1.69, Tesco).

World Gin Day Warner Edwards’ Victoria’s Rhubarb Gin
Warner Edwards’ Victoria’s Rhubarb Gin

Warner Edwards’ Victoria’s Rhubarb Gin (various retailers or £38 online www.warneredwards.com) – I can’t tell you how much I love this. Don’t for one minute think this is a sweet rhubarb crumble confection. With a topple of tonic it has divine aromas (a little sarsparilla) from its dusky pink depths. It uses rhubarb originally grown in Queen Victoria’s garden.

World Gin Day Portobello Road Gin
Portobello Road Gin

Portobello Road Gin (RRP £25 Waitrose, Tesco) – It was founded in 2011 and has won a gold medal at the 2014 San Francisco Spirit Awards. It has nine botanicals, including juniper, coriander seed and orange peel; spicy ones too – liquorice, nutmeg and cassia bark. You won’t be disappointed. We loved this fresh, silky gin in our house. We’ve stocked up with a second bottle.

World Gin Day Edgerton Pink Gin
Edgerton Pink Gin

Edgerton Pink Gin (£24.70 www.31dover.com) – This owes its lush pink colour to pomegranate, and incudes 15 botanicals.

These range from damiana (the honeymoon herb of Mexico, apparently) and more familiar ones such as angelica root and lemon peel. Initially I found this too bitter for my taste; but I explored their website and found a recipe for Tokyo Pink which includes Rose’s lime juice. I tippled a tiny amount into my pink gin. And lo! This was very moreish indeed.

Happy World Gin Day.

Check out www.worldginday.com for more details and events. You’ll find Gin Monkey at www.ginmonkey.co.uk

Published in the saturday extra magazine June 13, 2015

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Gin Monkey had  so much to tell me …. you can read more here