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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”