This time last year I shared news of a new gin, Spitfire Heritage Gin in an exclusive “look out for this” kind of way just before it went on sale in Wine Rack. I mention it again because two things have happened.
Number 1 Thing: Spitfire’s distillers have now brought out a new vodka – Supermarine Vodka (RRP £45, www.spitfireheritagedistillers.com) which is named after the company that created the Spitfire. The vodka – which is the base of the gin before the botanicals are added – is getting rave reviews.
My exclusive tasting revealed a vodka which is soft, lusciously creamy, rich, balanced and laced with vanilla. I sipped on its own with chunks of ice. You don’t need anything else.
Supermarine Vodka on ice
Number 2 Thing: Spitfire Heritage Gin(also RRP £45 from Wine Rack shops – and now in-store and online at Harrods) supports the Spitfire Heritage Trust and I was invited to a cross-country Armed Forces Day toast on June 24 as tribute to our servicemen and women.
The historic Sky Toast began at the 34th floor of a restaurant in Liverpool, the Panoramic, when Susan Morgan MBE, the Royal Navy’s longest-serving female sailor, raised a glass with guests. It was a special day for Liverpool, with the city hosting The National Event.
The toast then rolled down to Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse and Bar in Birmingham where Bridget Donaldson, who has won the RAF Cadets’ most prestigious award, the Dacre Brooch, picked up the celebratory baton.
Finally, at the Coca Cola London Eye, Ian Hewitt, Spitfire Heritage Gin co-owner and founder, introduced Dame Mary Richardson. Dame Mary is patron of The Spitfire Heritage Trust and she raised the toast as a London Eye capsule soared upwards.
Across the country people raised a glass and in Liverpool we were lucky enough to enjoy a gin cocktail (or two). The Panoramic had created a special cocktail to mark the occasion – The Rhubarb Patrol. This is so named for the strafing sorties carried out by Spitfires over France in the war.
Spitfire Heritage Gin cocktail tribute on Armed Forces Day
The Rhubarb Patrol high above Liverpool’s famous waterfront
Very nice it was too; a special creation using rhubarb puree, rhubarb bitters, egg white, Grenadine, sours, sugar and Spitfire Hertage Gin. It was amazing to sip this cocktail and look out at the wonderful city of Liverpool and the World Heritage Three Graces beneath us. The gin itself uses botanicals as a tribute to wartime pilots; borage (for courage), rosemary (for remembrance), English rose petals (for the flowers of Britain who flew so bravely) and blood orange.
Over at Marco Pierre White’s another special cocktail had been created – The Spitfire Clover Club – using 25ml Spitfire Heritage Gin, 15ml lemon juice, 15ml raspberry syrup and an egg white.
It was a spirit-raising day in more ways than one.
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.
Sarah and Ian with Denise France
A dream comes true
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.”