It can't have escaped your notice that gin's been on quite a journey for a number of years now! The modern resurgence of gin has become an incredible success story and today, there are over 440 distilleries in the UK. Total gin sales at home and abroad now total £3.2 billion and sales of gin in UK shops have passed £1 billion for the very first time!
Growth in gin sales had actually been slowing in retail pre-lockdown and pub closures had meant that total gin sales in the UK dropped. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased online sales with more people drinking at home.
One of the most successful new producers is Oxfordshire's Sky Wave Gin, launched in October 2018 by husband and wife team Andy Parsons and Rachel Hicks. Two years later, they'd won 11 medals in seven international competitions. These include World's Best Contemporary Gin at the World Gin Awards 2020 and a Gold Medal at the Women's Wine and Spirits Awards 2020 for their Signature London Dry. Among their other accolades are two prestigious Masters Medals at The Gin Masters 2020 for both the Navy Strength and Signature London Dry.
The Sky Wave name reflects a term used in radio communication, as well as the mountain, sky, desert and sea adventures Rachel and Andy experienced as a BBC radio reporter and Royal Signals officer, respectively.
From the big skies and big waves of faraway places to the rolling countryside of Oxfordshire, they have incorporated echoes of their lives into the gins they produce. While some of the botanicals reflect the exotic places the couple have travelled to, local provenance remains an important characteristic within their range of gins. This includes using blackberries foraged from their village hedgerows, locally grown raspberries, lemon verbena and natural mineral water from nearby Blenheim Palace.
The distillery is based in a Grade 2 Listed workshop at Bicester Heritage, the UK's Home of Historic Motoring. It's a fitting setting for a craft enterprise imbued with a sense of adventure.
The gin-loving duo have written a detailed guide to entering the world of gin production for novices and experienced producers. Craft Gin Making (RRP £14.99), published by The Crowood Press, gives a fabulous insight into the world of distillation. There's plenty of useful advice on the processes used within gin production. These cover descriptions of ingredients, equipment and the different methods of making gin, including flavoured gins.
There's plenty of other information and practical guidance, from filtration, bottling, sealing and labelling to the legal aspects of gin production. With a refreshingly open and helpful attitude, Rachel and Andy even detail what to do if things go wrong! There's also a fascinating section on the history of gin making, plus thoughts on the future of the industry.
Sky Wave's Signature London Dry Gin is made in small batches on a 200L copper pot still by either Rachel or Andy, using the traditional 'one shot' method of distillation. Each bottle indicates who was that day's distiller. They add 13 different botanicals, including juniper, orris root, grapefruit, orange, cardamom and coriander. Once the botanicals have been distilled, the resulting spirit is diluted with Blenheim Palace mineral water down to 42% ABV, before being bottled.
On the nose, aromatic notes of lemon zest and juniper spring out of the glass immediately with a touch of coriander in the background. The palate similarly brings juniper and citrus to the fore. This leads on to a mouth-filling lemon cream character with a touch of mild sweet liquorice from the orris root plus gentle white pepper spice and a fresh green herbal edge. When mixed with a neutral Indian Tonic Water, the smooth and rounded, creamy profile, vibrant, zesty citrus notes and refreshing quinine bitterness combine perfectly in the glass!
The company recommends using a neutral and not overly sweet tonic to complement the gin's subtle flavours. In January 2020, Sky Wave Gin entered into an exclusive partnership with Merchant's Heart. So for a great serve, mix one part Sky Wave Gin with two parts Merchant's Heart Tonic Water and garnish with a slice of ruby grapefruit and juniper berries.
You can buy Sky Wave Gin from their website shop and, for every bottle sold, a donation is made to support WaterAid through Work for Good. Other retailers include Master of Malt and many independent stockists across the country. RRP for the Signature London Dry Gin is £35 for a 500ml bottle, £20 for 200ml and £6 for 50ml.
This is not just a gin. It's a beautifully distilled symphony of grace and flavour that ticks all the right boxes. Having deservedly won several prestigious awards already, I have no doubt that Sky Wave Gin will win many more!