Once described as the scourge of 18th century society, the gin train in Liverpool shows no sign of stopping.
Gin is filling pretty much everything except the taps in Liverpool at the moment but the big question is why? Gin isn’t anything new, the juniper-based tipple has evolved over the course of a millennium. It is the quintessentially British drink that was once forgotten. Liverpool is a city well known for its spirit but the only difference this time is it doesn’t half go well with tonic. The world has gone gin mad as the spirit makes a ‘resurgince’ (took us half a day to come up with that). We sit down Steve from Tappers Gin, West Kirby’s new bath tub gin.
Hello! Tell us about yourself?
Well my name is Steve and I’m 34 years old – I’m from West Kirby in the Wirral, and as much as I’ve tried to escape several times, I find myself coming back to be near the seaside. Can’t live without the sea air! By day I masquerade in IT at the University of Liverpool, looking after the publicity and marketing side of things for the IT department. By night, I make my own ‘bathtub’ gin (no bathtubs in sight though, promise). It’s taking off really quickly and doing well so far, so who knows where things may lead.
How did you get into gin making?
I’ve been into gin for several years now, and it all started when I realised there was so much more to it than the usual big name brands. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of gins out there and definitely one for every type of taste. I found the whole thing fascinating and started learning more and more about what goes on in terms of how gin is produced, the history behind it, and about the botanicals that obviously make it what it is. That was probably the hardest part: it’s not just learning about the different flavours of each botanical but also how they interact with each other, how they come together to create flavour, and how some of them depend on each other. It’s possible to make a good quality gin without distilling it so I decided to dabble with cold compounding – basically infusing botanicals for different lengths of time in a base alcohol. All gin is basically flavoured neutral spirit. Cold compounded gin is also known as ‘bathtub’ gin from when bootleggers in Prohibition times used to make gin in their bathtubs to avoid the taxman. I promise there’s no bathtubs in sight with mine! I’m using stainless steel and glass cylinders to infuse everything and it’s all done by hand from start to finish: I make the gin, bottle it by hand, and then wax seal and label each bottle individually. It’s not like distilled gins where they’re making hundreds of bottles in one go off what is basically a factory production line. It took a year to come up with a recipe for what became Darkside gin, which is a cheeky nod to the local rivalry we have between Wirral and Liverpool with people crossing the River Mersey to the ‘dark side’ (I couldn’t possibly comment on which side is really the dark side…I work on one and live on the other!). It’s a recipe inspired by the local area so I’m using botanicals that can be found growing around the coastline here, including sea beet. Darkside is the first recipe I’ve released under the brand Tappers Gin. Tappers is my nickname, so it fit really well with the idea of making gin in an old fashioned way, with a vintage, apothecary-style look and feel to it all.
What makes the perfect gin and tonic?
That’s a really difficult question! Crafty! So for me, a perfect G&T depends on the day and my mood as to what gin I want – for Summer you can’t go wrong with a nice crisp citrus G&T – but in terms of serving it, it has to be with recommended garnish and I’m very fussy about having my tonic poured for me. I much prefer to be given the tonic separately so I can decide how much to use. I like to try new gins neat for the first time, to see what they’re all about. And then I can tell how much tonic I need to add to bring it all to life. I’m no tonic snob but you can’t go wrong with FeverTree, that’s all I’ll say on the subject! People add all sorts of crazy garnishes: I’ve seen a carrot and stick of celery mixed in with strawberries, a wedge of orange, basil leaves and juniper berries. I couldn’t find my gin in there at all…! Garnishes should be simple and should compliment the gin. I recommend a wedge of orange and a sprig of thyme for Darkside gin: the orange helps add some juicy sweetness (because it’s quite an earthy, deep flavoured gin) and the thyme goes really well with some of the botanicals which include chickweed, sea beet, and red clover leaves and flowers. I know the fad is for those huge balloon glasses which come from Spain originally: I do think they look the part and they do help to lift all the flavours out but I’m not precious over using those versus a traditional high ball glass. Never too much ice, though…
What are your plans for the future?
The main priority is to increase the production of Darkside to meet demand! It’s very small batch at the moment: I make around 20 bottles per week so it’s quite hard to come by. I’d like to see it in independent venues across Liverpool and Wirral since I’m a big fan of supporting local business. I’m also hoping to retail online very soon and there are some local stockists who are interested in retailing it, too. As if that wasn’t enough work for myself, I’m also planning on releasing another gin by October/November, so watch this space.
Good luck Steve. Keep up with his progress here and look out for it around Merseyside.