Yorkshire is world-renowned for its scenery, history and architecture, but you might not know that it’s also home to several astonishingly fine craft gin distilleries. As a proud “import” to Yorkshire, I’m delighted to see these fantastic Yorkshire gins succeeding in the industry. Of course, I had to go on a gin distillery tour to investigate!
Growing up, I thought gin was a “fuddy-duddy” drink. It was something my parents and their friends enjoyed, served in a tall glass, doused in tonic and garnished with a slice of lemon (or lime if you were “posh”). If you ordered a G&T at a pub or restaurant, you were lucky if you got a choice of Gordon’s or Beefeater.
Fast forward (let’s not count quite how many years) and gin is the drink of the moment with gin sales booming. There’s been an explosion of craft gin producers making small-batch, highly botanical blends in micro-distilleries.
The good news for gin lovers today is that there are countless gins to choose from in bars, restaurants, and supermarkets, each with their own unique story.
The origins of gin
Gin originated in the 16th century when Dutch chemists started to blend distilled juniper berries with malt or wine for medicinal purposes. They called it “geneva”, meaning juniper.
During the Thirty Years War (1618 to1648) British soldiers discovered gin. They brought it back to England with them, where it rapidly became popular with the masses, the name being shortened from geneva to gin.
The British also introduced gin to the tropics. It was used to hide the bitter taste of the anti-malaria medication “quinine”, which was dissolved in tonic water. That’s how the gin and tonic we know was invented!
The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives than all the doctors in the EmpireSir Winston Churchill
One rather special gin that’s been making waves on the market is Whittaker’s gin. Recently, I joined the gin distillery tour at Whittaker’s Distillery to find out all about this exciting family-run Yorkshire business.
A superb gin distillery tour
When I booked my tour, all I knew about the Harrogate Distillery was that it’s an award-winning gin distillery deep in the heart of England’s Yorkshire Dales. What I didn’t realise was just how rural it would turn out to be or how fantastic the gin was!
Trusting in the gods of Satnav, I set off from Harrogate, heading north for a spot of adventure with a side order of my favourite spirit.
The route to Whittaker’s gin distillery passes through some of the prettiest scenery North Yorkshire has to offer. You’ll see rolling green hills, adorable little villages with ancient stone cottages and churches, plus mile after mile of drystone-walled fields.
Arriving in the tiny village of Dacre Banks, I spotted a sign for Whittaker’s gin and made my way down a long unmade track. With no properties visible, I was sure I’d gone the wrong way! Then, at a fork in the “road”, a new sign spurred me onwards, before Harewell House Farm came into view.
About Harrogate Distillery
Multiple award-winning Harrogate Distillery was founded in 2015 by gin-loving husband and wife team, Toby and Jane Whittaker. From their rural base in outbuildings at Harewell House Farm in Nidderdale, this craft distillery produces Whittaker’s Gin – a range of small-batch, hand-crafted London dry gins. It also makes English Cassis Gin for London’s posh department store Fortnum and Mason.
The Whittaker’s gin distillery tour experience
Thanks to getting stuck behind a couple of slow-moving hay-bale laden tractors on the road to the distillery, I was slightly late joining the tour. That meant I missed the first taste of Whittaker’s gin (the welcome gin and tonic); however, I was driving, so I couldn’t have had one anyway!
Whittaker’s effortlessly charming co-founder, Jane, greeted me on arrival, before ushering me into the first part of the distillery (the old piggery). Jane introduced me to her husband, Toby (master distiller and tour guide), and I joined the other four people taking the tour.
The Whittaker’s gin distillery tour started with some background information about the brand, and about what brought Toby and Jane into gin-making.
Toby then introduced us to the “chemistry” of gin-making (he has a chemistry degree), then he offered us some juniper berries to taste!
“Handcrafted” is a term that’s bandied around a lot in the food and drink industry; however, in the case of Whittaker’s gin, the name is appropriate. I loved learning that the grapefruit used in the “Summer Solstice” gin is hand peeled at the distillery. Even more, I loved that the leftover fruit (and the discarded gin-soaked peel) is “recycled” into delicious marmalade! (Yes, I bought some, and yes, it is delicious!)
We saw the love and labour that goes into each bottle of gin, and hessian sacks bursting with juniper berries and other fresh botanicals.
After learning about the bottling and labelling process, we moved across the yard to the stables, for a surprise!
The Harrogate Distillery is making whisky too!
The horses live in contentment in half of the stables, while the other half has been transformed into a whisky cellar.
Barrel upon barrel of Yorkshire whisky is laid down and slowly maturing in beautifully aged oak barrels. Yes – Toby and Jane have branched out and Whisky is the latest offering to come out of the Harrogate Distillery.
It will be the first whisky to originate from Nidderdale, and its release is still hotly anticipated, but it will be a few more years before the first bottles are ready to taste! Just like Whittaker’s gin, the whisky will all be distilled and bottled locally in Nidderdale.
Learning about the whisky production process was an extra bonus on this gin distillery tour! I learned that whisky barrels are a very sustainable product – Toby sources most of his barrels “used” from sherry producers, and I could see the original sherry-producers’ markings on the end of the barrels.
Visiting the Stills
Next, we moved on to visit the stills, including “Jezebel”, the first copper still used to create Whittaker’s gin.
Just as the rest of the distillery, the still is beautiful to look at. Large and shined to perfection it looks like something from a giant chemistry laboratory! No wonder Tony feels at home here!
During the tour, I learned how long it takes to create Whittaker’s gin, how the distillation process works, and what “heads”, “hearts” and “tails” are! I also learned about the latest product from this entertaining and entrepreneurial couple – vodka!
Once Tony had answered all of our questions, we ambled towards the distillery shop room, for the much-anticipated gin-tasting session.
Gin tasting with Whittaker’s gin
We had the chance to sample eight gins in all, plus one “wild card”. I was sorry that I was driving and unable to take more than a tiny sip of each, but Jane had thought of everything and the homely pine tables included sharing plates with healthy portions of hand-cut chips, breadsticks and very tasty locally-sourced pork pies (very moreish!) to accompany the tasting.
Jane talked us through each gin as we sampled it, helping us to understand and identify the individual botanicals. The pace was very leisurely, with plenty of conversation and laughter as we worked our way through the gins.
Whittaker’s gin flavours
Without giving away any trade secrets, Whittaker’s gin includes carefully chosen botanicals – juniper, plus coriander seed and angelica root, with additional botanicals dependant on the specific gin and pure, soft Nidderdale spring water.
- Whittaker’s Original (42% ABV): mixed with locally-sourced Bilberries (also known as whortleberries), sweet Hawthorne berries plus spicy, peaty Bog Myrtle from the Yorkshire moors.
- Summer Solstice (42%): Pink and White Grapefruit, plus Pomegranate.
- Winter Solstice (42%): Dried Bitter Orange, Sultanas, Raisins, Currants, Star Anise with a hint of Cloves and Cinnamon.
- Pink Particular (42% ABV): Dried Pink Hibiscus Flowers, Pink Peppercorns, Cardamon and a hint of fresh lemon.
- Navy Strength (57% ABV): The same botanicals as the Whittaker’s Original, but it’s so much smoother and far stronger!
- Clearly Sloe (42% ABV): This one is a bit different, as it’s not a strong Juniper led gin. There’s a clear taste of liquorice, and it’s a bit like grappa – I LOVE IT!
- Very Sloe (26% ABV): A closely guarded secret mix of Whittaker’s gins, macerated with sloes for at least six months. This is now the tipple I have in my hip flask for chilly dog walks. No one else is allowed any.
And that wildcard? It was a taste of Whittaker’s new Barley Mow Vodka!
The best way to enjoy Whittaker’s gin
As part of the tasting, Jane also gave her recommendation of how to serve and enjoy Whittaker’s Gin.
We were advised to try each with a plain tonic, in order not to take away the subtle flavours of the Gin. Oh, and not to drown the gin with too much tonic either!
The Whittaker’s gin label
I love the label design. It features a hare, from an original miniature woodcut by 18th-century wood artist Thomas Bewick. This images ties in beautifully with Harewell Farm, where the distillery is located. The label reads
Handcrafted with great skill and care in the heart of North Yorkshire, using our own fresh Harewell House natural spring water, to create an artisan spirit for your ultimate appreciation.
Each of the different Whittaker’s gins features a different coloured hare, to help identify the individual gin, and create a consistent brand image.
Whittaker’s distillery shop
After the tour and gin-tasting, the distillery shop is a charming place to browse. The shop is modest, but beautifully appointed; however, there are plenty of items on offer to remember your visit to Whittaker’s Gin distillery!
Whittaker’s gin distillery tour FAQs
How to get to the distillery?
The best option is to drive, as public transport to Dacre Banks village is limited, and it’s a long walk from the village to the distillery!
The address is Harewell House Farm, Harrogate HG3 4HQ, however, the distillery is in the small village of Dacre Banks.
From Harrogate (12.5 miles/30 minutes):
- Take the Skipton Rd/A59 to the B6451
- Continue on the B6451, through the village of Dacre, then onwards to Dacre Banks
- Drive through the village, past the village stores, then turn left into Cabin Lane and follow the signs for Whittaker’s Gin.
What does the tour cost?
The tour is £20 per person and must be booked online in advance. It’s excellent value, as it includes the tour, two G&Ts, all the taster shots and nibbles, plus £5 per person discount off any gin you buy during your visit! Here’s where to book.
How long does Whittaker’s gin distillery tour last?
The tour of the distillery itself takes roughly 40 minutes (depending on how many questions the group has). Allow at least the same time again for the very leisurely and social gin-tasting.
How many people are there on each tour?
Distillery tours are limited to 20 people; however, there were only five people on my tour, due to COVID social distancing requirements. It’s also possible to book private group tours, which would be wonderful for a special birthday treat or a girl’s day out!
Where can I buy Whittaker’s gin?
- You can order direct from the online distillery shop here, and your order will be delivered to you within 3-5 working days.
- You can also visit the distillery, place your order in person and take your gin home with you immediately.
- Limited supplies (not the full range) are also available here.
What are the opening hours?
- The Distillery Shop is open Wednesday to Saturday from 12 pm to 4 pm and closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
- Gin distillery tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays at 11.30 am and 1.30 pm.
Would I recommend the Whittaker’s gin distillery tour?
Overall I really enjoyed my trip into the world of Whittaker’s London Gin. Toby and Jane’s passion for their craft business really shines through to make this a memorable experience.
The distillery tour was interesting, and the gin tasting itself was great value when you consider everything that was included. If you fancy trying a gin distillery tour for a very reasonable price, then Whittaker’s Gin Distillery London does the trick!
In the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back”!
Pin for later – A Sensational Gin Distillery Tour You Shouldn’t Miss!
Have you ever been on a gin distillery tour? What did you love about it? Has it got you into drinking gin? As always I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below x