The history of The York Gin Company - or why York Gin?
Romans and Vikings, ancient walls, an extraordinary gothic Minster, The Shambles, Richard III, Guy Fawkes and Dick Turpin, railways, chocolate and horse racing.
And now this most ancient of cities has its very own gin.
Five local friends hatched a plan for York Gin in that most appropriate of places, and home of so many great ideas, the pub.
Landlord of The Swan Paul Crossman and Jon Farrow, his close friend and business partner at The Slip, teamed up with longstanding friends Pete McNichol (the previous Swan landlord) and Harry Cooke (a local friend with a passion for fine food and drink).
Says Harry: ‘We’d go on and on about how we needed a gin - how Durham, Newcastle Leeds and Liverpool were all getting their own gins.’
Meanwhile, unbeknown to this team, local neighbour, marketer and gin lover Emma Godivala was also keen to give the city its own spirit.
Emma said: ‘I tried to register York Gin at Companies House - and they said someone had already applied for the name. I did a bit of digging and found Paul’s name. I laughed - it was The Swan's Paul! We knew each other as local residents and fellow parents at the local school, and I’ve been enjoying his lovely pubs for the last 15 years!'
All five got together in February 2016 and formed the York Gin Company - an entirely self-funded start-up.
The project quickly gathered momentum, and was all set to launch in summer 2017. We found some great premises for our distillery in Acaster Malbis within the boundaries of the City, and the first equipment was on order, when tragedy struck with the sudden death of Jon. Inevitably this stalled proceedings as everyone came to terms with this profound loss, but now we've picked up the pieces and are now more dedicated than ever.
Paul says: ‘Jon would definitely have urged us to keep going with the plan. He loved the whole idea of York Gin, and was absolutely dedicated to making it happen.’
Pete adds: 'We were unanimous that Jon’s share in the company should remain completely intact as a tangible long-term legacy for his family. He was at the very heart of the project, and we all agreed that’s where he should stay.'
York Gin launched on 1 March 2018 - and the rest, as with much of the city, is history.
For the story since then, see York Gin in the news
About the York Gin label: Cats and Castles and 18th Century Fonts
York Gin celebrates the city’s long history and association with cats on its label - with a hand-drawn picture of the walls and a black cat. The iconic font is a revival of 17th Century ‘Fell Fonts’ - widely used in print at the time of the 18th Century Gin Craze. There's a nod to York’s medieval past in the label, yet a bottle of York Gin also feels perfectly contemporary with its strong square, weighty design.
Emma, a designer, user researcher and marketer by trade, said: ‘While we were doing our research, we found that drinkers associated York with our wonderful history and the cat trail. And none of them could quite believe York didn’t already have its own gin. Well not officially at least! I suspect in reality that plenty of people have made their own gin here over the years - especially in the 18th century during the Gin Craze. Now we’re doing it legally – with a gin tailored to the 21st Century expectations, but with a definite nod to the drinkers of the past.’
The cat has been associated with gin for centuries.
After the 1736 Gin Act – one of many government attempts to cut down drinking during the ‘Gin Craze’ - the first Puss and Mew gin shop opened. This had its very own cat-shaped vending machine attached.
According to one story, the thirsty customer put a coin into the cat’s mouth and received a mouthful of gin out of the tail – funnelled through a lead pipe. According to another story, the customer would whisper to the cat: ‘Puss, give me two pennyworth of gin’ and the ‘cat’ would ‘Mew’ if there was any illicit gin to sell. We don’t recommend this method of buying, selling and drinking York Gin.
There are lots of stories about how Old Tom gin got its name including one rather tragic tale of a cat drowning in a vat of the illegally-sold gin. Old Tom – very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries - is a type of gin that’s sweeter than the type we make. We should also point out that no cats are used in the manufacture of York Gin.
And York has its own cat history – the famous Cat Trail includes over 20 cat figures attached to the walls of buildings around the city. Some say the original cat statues may have appeared as a way of frighten away rats and mice or evil spirits. York Gin is not an evil spirit. It’s a very, very good spirit.
Our York Cat is inspired by a cat that appeared in a 17th century woodcut of the Bottesford Witches, with their familiar, a cat named 'Rutterkin' meaning 'a swaggering gallant'. Read more about their history.
The castle and walls are symbols of York’s amazing and long history – and just how much of that history remains intact, despite invasions, wars, rebellions and general inconveniences.
The Romans founded the city in AD71 – and millions of visitors walk round the two miles of the ancient walls that remain standing. The thirsty visitors then refresh themselves with a York Gin or other delicious drink.
Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor in the city in 306. A statue of him relaxing in a chair sits outside the Minster – but he’s not holding a glass of York Gin, because gin hadn’t been invented. Work on this famous cathedral started fairly recently in 1080 – about a century after the Vikings under Eric Bloodaxe had been kicked out. Then the modern history of the city started with the English Civil War intrigues, then the birth of railways, chocolate – and York Gin.
The York Gin distinctive lettering uses a font based on the 17th Century Fell fonts, created by Dr John Fell - and our digital font is used by kind permission of Igino Marini. You can read about the history of the fell fonts. Do, it's fascinating.
Harry looks after the process and the recipes for York Gin. He took an idea on a scrap of paper to making a carefully designed and classic distillery built around our handmade, specially built copper still, Ebor.
Harry makes sure we have what we need to bring you York Gin beautifully crafted, every time.
Emma runs the day to day of the company with Pete. She is also responsible for the design of York Gin. She made sure that our beautiful gin has a design to match our historic city. It's fair to say she knows a lot about gin, castles and cats.
Pete runs the distillery with Emma and makes sure York Gin gets to all our distributors and shops. He's probably the one who'll bring you gin to try if you're a pub, restaurant or shop that would like to stock York Gin.
Paul is the landlord and owner of several award-winning pubs in York, and has a huge wealth of experience in the drinks trade. If you're from York, you may well already know him. If you're in York, make sure you visit The Swan (on Bishopthorpe Road), The Slip or The Volunteer Arms to enjoy proper hospitality, and, of course, to drink York Gin.
Jon Farrow was a founder and the accountant of York Gin. Jon ran the Slip Inn and was a close friend of the whole team. Jon's legacy lives on in York Gin and his family remain part of the crew.