Coronavirus update: Free local delivery. Online gift vouchers. Full details

The story of York Gin

Romans and Vikings, ancient walls, an extraordinary gothic Minster, The Shambles, Richard III, Guy Fawkes and Dick Turpin, ghosts, railways, chocolate and horse racing. And now this most ancient of cities has its very own gin. Read about the York Gin story - how a group of York friends created a memorable brand and some of the world's best gins.

An idea is born – in the pub

The York Gin Company started in the place where so many great ideas begin – the pub.

In this case, York’s award-winning Swan pub, owned by one of York Gin’s directors, Paul Crossman.

In 2016, Paul registered the name York Gin along with his business partner, Jon Farrow; Pete McNichol, the previous owner of the Swan; and Harry Cooke, a local food and drink expert and now our head distiller.

Separately, their neighbour, gin fiend and brand marketer Emma Godivala tried to register the name too.

When she realised the landlord of her local pub and other friends had the same idea, she asked to meet them in the Swan. A couple of hours later, York Gin was up and running.

Tragedy struck when Jon died suddenly. But the team were resolute about their project and knew Jon would want them to continue. Jon’s children are still an integral part of the team and they own a fifth of the business.

York’s only distillery

The distillery is the only one within the city limits – at Acaster Malbis. Harry used his scientific background and experience of brewing to set it up from scratch. The centre-piece is our beautiful 300 litre alembic copper still. Every still must be individually named, so we called ours Ebor – short for Eboracum, the Roman name for York.

York Gin is created with vapour distillation - a very traditional method - ensuring a very consistent, balanced gin.

The distillery has served us well – for over two years we have made, bottled and labelled every single drop of our gin here. It’s run on 100% green electricity and we run it in as sustainable manner as we can, recycling 100% of our paper, cardboard, recyclable plastic and glass.  We also deliver the gin from our distillery in our electric van that’s charged using green energy.

New gins and world awards

Since we sold our first bottle of London Dry gin on 1 March 2018, we haven’t had time to look back.

We make five commercial gins including our London Dry – and two are recognised as being among the best in the world:

York Gin Outlaw

York Gin Outlaw – our navy strength gin that won a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2019. It is inspired by York’s outlaws including Guy Fawkes, Dick Turpin and ‘Yorkshire Witch’, Mary Bateman. At 57%ABV, our advice is to enjoy it ‘with ice, tonic … and care’.

York Gin Old Tom

York Gin Old Tom – winner of Best English Old Tom at the World Gin Awards 2020 as well as a Gold Outstanding medal at the International Wine & Spirit Competition 2019 and a Gold at the Spirits Business Gin Masters 2019. It’s a collaboration with the Michelin-starred Star Inn, Harome whose chefs created a sugar syrup flavoured with herbs from its own garden and foraged from North Yorkshire hedgerows.

Our other gins are:

York Gin Roman Fruit

Infused with fruits and flowers associated with Ancient Rome,  including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples - and hibiscus which gives it a deep red imperial hue.

York Gin Grey Lady

Inspired by one of York’s many ghosts, the Grey Lady who is said to haunt the dress circle of the city’s Theatre Royal, this is our London Dry distilled with Earl Grey tea and infused with pea flower to create a hauntingly spectral blue-grey hue and extra citrus notes.

The York Gin shop

In the spring of 2019 – just a year after our launch – we had the opportunity to open a shop in one of the city’s most iconic buildings, the 16th century Tudor-era Sir Thomas Herbert House on Pavement opposite M&S and Shambles.

Since we opened we have been astonished at its popularity. It now stocks all our gins, plus lots of gifts and souvenirs loved by locals and tourists alike.

A York favourite

York Gin is now found in hundreds of the city’s bars, restaurants and pubs.

It is increasingly sold across the U.K. - as far north as the Ellon Whisky Shop in Aberdeenshire and as far south as the Juniper Club in Penryn, Cornwall.

Online, York Gin is available at the Gin Kiosk, Master of Malt, Amazon, The Gin Kin, Distillers Direct, whiskys.co.uk and Winebuyers

Collaborations

As well as the collaboration on the Old Tom, we have worked with other companies to create some wonderful products – these include:

York’s Chocolate Story: York Gin-infused luxury chocolates

Yorvale: York Gin sorbet

PurePallets: York Gin branded homewear and accessories

Meet the team

Harry holds the recipe

Harry

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 holds a paintbrush

Emma

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 holds the keys

Pete

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 holds a pen

Paul

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 holds the money

Jon

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.

 

York Gin label: Cats, castles & 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.’

York Gin label with the cat and castle - with reproduction 18th century fonts.

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 Gin 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

Rutterkin the cat with the Bottesford Witches

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 71AD – and millions of visitors walk around the two miles of the ancient walls that remain standing. The visitors then refresh themselves with a York Gin.

Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor in the city in 306AD. 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.

York Gin's 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. It's fascinating!