Coastal gin: Soak up some seaside spirit

Isle of Bute’s Small Batch Oyster Gin with sea background Isle of Bute’s Small Batch Oyster Gin is made using Loch Fyne oyster shells

When it comes to sourcing some of his coastal gin botanicals, James Harrison-Allen finds himself in a rather unusual position – he has to apply for a permit from King Charles III.

The founder and director of Still Wild, a vermouth and gin distillery based in Pembrokeshire, Wales, forages a large proportion of his ingredients, and has to get permission from the King in order to source the seaweed that he uses. ‘If you want to [forage] any wild plant for any kind of business, it always has to be done with permission, and technically the royal family owns the area of the seabed up to the high-tide mark,’ he explains as we contemplate his diminutive production facilities in the south of the county in southwest Wales. ‘So we have to get royal permission to pick the seaweed. There’s one beach we have a licence for. You write an application with a map, saying what you’re picking and how much, and pay a fee.’

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Still Wild is part of a growing band of coastal distilleries that are taking inspiration from their local natural environment, finding various ways to evoke the sea in the spirits they produce.

And while the UK appears to be leading the way, with a large selection of coast-inspired gins from all around its four nations, distilleries from across the world are also getting in on the act.

So what exactly defines a gin as being ‘coastal’, apart from the physical proximity of a distillery to the sea? While no official definition exists, there is common consensus among the producers to whom I spoke. ‘A gin can be described as coastal when it incorporates botanicals that evoke the essence of the seaside environment,’ opines Oliver Chapman, brand experience manager at Bullards Spirits in Norfolk. ‘This may include ingredients with briny, saline or herbal qualities, as well as those that capture the freshness and vitality of coastal landscapes.’

Hand holding bottle of Bullards Coastal Gin with outdoor background

Bullards Coastal Gin features several coastal botanicals

Marine magic

Seaweed is one of the coastal botanicals most commonly incorporated in gin. With about 650 species found in UK waters, there’s a wide variety to choose from, all with different flavour profiles.

Skagerrak is a Nordic gin created by six bartenders from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The team tested ‘most [seaweed] varieties that are commercially available’, recalls Morten Paulsen, product development manager for the Anora Group, which owns the Skagerrak brand. ‘But when we started testing them, it became clear that most of the
varieties only provided a quite heavy “sea” aroma without much other nuance. Dulse was on our list from the beginning, since it has quite a long culinary history going back to Viking times. The plant itself is very thin and delicate.’

Back in England, the Cornish Distilling Co’s Bude Gin uses kelp and bladderwrack. ‘Bladderwrack is the seaweed you see when you go to the beach,’ says Tom Read, head distiller at The Cornish Distilling Co. ‘It’s a very powerful flavour, so it has to be used sparingly, or else it dominates. Kelp gives a subtle umami savouriness. Overall, seaweed adds an extra layer of flavour – a bit of minerality. It has a sort of ozone quality, with some iodine and rockpool.’

Tom Read

Tom Read. Credit: Tom Joy

Outside the box

It’s not simply flora that’s being used to make coastal gins – fauna is also on the menu, as the Isle of Bute Distillery demonstrates with its Oyster Gin. ‘We shuck fresh Loch Fyne oysters and place the shells in our botanical basket, [which] sits within Audrey, our copper pot still,’ explains Imogen Holland, distiller and brewer at the distillery.
‘We looked at incorporating both the shell and the…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/spirits/coastal-gin-soak-up-some-seaside-spirit-529897/