A hundred gins and counting…
February 5, 2018
I’m a regular visitor to Weybourne in Norfolk, and its village pub, The Ship Inn. The Ship used to have a pretty standard selection of spirits, which fitted neatly into the shelving behind the bar; the usual brands of whisky, brandy, vodka and gin. A couple of years ago a blackboard appeared outside saying “We love Gin!” Every time we visited we noticed that the number had grown, and by the end of 2017 it proclaimed the availability of 90 gins. There’s scarcely enough space on the shelves.
In January this year I was told that the list had actually grown to 100, so it takes a while to decide which one to try (and then to choose which of the 17 tonics to have with it). I asked for one made with hops as well as the usual botanicals, thinking it sounded interesting. The landlord Lyndon Swift overheard me and came over. “Did you particularly want to try that one? It’s out of stock – and to be honest, it’s the worst gin I’ve ever tasted”. I asked him for his recommendation, and he came up with a short list including his “favourite ever” Gin – No 209 from San Francisco. I went with his suggestion, and asked him how his fascination with gin had come about.
Over a glass of No 209, Lyndon explained that he took over the pub five years ago, and in April 2016 he was approached by the Norfolk Sloe Company to try selling their Black Shuck Gin. Lyndon likes gin, and decided to do it properly, and stock Black Shuck as one of a selection of five premium “gins of the month”. The idea took off and, as new gins arrived each month, the previous selection stayed on the list, which quickly led him into “what I can only describe as a black hole”. Later that summer Lyndon had filled the top shelf with 35 gins, and started “Gin & Tapas” evenings which proved popular. “My business partner told me to stop at 90, but then we realised that didn’t sound right, so we decided to go for 100”.
Lyndon knows every one of his gins. He can recommend one according to your preferred style, based on the botanicals; if you like the cucumber character of Hendricks, for example, you could try a London Dry Gin with Fevertree’s cucumber and watermelon tonic.
Talking of tonic
The Ship has 17 different tonics. “Double Dutch” uses grapefruit, Fevertree has orange. A 25cl bottle of tonic will drown a 25ml shot of gin, so they suggest you add half a bottle of tonic or less, to let the flavour of the gin come through. The “Rolls Royce of tonics” is 1724, which is made from quinine grown at an altitude of 1724 meters on the Inca Trail in the Andes.
The biggest selling gin by far is the Black Shuck, distilled in nearby Fakenham with botanicals including Norfolk lavender, sea buckthorn, and bitter orange peel. It comes garnished with grapefruit, lemon, and coriander leaf.
The second best seller is a Rhubarb gin, served with ginger ale. Lyndon went on to describe some of his more unusual styles. Blackwoods 60 degrees Vintage is the strongest, named for the latitude of its distillery in Shetland. There’s a an organic gin from Maine, based on potatoes; the French “G’vine” is distilled from grapes. Then there’s the biodynamic “Alkkemist” from Spain, distilled only 12 times a year under the full moon, from samphire and Muscat grapes, plus 19 botanicals….
On the “Adult top shelf” are three more made by No 209, aged in Napa wine casks (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon) which are intended to be drunk neat, like whisky.
The Ship’s fan base is men and women of all ages, enjoying their gin as an aperitif, or at the end of an evening. Some are converts. Despite having the third largest range of gins in North Norfolk, Lyndon is determined to keep The Ship as a village pub, with realistic pricing. Hundreds attended a gin and beer festival last summer, a Halloween fancy dress party, and New Year’s Eve, so he’s clearly doing something right.
The Ship Inn, The Street, Weybourne, Holt, Norfolk NR25 7SZ