Here in the UK, we do many things very well, and some brilliantly! Our distilling industry is certainly in the brilliant category, with world-class whiskies, gins and vodkas leading the way. The UK Drinks industry is certainly a success story.

Over the past five or so years gin has shot up in popularity to equal whisky and vodka consumption. Together these three drinks make up over 90% of all spirit drinking in the UK.

From one-woman gin start-ups to large conglomerates our distilleries all have one thing in common – they support local UK jobs.

We take a look at the huge variety of styles and tastes on offer, and with every spirit made anywhere in the UK at your fingertips maybe you will find something new to try!

Gin

The number of distilleries has doubled recently, growing from around 150 in 2004 to some 300+ now. Further more, on top of that, non-distilling brands are blending their own recipes using bought-in raw spirit. The great majority of the growth withing the UK drinks industry is down to gin.

Did you know that men generally favour a traditional tipple of London Dry Gin with a tonic, whereas women are often much more adventurous, trying flavoured gins and different mixers?

With over 700 different gins made in the UK, the choice on offer is immense. Everyone will have local gin distilleries around them, however, you can also check out other local UK areas as well!

Whisky

Although it is predominantly distilled in Scotland, whisky is also made in other parts of the UK. For example there are many Irish Whiskey’s, (it is spelt Whiskey Northern Ireland).

Take a look at all of the distilleries on our YouK map, and explore for yourselves this complex drink, by location and taste type.

Image: Visit Scotland

Vodka

Vodka. A clear, distilled spirit traditionally associated with Russia and Poland. So, why are UK brands producing vodka? The huge success of gin in recent years has seen thousands of distilleries popping up across the UK; some of these distilleries are trying their hand at vodka. Whether you like your drinks shaken or stirred, you’ll love the quality British vodka on YouK.

The distillation process of vodka means that its flavour is more subtle than that of other spirits. Vodka has high water content; around 70% of a bottle is water. As a result, the water used in the production impacts the final taste and feel of the spirit. The ideal water is soft and low in salts and ions, which produces a pure, smooth drink. As a result, British vodka is known for being delicious due to high quality, pure local water.

You can often add flavours to the spirit at the end of the production process. This can elevate certain flavour profiles within the spirit. Sweet additions like honey or toffee can limit vodka’s strong aftertaste, however, the most popular flavours are fruits and spiceschilli, vanilla and cinnamon.

YouK has a great range of vodkas to choose from!

A Distilled History of UK Drinks

4,000 BC

Distilling may have started in Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago, or Arabia, or possibly China, maybe Italy. No one is quite sure!

13th Century

The first person to write down a clear description of the distilling process was Albertus Magnus, a German cleric and philosopher, in the early 13th Century. He was later canonised as a saint.

1405

The word “vodka” appears for the first time. Roughly translated as “little water”, Vodka, of course, originates from Poland and Russia.

1495

The Exchequer tax returns record the earliest known whisky production in Scotland: “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor, by order of the King {James IV}, wherewith to make aqua vitae.” Enough for some 1,500 bottles (a boll is about 48 dry gallons).

1608

The Old Bushmills Distillery in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, was licensed in 1608. It is the world’s oldest licensed distillery. 

17th Century

King William of Orange lowered the tax on distilling, and introduced Genever to the UK – juniper flavoured alcohol from the lowlands. Cue a massive explosion of gin drinking, especially across London.  Contemporary accounts describe ‘the end of civilisation’ as the population fell into a stupor.

1751

The Gin Act of 1751 brought things back under tight control. Political cartoonist William Hogarth produces his famous anti-gin print in support.

1823

The Excise Act greatly reduced the number of illicit stills and the smuggling of Scotch. In a 10-year period over 300 distilleries got their licesnses.

1880

In 1880 French vineyards were devasted by a Phylloxera aphid infestation, and Scotch replaced brandy as a favourite drink.

1920

Prohibition began in the USA in 1920, but Scotch still flourishes – sneak into a Speakeasy, or get your doctor to prescribe it for medicinal purposes. (A personal note on medicinal purposes: The author’s Granny was born in 1890. She was strictly teetotal, quite unusual in Ireland: only drank 1/3rd pints of Guinness for her digestion, and a wee dram every night to aid sleep).

1939

Whisky is identified as a nationally important product and higher sales produce lots of much-needed tax to aid the war effort.

1970s

Cheeky “Vodka from Warrington” adverts promote UK distilled vodka. The brand involved, Vladivar Vodka, later moved production to Scotland.

1981

Whisky distilleries hit the doldrums as excess capacity led to many distilleries closing, with output dropping 35%. Whisky bounced back of course, with many fortunes made as mothballed distilleries, such as Ardbeg and Tullibardine, were subsequently bought up and relaunched.

1994

The 500th anniversary of Scotch.

2009

Vodka draws level with whisky for popularity.

2010s

Wind the clock back 300 years – gin is back!

Today

The UK’s distilleries are world-class, produce outstanding quality and variety, and are important for our economy.

Want to learn more about the UK Drinks industry? Check out out Discovering Distilleries in the UK article.


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