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Sussex’s foraged gin

Gin has been having a moment for, er, quite a few moments now. Muddy's had a sneak peek behind the scenes at Slake, a truly original artisan distillery here in the heart of Sussex.

We love a good origin story here at Muddy and this one sees a local forager with a chemistry PhD creating something very special in his own garage. Read on for the lowdown on this unique artisan brand.

It all began when founder Tom Martin-Wells developed a passion for foraging while out on walks with his dog Logie. After joining the Association of Foragers, a network that teaches and promotes sustainable practice, and learning more about edible plants he realised he wanted to share his passion for local food and drink.

At the same time, gin was beginning its seemingly unstoppable resurgence and that was the lightbulb moment. Tom founded Slake Spirits in 2015, to produce small batch gin from his home at Shoreham-by-Sea using ingredients foraged from the surrounding area.

Ingredients come from as close by as the beach up the road, his own garden and a neighbour’s tree. Where possible he uses local alternatives too, For instance, his Sussex dry gin is ‘stylistically similar’ to London dry gin, he explains, in that it’s ‘juniper forward, citrusy and herbal’ but because the citrus rinds traditionally used aren’t indigenous to this country he instead uses Sussex-grown lemon verbena and lemon balm to give a similar taste.

In autumn he uses berry flavours to create his Hedgerow Gin – with cardamom, fennel, liquorice, coriander and more besides. It was my favourite of the Slake gins I tasted – a Christmassy flavoured sipping gin, which can be made more summery with the addition of elderflower tonic.

Tom even created a Roman Garden gin after Gardens In Time contacted him. Many of the plants used by Romans, including Alexander seeds, still grow in Sussex today.

It’s not only local authenticity that is important to Tom, he also takes care to be sustainable, leaving enough of anything he harvests so that birds and mice living in hedgerows won’t go hungry. Some key gin ingredients can’t be sourced locally yet, so his focus is to showcase those he can whilst expanding the range of botanicals they grow and continuing to explore the more abundant wild flavours available in Sussex too.

He also uses solar panels and 100% green energy in the production process as well as returning the spent botanicals to the earth as compost in his herb garden.

Tom is now experimenting with creating a Sussex brandy, a Campari-style drink and even much-maligned absinthe as possible future projects. If you enjoy aperitivo you’ll want to keep an eye out for Slake’s range of gin-based apéritifs made using Sussex grapes launching later this year. During lockdown he put his talents to great use creating a hand sanitiser that meets WHO regulations.

Want to taste Slake for yourself? You can order from the website, look out for it at local festivals, or on the menus in good Brighton restaurants like 64°and Isaac@. Or, turn up by appointment to buy from the gin workshop door.

Find more ideas here

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