Shining in the hills

Surrey has its fair share of legitimate distillers; Silent Pool Gin at Albury, Becketts Gin at Kingston, the Gin Kitchen at Dorking, Mews Gin Company at East Horsley, Stovells Gin at Chobham, Elstead Village Distillers at Elstead, and Brockmans Gin at Woking, That’s quite a concentration of gin making in a small geographic area and the curious minded might ask why?

Distillation in the UK is illegal unless you hold an official licence, and the law is really drafted to discourage small scale operations. For example HMRC can simply decline your application if your still is not at least 18 hectolitres capacity, that’s 396 gallons in old money! You are also going to need to demonstrate you have a business plan, secure premises, quality analysis, loss tracking and know what you are doing. The revenue man wants his cut!

Robinson, at Moonshine Still Pro, likens existing distillation laws to a sort of Catch-22.

You can’t open a distillery if you don’t know what you’re doing, and you can’t know what you’re doing unless you’ve practised somewhere

Gary Robinson, Moonshine Still Pro

However, the Hills have never been short of individuals who see the “norms” of societal behaviour as “advisory” and certainly not as limits or rules that apply to them. There is a sense that, within the deep lanes, tradition is a stronger tie than “recent” laws such as the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act. For some moonshine is a way of life that has been handed down from generation to generation and its not rare to see a faint curl of smoke rising from the treetops or indeed from some back gardens! After all what better cover than a little autumn leaf blowing and a garden bonfire?

For those who know where to look the hills are not so much “alive” as “awash”, so in no particular order here’s a list of some of the more notable likkers you might come across if you are prepared to go “off piste”.

  • Drivers Friend – low ABV (30%) ideal for combining with vehicular travel, exceptionally consistent and agreeable, floral notes on the long finish.
  • Dead Cat Bounce – something of a newcomer and only intermittently available due to “the man”. A nose of hot extractor ducting and boat shoes worn without socks, this one is to be treasured.
  • Castrol 55 – As the name implies 55% ABV, waves of graphite and engine oil, and with a bigger kick than a Briggs and Stratton mower. An ideal companion for schizophrenia.
  • Old Bio – very forward herbal nose, hints of psilocybin, moss and unshaved axilla. Extremely unpredictable, best served with a BBQ.
  • Sheep Dip – from the still of “Blind” Pete, the “Popcorn” Sutton of the Surrey Dark Hills shining community. Much improved safety standards since the earlier accident, does what it says on the tin. Ideally accompanied with a 1 week sick note.
  • Manifesto – Investment grade likker, mentioned for completeness only as unavailable for purchase. Extremely small batch runs acquired on an invitation basis only. Lifechanging is said to be an overestimate, but more totemic than discovering a Banksy on your khazi.

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