THE gin trade is booming. Recent figures indicate that British drinkers bought 40 million bottles of gin in 2016. That’s enough to make around 1.12 billion gin and tonics.

Gin’s popularity has inspired both a revolution in small-batch distilleries producing craft gins in small quantities, and a flurry of new products.

One such new gin has been inspired by the various flowers and herbs which can be found in Ryedale’s hedgerows - and was created sort-of by accident.

Sloemotion, a small company based in Barton-le-Willows, have been producing a celebrated sloe gin - plus other sloe, damson and cherry-based beverages - for the last 15 years. Run by Joff Curtoys, his wife Claire and his brother Jules, the company have now branched out into a world of other English botanicals.

The company started in 2002. Joff, a former agronomist, was working in Brussels and Westminster, advising on agriculture and farming with the RSPB, when the chance arose to start a small-scale business in Yorkshire.

He said it was meant to be a new way of running a farm business; small scale, with a focus on the environment, food processing and reaching out to customers directly.

Their environmental work on the farm included letting the hedges and other wildlife habitats grow out.

“We stopped cutting the hedge every year,” he said, “and suddenly we had lots of sloes.”

Sloes, waxy purple fruits that ripen in autumn, grow on the blackthorn bush. They have been used to flavour syrupy liqueurs for hundreds of years. Modern sloe gins are typically around 25 per cent alcohol.

“We started making sloe gin on a part time basis,” said Joff. “But in 2006 the business needed full-time attention. My business partner wanted to get back into farming so I took on Sloemotion full-time to see if I could run it on my own.

“In business you learn what you’re good at and you learn what you’re not good at,” he said, listing his preferences for sales and marketing. “But what I wasn’t good at was the discipline to manage the ‘back-end’ of the business.”

His brother Jules, a mechanical engineer, joined the next year to help with product consistency, finance and running the business. “He was putting together engines - he’s a real details guy.”

Since then, the business has grown. They employ 12 local people, sell to 400 delis up and down the country, as well as Waitrose and Majestic Wines.

As the gin craze swept the nation over the last five years, the company looked at their sloe gin to see how they could make it better. “We are very conscious of the quality of our products,” said Joff. “You can look at the full aspect but the base spirit carries a lot of weight.”

Sloemotion don’t currently distil their own spirit, working instead with Thames distillers. Joff says that might change in the future but for now, it suits them to be “steepers and blenders”. Thames produce dry gin in the classic London style, flavoured with juniper, angelica and coriander.

Over several years, working with the distillers, they put a new spin on the base spirit. “We started thinking how we could improve our gin. New types of botanicals it would be interesting to use. We thought of adding more hedgerow botanicals - dried them, processed them, created a recipe that we thought improved the sloe gin.”

Without meaning to, they had just created their new product, Hedgerow Gin. “Actually, we thought, this product stands up on its own.”

What can drinkers expect from it? “London gin is very dry. We added extra things.” Foraged rosehips, crab apples, sloe stones from the sloes they had used. Elderflower, nettles and meadow hay also made it in. “It’s fruity, herby and floral. It’s not sweet at all but it’s sweeter than the London gin.”

The rise in gin’s popularity is putting a lot into the nation’s coffers. At the start of June, HM Revenue & Customs reported that sales of gin have pushed tax revenues from spirits above beer for the first time.

Joff attributes the gin explosion to two key things; a recent law change which saw smaller distillers able to enter an industry that had been dominated by big producers, and technological changes which meant that stills became more affordable for small and micro-businesses.

He adds to that the recent boom in enterprising “hipster” types taking things back to basics and starting small businesses with an emphasis on quality. “They’re interested in old things. Gin is a peculiarly British thing. It’s based on a Dutch drink but it’s become a British thing. The gin craze is brilliant. It’s something that we can call our own.”

They company mostly sell in Britain but has small markets in Europe. They want to grow that but now, for obvious political reasons, may not be the optimal time. The ornate new bottles for the Hedgerow Gin product are made in Europe currently, but he may source them from closer to home if trading with the continent becomes difficult.

Those eye-catching bottles were designed by Zeppo Creative in Leeds. “They liked our ‘life on the hedge’ motto. They showed real passion, and they’re brilliant artists in their own right. Every single plant on the new bottle has been hand-drawn.”

The Ryedale countryside provided much of the inspiration for the new product. Joff is a keen walker and runner, mostly around the farms near their Barton-le-Willows home. “You can flavour gin with anything,” he adds. “But we always look back to the hedgerow for our inspiration.”

It’s not looking like the gin trade will simmer down any time soon. New gin bars continue to pop up, old highball tumbler-style glasses replaced with balloon-style; lemons and limes challenged by grapefruit or blood oranges. In Malton, a new distillery is planned for the Talbot Yard.

Bottoms up.