Camden Mother’s Ruin
We chat botanicals with Mark Holdsworth, the founder of Camden-based Half Hitch gin, now in its second year of production
Article by Adrian Peel
If you knew then what you know now… would you still do it?
Absolutely! There is nothing like creating your own business and product. The response from everyone has been amazing and made it all the more fulfilling. That said, the work involved and the risks are not for the faint-hearted…
There have been innumerable long hours dedicated to both setting up and nurturing Half Hitch. Seeing it served in Buckingham and St James’ Palaces – plus Windsor Castle – has made me unbelievably proud of all the work that has gone in from all those involved in its creation.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Zig when others zag.
What have you been doing recently?
We’ve been busy. Half Hitch was recently selected as a Walpole Brand of Tomorrow 2016 which is a huge honour. Also, as well as hosting gin masterclasses at our micro-distillery and gin store at West Yard Camden Lock, we’re taking Half Hitch on the road to a series of events. We’re due to return to St James’ Palace this year for Pitch@Palace (an event for food and drink entrepreneurs) and you can find us at lots of tasting nights in Young’s Pubs and Geronimo Inns over the summer.
How did you come to set up the company and what was your thinking behind it?
I’ve spent over 16 years in the drinks industry working in Research & Development, plus various commercial and global roles, so I’m passionate about spirits. Having been born and bred in Camden (and worked in my youth right here in Camden Lock Market), I only recently came across the story of Camden’s role in London’s gin distilling history.
It was one of London’s largest gin producers and took up much of what is now the market – stretching from the canal all the way to The Roundhouse – but only a few signs remain, such as road names like Juniper Crescent. This inspired my business idea which was simply to reinvigorate this past by setting up our own micro-distillery in the heart of Camden Lock. With Half Hitch, I wanted to create a truly distinctive product.
The selection of botanicals reflects the produce that was transported along the canals at the time: black tea, bergamot, wood, hay and pepper. Botanicals are chosen from around the world, including Malawian black tea and bergamot from Calabria, southern Italy, but only harvested when at the peak of seasonality when the supply reaches its highest quality.
Where did the name ‘Half Hitch’ come from?
A ‘Half Hitch’ is a mooring knot used to attach barges to the canal side. If you stand on the iconic bridges at Camden Lock you can see the deep grooves worn into the iron handrails from tow ropes. The name and the rope detail on our label is a nod to Camden’s history of interchange. It’s in recognition of our roots but also a celebration of the fact Half Hitch is moving the gin industry forward to reignite this rich heritage.
The drink is currently sold in Fortnum & Mason, Gerry’s Wines & Spirits, Gin Kiosk, Hedonism Wines and Selfridges, among other places. Do you hope to get it into supermarkets? Where else would you like to see it sold?
As the gin category continues to gain momentum, consumers are more open to exploration and are actively seeking out gins that offer something different. Half Hitch stands apart from others in appearance and taste. It’s incredibly smooth yet complex-tasting profile appeals to those looking for a gin that can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks. Because of this we have seen significant interest from high-end and specialist retailers.
From speaking with revered bartenders and passionate gin lovers at our pop-up bars around the UK, Half Hitch is in demand not only for imaginative cocktails but also for your classic gin and tonic made at home. Our ambition is to expand carefully our distribution in bars, gastro pubs and specialist retailers and increase our visibility. We have opened up listings now with wholesalers outside London and have just produced our first batch for the USA.
It seems now is a very good time to be in the gin business. Why do you think that is? Which other brands do you particularly admire?
Gin has been a part of London’s history since the 18th Century and it’s interesting to see how the spirit is understood and interpreted at different periods in time. What’s exciting about gin at the moment is the fearlessness with which the trade is championing innovation; from chocolate and blue cheese martinis to barrel-ageing. I admire those that strive for excellence with a single-focused determination. It’s as much about the journey to achieving quality as it is the realisation.
What does Half Hitch offer that makes it stand out from other brands? What is the secret of your success?
Every bottle of Half Hitch is the product of continuous hard work to achieve the very highest quality and I think that’s evident to our customers. It is our unwillingness to compromise on quality that sets us apart; from the robust, bevelled glass packaging and distinctive colour of the liquid, to the slightly unusual ingredients and unique combination of traditional and modern-day distillation methods that extract the finest qualities from our carefully selected botanicals.
We actually use three distillation methods for every bottle, which is something that stands us apart. It’s a time-intensive, complex process – traditional handmade tinctures and a copper pot with modern-day vacuum distillation. Since launching in September 2014, Half Hitch has built an incredibly passionate following of gin lovers and I’m delighted to have witnessed it go from strength to strength.
You’re based in Camden Town. What is special for you about that particular area of London?
Camden will always be home to me. I have lived in the area for most of my life and settled here with my wife and children. It has an energy and resilience that’s hard to ignore. I love the presence of its raw industrial history and eclectic mix of the urban and tranquil. Even as the area has evolved over the past few years and benefited from investment and development, the area’s fiercely proud and unapologetically individual sense of style, backed up by years of hard graft and an entrepreneurial spirit, makes Camden special.
What in your opinion is required for the perfect gin & tonic?
There’s a reason this straightforward serve has won the hearts of drinkers worldwide and that’s its simplicity. It leaves the ingredients nowhere to hide so the perfect G&T demands a great quality gin. For me, it has to be served ice-cold and not drowning your precious gin is key.
If looking for a twist on a classic, the Half Hitch G&T is ideal with its combined spice, citrus and tea flavour profile. Serve it in a hi-ball glass with chilled English tonic water (Fever Tree or Fentimans) and a large peel of orange to enhance the light citrus notes of bergamot. Avoid stirring to preserve the effervescence. Mix by adding the tonic.
Do you consider yourself lucky?
I am firm believer that you make most of your own luck, but I am very fortunate to have worked alongside some amazing industry friends who have been huge supporters and enablers.