New spirit all tied up with Camden’s gin making past

Mark Holdsworth launches his Half Hitch gin in a bid to bring gin-making back to Camden. Picture: Po

Mark Holdsworth launches his Half Hitch gin in a bid to bring gin-making back to Camden. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Half Hitch gin harks back to days of bonded warehouses and Gilbey’s distillery, says Bridget Galton.

Ever since Mark Holdsworth singlehandedly brought back gin-making to Camden Town this September, he’s been rushed off his feet.

His Half Hitch craft gin – named after the knot used to tie up the barges at Camden Lock - has found favour at top bars and restaurants such as Chiltern Firehouse and Dabbous and is sold in Selfridges.

“I gave up everything to do this,” says the father-of-three. “As sole proprietor I am marketing, sales and distribution and my home looks like a bonded warehouse, but I’ve spent 15 years promoting and developing brands for big distillers and it’s always been a dream to have my own name on a bottle.”

Flavoured with eight botanicals, including tinctures of Earl Grey tea, hay, wood and pepper, vacuum distilled in The Vaults at Camden Lock, Half Hitch is then made in a copper pot still in Birmingham.

As a teenager, Holdsworth worked a stall at Camden Market but had no idea of its heritage at the heart of London’s gin distilling and warehousing trade that once included Gilbeys’ canalside distillery and bonded warehouses in Stables Market and the Roundhouse.

“I have walked over Camden Lock bridge hundreds of times but never before noticed the indentation made by barges tethering there for 150 years with a round turn and two half-hitches,” says the former Highgate School pupil, who lives in Kentish Town.

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“That 14 foot high wall along Stables market was to keep the bonded warehouses secure and street names like Gilbey’s Yard and Juniper Crescent reference gin connections.

“It’s a nostalgic but beautifully romantic background to the story of bringing back gin making to Camden, unearthing its industrial past.”

As a former brand manager for Bombay Sapphire, Holdsworth noticed the likes of Sipsmiths and Highgate’s own Sacred Gin leading a resurgence in craft, locally produced gins.

“Gin is the tipple of choice of those in Hackney and Shoreditch who are driving drinking trends, and it’s growing in popularity globally – perhaps because it has more character than vodka.

“Half Hitch is not a clear gin, I have chosen earthy botanicals to distinguish mine from the floral gins, the wood gives a natural sweetness, there’s spiciness from the pepper, cinnamon and juniper berry and citrus notes from the bergamot in the tea.”

With fewer than 10,000 bottles produced so far, he dreams of increasing production and one day building a still in Camden, but in the meantime you can order it at the Hawley Arms, The Roundhouse, The Lansdowne in Primrose Hill.

Holdsworth was recently invited to serve a cocktail to HRH Duke of York and his guests at an event at St James’ Palace celebrating British entrepreneurs. Devised by the head bartender at Hix restaurants it has a Christmassy twist of port:

50 ml HALF HITCH® Gin

10 ml Port

15 ml Lemon Juice

10 ml Honey Water (10:90 ratio of honey dissolved in water)

Shake well and double strain into a well chilled Champagne Coupe. Top with Sparkling Wine.

The Camden

A refreshing version one of the 1930s Bronx cocktail

60 ml HALF HITCH® Gin

30 ml freshly squeezed orange juice – right from the orange

5 ml sweet vermouth

5 ml dry vermouth

Splash of maraschino

Shake well and double strain into a well chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange zest.