Drinking with Mr Hobbs

Mr Hobbs Henley Gin is made using an old family recipe

As the popularity of gin shows no signs of slowing here are a couple more to try this spring.

The new canal and narrowboats feature centred around a typical canalside pub, the Lock Keeper’s Inn, was a hit at this year’s London Boat Show, with reportedly more than 3,000 visiting the site on the Saturday alone. The Inn featured, appropriately, Meantime Pale Ale on draught, a very nice citrusy ale brewed at Greenwich just a mile or two from the show.

The Lock Keeper’s Inn was a popular rest spot at January’s London Boat Show

To cruise the canals you need a narrowboat. But if you currently have a seaworthy motor cruiser and feel that boating should be all at salty sea, a trip up the river Thames can be quite an eye opener into the wonders of our navigable inland waterways.

A couple of years ago I was boating up the Thames with a world-renowned NZ sailor whose international racing goes back to the heyday of the One Ton Cup. As we approached Henley-on-Thames he remarked: “I have been sailing in salt water for more than 50 years and I never knew this way of boating existed.”

HOBBS OF HENLEY

Henley is probably the best known Thames town thanks to its famous rowing regatta. Hobbs of Henley is well known for tripper boats and hire craft and was at the January Boat Show with their own stand for the first time exhibiting both these and its new gin.

The business was founded in 1870 by Harry Hobbs. He was publican of the Ship Hotel and was also known as a bon viveur on the water, often seen, so the story goes, sipping his homemade gin.

The business is now run by the founder’s great-great-great-grandson Jonnie who, with his wife Suzy, is responsible for the new gin initiative. Harry’s gin recipe, ignored for nigh on 150 years, was retrieved from the firm’s archives in the back of an old framed photograph of Mr Hobbs himself, along with full instructions on how to make it. Recognising its commercial potential now gin is so popular, Jonnie and Suzy saw it as their duty to the firm and the town to recreate it.

Mr Hobbs Henley Gin was launched last May and is refreshingly traditional and honest. It has a limited range of botanicals, just six including the essential juniper, selected because they were available in the local meadows.

An unusual one that caught my eye is marshmallow. To me that meant a squidgy sweet treat, but it seems the leaf and root make a herbal remedy for coughs and internal digestive ailments dating back 2,000 years. Just how many glasses of Mr Hobbs are needed to activate this health benefit is as yet unknown. Perhaps more important is its 45 per cent abv (versus the 37.5 of standard brands), which lets the flavour come through.

At £36 per 75cl bottle, more or less the regulation price for premium high-strength gins these days, it is distributed around Henley or can be bought at the Hobbs of Henley boatyard or online at www.mrhobbsgin.co.uk.

Salcombe Gin was also at the show, guesting on a boat charter stand, a fruity 44 per cent gin covered in our August 2017 issue. They confirmed to me that the distillery is doing well and they will be repeating their special gin and food hamper offer for this year’s regatta over 11 – 18 August. Plan ahead for a west country cruise to include this gin too. www.salcombegin.com.

Thames cruising

Heading upstream, the Thames is tidal to Teddington Lock, then there are 35 locks to get to Oxford, a practical upper limit, though smaller boats can get as far as Lechlade, virtually the source.

You will find history, towns and beautiful countryside aplenty and easy-to-access pubs and restaurants in the ancient towns ashore. Overnight mooring spaces are available riverside and boats can be left longer at marinas like MDL at Penton Hook, Windsor and Bray if you take a break during your passage.