The Atlas Bar is undoubtedly one of the top gin bars in the UK. Based in Manchester, the bar lifted off in 2012, when acquired by Elaine and Mark Wrigley, who had the idea to transform it into a cafe, bar and gin saloon. I have a long history with the bar, and I confess, this is purely online. I still haven’t been there, but I will get there one day. In the interim, I have built up a fabulous relationship with Elaine and have been an avid supporter of them. They stock a lot of gins, over 570 of them to date. They live and breathe gin and as well as stock it in their incredible bar, they also sell it for delivery through their sister site Gin Bible as well as offering masterclasses and various educational materials to help us all learn more about out favourite spirit.
And after all of this dedicated support to gin and the industry, I was pleased as punch to find out they were launching a gin of their own, Atlas Gin. Atlas Gin was launched in May 21 and was created in collaboration with Defiance Gin and is a celebration of Elaine and Mark’s love for travel and ‘a nod to [their] roots in Manchester’ containing botanicals from each continent around the world and some from their home turf. Lemon Myrtle from Australia. Rad el Hanout, from North Africa. Cranberries from the USA. Spruce Tips from Europe, and Raspberry and Honey for Manchester. Bottled a generous 47%, it’s a lovely, personal ode to the gins global glory, and Elaine and Mark’s love for the spirit, summed up in a liquid form.
The gin is a fascinating tipple. The nose has a solid, juniper character, enriched with a sweetness and earthiness with a beautiful, round spice. On the palate this gin packs a wonderfully dry, juniper punch, but there is complexity and character. Spice dances with a a deep, dusty sweetness, there is a gentle tang of cranberry. This is a wonderfully balanced drink, serving to please the traditionalists, but still with a unique touch, loyal to it’s concept.
Some four months have passed since the gin was launched, and just now, on the 23rd September, they’ve launched their Manchester strength, bottled at 53.4, the latitude line that they sit on.
I took some time to catch up with Elaine, to see how things are going.
1. Let’s start from the beginning, can you tell us a little bit about taking on Atlas Bar and the early days.
“Mark and I took over Atlas Bar in June 2012, and completed a major refurbishment, in the October, of that year. Friends of ours, owned The Briton’s Protection, in Manchester, at the time, which stocked over 500 whiskies, and it was actually them who suggested us specialising in gin. It’s hard to believe, but we started with 28 gins, which was 21 more than any other bar in the city stocked at the time! We now stock over 570! In the early days, Mark and I started to look out for unusual new gins and approach the distillers. After about 18 months of us trading, we’d started to gain a name in the gin world and brands started approaching us. We were proud to be the first bar in the UK to stock Four Pillars and have become great friends with Stu and Cam. We were also the first bar outside Scotland to stock Rock Rose and we were also the first bar to stock Black Robin and Vaione Gins from New Zealand. Mark and I both have ”day jobs” too, and in the first couple of years, pretty much worked 24/7 between day job and Atlas. I’m pleased to say that we’ve now built a fab team.”
2. It’s nearly 10 years since you took the bar over. What changes have you noticed in gin and the gin industry? Also, do you have any plans for a 10 year celebration?
“We were fortunate enough to start our gin journey, slightly ahead of the gin explosion, and it’s been such a fantastic journey of discovery. We’ve seen just how many young people enjoy gin now, it’s certainly not just an old ladies tipple, anymore! We love interacting with passionate distillers and with gin brands who truly care about their gin’s provenance. There are so many fantastic stories behind some gins. We’re a little less excited about the ”gimmicky” flavoured drinks, which keep emerging, which are somewhat tenuously called gin. You won’t find anything sparkling, or colour changing, or bubble gum flavoured in Atlas. There is certainly a brilliant camaraderie, within the gin industry, and so many pulled together, supporting one another, during the very difficult past 18 months. We will most definitely have a 10-year celebration, and I’d say ”watch this space,” on that one!
3. What are some of the best loved gins and cocktails at the bar?
“Here at Atlas, we have some consistent best sellers, and of course some well-loved gins. These include: Isle of Harris, Four Pillars Navy Strength and Shiraz, Divine Raspberry, Warner’s Rhubarb, Rock Rose, Tarquin’s, Defiance Old Tom, Monkey 47, Hendrick’s, Hayman’s, Plymouth, Bols Genever, Cuckoo. In terms of cocktails, Negroni, Classic Dirty Martini and Gin Slings are our customers favourites, along with a Four Pillars Red Snapper.”
4. When was the moment you decided it was time for your own gin? Can you tell me a little bit about how it came about and those early ideas.
“So many people in the Gin world kept encouraging us to create our own gin, because we are so passionate about the spirit and creating a quality gin experience for our customers. I think for a while that we had ”imposter syndrome,” and didn’t feel that we’d earned the right, but eventually, a number of close gin friends persuaded us that we had! We were clear that we wanted to make a classic London Dry Gin, and that we wanted the botanicals, to reflect our gin connections, across the globe, and a nod to our name, ”Atlas.” In February 2019, we were fortunate to visit Four Pillars, again, in the Yarra Valley, and to create a gin with Cam. It was such a wonderful experience, but shortly after COVID hit, and we couldn’t get the gin out of Australia. Watch this space…We then collaborated with Paul Sheerin, from the Defiance Distillery, in nearby Oldham. Mark and I talked Paul through the flavour profile that we’d like to achieve, and after a lot of work, we created our Atlas Bar Premium Small Batch London Dry. The gin is bottled at 47% and includes Lemon Myrtle, from Australia, locally picked Spruce Tips, for the UK, along with Raspberries and Honey, a nod to Manchester Tart and our roots. Cranberries represent the Americas, Lemongrass for Asia, European Juniper and Ras el Hanout, Africa. We finally landed on 19 botanicals, which has created a versatile, complex gin, and affords the drinker a number of options to play with the garnish and perfect serve.
The branding and presentation of the bottle was equally important to us. The deep green colour represents our company name and is also a way of remembering Mark’s father, who always wrote to people in Green Ink. The label then incorporates an Atlas, and you’ll also find the co-ordinates of the bar on our label too. We were also mindful, that we wanted options to adapt the label for future releases and that the bottle would stand out and look different on a back bar.”
5. As someone with a lot of experience in drinking/selling gins, what are your thoughts on making your own. Did anything surprise you? Has it changed your perspective?
“I think that we were surprised about just how much time went in to getting the flavour profile right, for us. I grew up drinking gin, because my parents did, and was clear that a citrus forward product, would be my ideal, and a nod to Mum and Dad, too. We experimented, a lot with Paul, and equally spent a lot of time considering the best ABV to bottle at. It became apparent that slight changes to botanical quantities made a big difference, and we’re really pleased with where we’ve finished up. It has certainly confirmed for us that where there’s true passion and love goes in to creating a gin, you’ll genuinely create a quality product. (Gosh, that sounds a bit cheesy!)
6. How has reception been?
“Fantastic! Our customers are loving it at the bar, and it makes a mean dirty martini! On-line sales have also started to take off too.”
7. Any future plans for more releases?
“Definitely. We’ll be announcing our next gin, very soon. I’ll keep you posted.”
8. Any future plans for the Atlas Bar?
“We really grew our virtual tastings, during lockdown, for Corporate businesses, team builds and birthday celebrations. We’re now starting to grow our mobile eventing again, now that we can start to go to venues again. We continue to develop our on line bottle shop and also offer some fantastic home gin experience boxes for gifts. Our Christmas box will be announced shortly. At some point, we’d also like to open another Atlas.”
10. And, any final thoughts you’d like to add?
We continue to release new gins, and add them to our gin bible, and our monthly Gin Supper Clubs are now back in full swing. We’re being joined by Tarquin’s, The Lakes Distillery and Divine Gin, later this year.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Elaine! Congratulations on a fabulous gin in Atlas Bar, and congratulations on your new launch with Manchester Strength. Hopefully I will finally make it up to your bar very soon!