Bathtub Gin – Grapefruit And Rosemary

The ginaissance has spawned a crowded marketplace and distillers need to be on top of their game, or at least their marketeers, to carve out a comfortable niche. Bathtub Gin has one of the most distinctive bottles on the market, bell-shaped, encased in brown paper, with a wax seal and string around the neck, redolent of the days of the Prohibition and bootleggers, that fits in perfect harmony with its name. It is a delicious gin and is highly regarded, rightly so,

One of the recent bandwagons that has emerged in the gin sector is the mania for flavoured gins. This presents a significant dilemma for established brands. Do they develop a flavoured gin from scratch or do they tinker around with their existing hooch. Bathtub have chosen to follow the latter patch but have added an extra element of jeopardy by inviting the great British public, via a social media campaign, to select their preferred pairing of additional flavours.

Democracy has not had a happy track record in recent years, but, for once, the public, carefully steered, have come up trumps. Grapefruit and rosemary were the selected pairing and for what is already a bold gin it is an excellent choice, adding a bit more in the way of vibrancy, zest, and floral notes to the original recipe.

The base gin is the tried and tested Bathtub, which is made by cold compounding where the botanicals are added by infusion without distillation, as was the case in the bootleg days. The grapefruit and rosemary are added after the original gin has been created. As the label says “we blend and infuse Bathtub Gin with natural grapefruit and rosemary to hit those fragrant bittersweet and herbal notes that make this craft gin so delicious”.

They are not wrong. Retaining the light-brown colouring, botanical profile, creaminess, and strength (43.3% ABV) of the original Bathtub Gin, on the nose the familiar aroma of a hefty wedge of juniper, cardamom, and orange is joined by the more delicate, fragrant, floral notes of the rosemary. In the mouth the immediate hit is that of grapefruit that makes a full-frontal assault on your tastebuds, before allowing the earthier notes of the juniper, cinnamon, and rosemary to get a look in. This impressive and intriguing gin signs off with a lingering aftertaste full of spice and sweet citrus.

What could have been two completely disparate parts bodged together have been melded together with some finesse to create a well-balanced spirit which is reminiscent of but different from the original Bathtub. Whether it was worth the effort, only the consumers and sales figures will ultimately determine. For me, no great fan of flavoured gins, it did at least recognise the concept that a gin should be juniper-led and was moreish. Whether it would sway to forsake the original, I doubt.

At least democracy sometimes can come up trumps.

Until the next time, cheers!

The Cheyne Mystery

A review of The Cheyne Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts

This is the second in Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French series, originally published in 1926, and quite different from the others that I have read in that it is more in the way of a thriller than a murder mystery. French himself does not appear until around the two-thirds mark of the book. There is little in the way of alibi-busting, a hallmark of the later Crofts’ books, although French does have to get the international Bradshaw out along with a continental hotel gazetteer to try and work out a likely venue for some channel-hopping.

Central to the story is a sealed envelope which has been entrusted into the care of Maxwell Cheyne and which a gang of determined criminals seem to want to get their hands on. When the envelope is opened, it contains a complicated cipher, replicated within the text with a tacit invitation to the reader to apply their wits to the problem. As it would require an atlas with navigational charts it all seems too much of a faff and I was happy to let French do the legwork for me. It marked the location of some gold, moved to a safe location by a U-boat captain during the First World War in what can only be described as a heinous war crime.

Wills, as always, is as much interested in the mechanics of a crime as the who and whydunit. There is an explanation, complete with diagram, of the flask used to drug Cheyne at a hotel in Plymouth, an incident which kicks off an unhappy string of incidents for the rather naïve hero. Full of British bulldog spirit he is a bit of a nincompoop. Falling into a trap once is unfortunate and forgivable but to do so twice more with increasingly perilous consequences is the epitome of stupidity. Instead of taking the wise course of contacting the police, he decides to establish what is going on himself, aided and abetted by a young lady by the name of Merrill whom he picks up along the way and with whom he inevitably falls in love.

Cheyne wonders how the gang know so much about him, not realizing that the obvious answer is that there is a mole in his household. He blunders from one scrape to another, any sentient thought lost to the thrill of the chase. He gets so deep into the case that he engages in a spot of housebreaking, vandalism as he smashes up an escritoire, and theft, all to little avail. The deeper he gets sucked in, the more difficult he finds it to call in the police.

It is only after the third incident when an attempt is made on his life and Merrill is abducted that he calls into Scotland Yard and the fearsome intellect of Joseph French is brought to bear on the problem. During the course of his investigations French finds a discarded fragment of a hotel bill which he painfully reconstructs, leading him to visit Bruges on what was a wild goose chase and then Antwerp – the two languages spoken in Belgium add an intriguing complication to the problem – and works out what the cipher is all about.   

The recovery of the gold and the reuniting of Cheyne with Merrill is achieved more by luck than judgment. There is no honour among thieves and where there is the prospect of riches, greed will rise to the surface. What was a well-crewed ship resembles the Marie Celeste by the time French and Cheyne arrive there and all ends happily ever after. French even scoops a handsome share of the reward, £1,000 or about £65,000 in today’s terms.

Crofts writes an engaging, if rather light, story in a straightforward, occasionally amusing style, allowing the natural pace of his tale to carry the reader along. It certainly is not as heavy as some of his stories can be and bears all the hallmarks of a writer finding his feet with his chosen genre.

Overture To Death

A review of Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh

If nothing else, Ngaio Marsh is highly inventive when it comes to designing the way in which her latest victim will meet their death. Idris Campanula, a loathsome, interfering spinster, sits down to play the opening bars of the Overture at the start of the village play, presses the soft pedal, triggering a mechanism that fires a pistol, shooting her straight between the eyes. She crumples spectacularly onto the keyboards in the full view of cast and audience.   

Overture to Death, the eighth in Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn series, originally published in 1939, starts of well. She takes care to paint the picture of a small English village, whose protagonists have too much time on their hands, engage socially with each other too much, and are prey to insecurities and petty jealousies, no more so than the two spinsters, Eleanor Prentice and Idris Campanula. Curiously, Marsh, a spinster herself, never seems to portray her spinsters in a good light and these two are straight from central casting, competing to better the other in all aspects of village life, and rivals for the affections of the poor, unworldly vicar, Copeland.

If anything, Eleanor is the worst of the two, determined to spike the blossoming romance between her cousin’s son, Henry Jernigham, and the vicar’s daughter, Dinah Copeland. This is a tale of bitterness, clandestine and frustrated love, pettiness, jealousies, feuds, all bubbling away until they erupt into cold-blooded murder. The intrigue is intensified by the fact that it was Eleanor who was supposed to have played the music, another of those sore points between the two, until she had to pull out at the last minute because of a sore finger. Very few knew of the switch leading to speculation as to whether it was she that was the intended victim.

The Squire, every village has to have one, Jocelyn Jernigham, is in a ticklish position. He is the Acting Chief Constable, and it was his gun which killed Idris. To complete the cast of suspects there is the Doctor, Template, on whose advice Eleanor pulled out at the last minute, and a femme fatale in the form of a widow, Mrs Celia Ross, a newcomer to the village and with whom the doctor is having a fling. She is not all that she appears to be.

As there was a big burglary in the area on the same night, the local police pass responsibility for the murder investigation to Scotland Yard. Alleyn, along with his faithful sidekick Fox, is assigned to the case and the journalist, Nigel Bathgate, makes a welcome reappearance. Marsh’s writing is vivid, there is considerable humour, especially in the characters of the local police and the badinage between Alleyn, Fox, and Bathgate, but the book does begin to pall after a terrific beginning. There is too much of what might be called padding, especially the elongated red herring of the doctor and his floozy, and the letter that Alleyn writes to his beloved, Agatha Troy, who has promised to marry him but seems to be taking her time in doing so. It is as though Marsh realised midway through writing this that it was a mystery not complicated enough to make a full novel but too complex for a short story.

A schoolboy prank, the use of Twiddletoy, a sort of Meccano, a re-enactment of how the murder was done, a dead telephone line, half an onion, a wooden box, some fragments of rubber, the testing of alibis and precisely timing the movements of all concerned, lead Alleyn to the solution. He unmasks the culprit in a set piece scene when all are assembled to hear what he has to say.

It was enjoyable enough as a piece of entertainment, but there was not enough in the book for me to make it a classic.

Jubilees – The Story Shofar

Until this year fifteen monarchs around the world had reigned for at least seventy years, the grand-père of them all being Louis XIV whose 72 years and 110 days on the French throne is the longest recorded of any monarch of a sovereign country. On February 6, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II became the sixteenth. A series of celebrations are being planned this year across the country and the Commonwealth to mark what is known as her Platinum Jubilee year.

Jubilee years were part of the cycle of days and years in Judaic tradition. Seven days made up a week, the seventh being the Sabbath, a day dedicated to rest and worship. There were seven years in a cycle, the seventh, the Sabbath year, was when the land lay fallow. According to the Book of Leviticus (25:10), after forty-nine years, a cycle of seven weeks of seven years, “you shall consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you”.

The jubilee year was a way of resetting the dial. All leased or mortgaged lands were to be returned to their original owners and all slaves and bonded labourers were to be freed. There were carefully crafted provisions to mitigate the economic mayhem that these strictures may have caused (Leviticus 25:15-16), but the underlying principle was that everyone should be free to enjoy the fruits of their own labour.

A blast on a shofar, a rudimentary trumpet made from a ram’s horn, marked the start of the Jubilee year. The Hebrew word for ram was “yobhel”, which may be the origin of our word “jubilee”, although it is just as likely to have been derived from the Latin verb “jubilare”, to shout out joyfully or to celebrate.

Jubilee years were introduced to the Christian world by Pope Boniface VIII in a Papal Bull, Antiquorum fida relatio, published on February 22, 1300. He promised that anyone who made a full confession and made a pilgrimage to Rome would be absolved of all sins. Once in Rome they were required to visit the basilicas St Peter and St Paul for fifteen consecutive days, or if they were Roman citizens, for thirty.

Pilgrims flocked to Rome, the chronicler Giovanni Villani observing that it was “the most marvellous thing that was ever seen, for throughout the year, without a break, there were in Rome, besides the inhabitants of the city, 200,000 pilgrims…and all was well ordered, and without tumult”. The Papal coffers received a welcome boost, and the jubilee was declared a success, so much so that Pope Clement VI overturned Boniface’s original intention of holding one every hundred years by organising another, in 1350.

In the 1380s Pope Urban VI decided that the jubilee years should reflect the duration of Christ’s earthly life and be held every thirty-three years, but by the mid-15th century the frequency had become once every twenty-five years as it is today. 2025 is the next jubilee year. From 1500 pilgrims entered the principal basilicas through special doors, known as “Holy Doors”, and temporary walls built behind them were ceremonially broken down by the Pope to mark the beginning of the year.

Reaction Of The Week


What is it with cats and cucumbers?

Social media is full of, frankly, inexplicable trends that go viral. One of the lates is videos of cat owners placing a cucumber behind their pet. When the cat turns round, it jumps out of its skin.

While not exactly an ailurophile, I do find the videos a little cruel, but why do cats react in this way when they encounter a cucumber unexpectedly?

According to Jill Goldman, a certified animal behaviourist, I leave you to draw your own conclusions, the cucumbers trigger the cat’s natural startle reflexes. Their natural reaction is to jump out of the way and then have a good luck to see whether the object poses any threat. Some think that they mistake the fruit for a snake and are especially concerned when they encounter one in an area that they regard as a safe haven, such as where they eat.

As with most social media crazes, videos of startled cats will soon be a thing of the past, but it is good to have an explanation of the behaviour.

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