One of the fascinating features of the ginaissance is how enterprising distillers have sought to introduce new botanicals into our favourite spirit. It creates a marketing edge, an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the crowd and sometimes it even produces a drink that is memorable and worth the effort. James Rackham’s idea was to use the Sussex hops that he found growing wild in the hedgerows as the central component of his new gin. The result was Mayfield Sussex Hop Gin. As gin and beer are my favourite tipples, a gin that combines the two has got to be worth investigating.
The Sussex hop is now an approved variety of hop and rather than relying on the variable bounty of the hedgerows, Rackham secures his supply from a hop farm in Salehurst. It is one of eight botanicals used in the mix, bringing with it some heady floral tones and characteristic bitterness. I was concerned that the taste of hop would overwhelm the gin, but Rackham has guarded against this with a judicious choice of accompanying botanicals. To watch over the hops he has chosen juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root, coriander, liquorice, and orris root. Each of the botanicals is micro-distilled in a copper pot still and then brough together. Bar the hops, it is a very conventional line up and one that would normally result in a tasty, traditional London Dry gin style.
Indeed, that is the case. On opening the synthetic stopper, the aroma is distinctively juniper led with hints of citrus and pepper. In the glass the spirit is crystal clear. In the mouth, the first impressions are of a hit of juniper followed by some citrus elements, although more subdued in taste than in smell, and pepper. The aftertaste is lingering with a warming mix of juniper and spicy pepper. The hops, frankly, are difficult to detect, operating in the background to give a hint of floral tones, rather than dominating the spirit. It is a well-balanced, indeed elegant, gin and with an ABV of 40% has enough kick to make its presence felt while leaving room for more. It left me thinking, though, it could have been a little more adventurous in allowing the hops to assume more prominence.
The bottle is attractive, made with clear glass, looking rather like a slightly dumpy wine bottle. What makes it stand out on the shelf is its diabolic label featuring an image of a startled devil with a pair of tongs wrapped round his nose. This relates to the epic struggle between St Dunstan and the devil, played out in the 10th century in the village of the gin’s origin, Mayfield. Archbishop Dunstan is said to have grasped the devil’s nose with a pair of red-hot tongs and the devil’s roar was heard three miles away. The very same pair, it is said, were displayed at the village’s convent.
The devil went off to the nearby springs in Tunbridge Wells to assuage his heated nose, thereby giving the waters their distinctive reddish hue, although in reality this is down to its high iron content. Another version of the story claims that the devil flew off towards Brighton with the tongs still attached to his nose and they dropped off and landed at a place now known as Tongdean.
All nonsense, of course, but it adds a nice marketing edge to what is an impressive gin and a welcome addition to my collection.
Until the next time, cheers!