One of the joys of writing about my exploration of the ever burgeoning ginaissance is that it has encouraged others to share their experiences and discoveries with me. Two dear friends, both loyal followers of this blog, both separately visited Belfast, a city I have only been to once, and raved about a local hooch, Jawbox Classic Dry Gin. Had I tried it? No was my response but I will certainly look out for it.
Wandering around the spirits section of Marks & Spencer I spotted it, competitively priced and as I was getting low on gin, I decided to buy a bottle. The gin comes in a rather dumpy, squat bottle with an artificial cork stopper. The labelling has a solid Victorian feel about it with white and gold lettering on a black background. It boasts that it is Ireland’s first single estate gin – it is distilled at Echinville Distillery, the first such to be licensed to distil spirits in Northern Ireland for 130 years. The neck bears the signature of its creator, Gerry White, together with the legend, “harvested, distilled and bottled by hand on one estate”.
If the events of 2016 have told us anything it is that we live in a post-truth world. Looking at the list of eleven botanicals that form the recipe – juniper, coriander, angelica root, orris root, grains of paradise, liquorice roots, cubebs, cardamom, cassia quills, black mountain heather and lemon peel – this can hardly be the case. True enough, the base spirit is made from barley grown on the Echinville estate, as is the water used, but most, if not all of the botanicals, cannot have a local provenance. There is a certain economy with the actualite in the claim, I feel.
The label sheds some light on the gin’s unusual name. The sink in many a Northern Irish household was the focal point of the house, where stories and experiences, gripes and groans were freely exchanged. It was colloquially known as the Jawbox and the gin, so Neill explains, is supposed to be the lubricant to promote conversation in the bar.
So what’s it like? To the nose it has a spicy aroma with a hint of citrus. To the taste it is firmly in the classic gin corner with citrus and spice providing a solid base allowing the juniper to come to the fore and then follows a sweet, slightly oily sensation. The aftertaste is prolonged and pleasant, with juniper in the ascendancy again. At 43% ABV it packs a punch but worked well with a judiciously selected tonic. If you like your classic gins, which I do, you cannot go wrong with this. They just need to get their marketing message straight.
On the same shopping trip to M&S I picked up a bottle of Jensen’s Old Tom Gin which comes in a very elegant, rectangular bottle with frosted glass, a rather trendy and minimalist label, a small gold image of London’s Tower Bridge near where it is distilled and a screwcap. It uses a handwritten recipe dating back to the 1840s and the botanicals used give it its natural sweetness. Unlike many Old Toms available now, there is no added sugar. Jensen’s are coy as to the exact component of their spirit but its aroma contains hints of pepper and citrus. To the taste, liquorice is initially to the fore and the aftertaste is prolonged and slightly bitter but the complexity of the spirit is such that it stands up well to a strong tonic or as the base for a cocktail. This is already a firm favourite and at 43% ABV provides a solid start to an evening’s drinking.
Until the next time, cheers!