So, what exactly is cold distillation? I asked myself that question when I picked up the long, elegant, exquisitely beautiful and extremely tactile bottle that houses Oxley Cold Distilled London Dry Gin in the Duty Free shop at Schipol airport.
Well, in a nutshell it is the use of vacuum pressure to bring the temperature at which the neutral grain spirit and the botanicals boil down from 78 Celsius to a much lower point, in the case of Oxley’s gin to -5 degrees Celsius. That’s a pretty impressive scientific achievement but what is the point? Those who know about these things say that one of the problems with the normal method of distillation where the mix is brought to the boiling point of the ethanol is that the botanicals can get cooked and lose some of their natural flavours. By lowering the boiling point dramatically, those oh-so precious and delicate flavours and aromas are preserved and added to the mix.
That’s the theory and I’m sure a lot of scientific brainpower has gone into perfecting a method which can give a gin an extra edge and an extra marketing edge is the sort of fine margin that can make a spirit in the crowded market that the ginaissance has created. Oxley, part of the Bacardi group, are not the only ones to use cold distillation but their claim to fame, at the moment, at least, is that they distil at the lowest temperature.
Their chosen method of distillation means that there is little of the wastage that normally comes with traditional distilling methods, namely the heads and tails, which can make up to two-thirds of a batch and contain unsavoury elements such as methanol and other unwanted substances. Oxley’s method means that pretty much of all that has gone in at the start is useable at the end. They also deploy what is known as one shot distillation where all the botanicals are macerated together rather than separately.
What this all means to the consumer is that even by premium gin standards, Oxley Gin is pretty expensive, something exacerbated by the fact that it is only available in litre bottles. So does this use of cutting edge technology translate itself into a memorable and refreshing drinking experience which, after all, is what we are paying the big bucks for?
According to the label on the rear of the bottle Oxley dedicated eight years and 38 recipes to perfect the process of making the gin in their specially invented and patented still. The principal problem was that they found that the taste characteristics you normally associate with a botanical which had gone through the traditional distillation process had changed, sometimes markedly, and some significant recalibration of ratios had to be made to get a spirit they were happy with. My bottle is C47670.
There are fourteen botanicals in the mix – juniper, grapefruit, lemon, orange, meadowsweet, vanilla, aniseed, orris root, liquorice root, cocoa, grains of paradise (a kind of gingery, peppery seed), cassia bark, nutmeg and coriander. This gave me some cause for concern as these days I am definitely in the less is more camp when it comes to botanicals.
But perhaps I needn’t have worried. On removing the artificial cork stopper the aroma was a reassuring and heady mix of juniper with spice and citrus. To the taste the initial impression was that the juniper and citrus elements were to the fore but as the extremely smooth spirit settled down, some of the other flavours began to make their presence felt, particularly grapefruit. It would be wrong of me to say I could detect each of the fourteen but as a whole they made for a crisp, almost too clinical a drink. The aftertaste was a mix of juniper and liquorice which lasted long after I had swallowed the spirit. At 47% ABV, it also packed a bit of a punch.
For its elegance, both in presentation and in its taste, it is definitely worth exploring but I’m not sure the finished product was worth all the effort that went into its production.
Until the next time, cheers!