Gin O’Clock – Part Eighty One

Such is the proliferation of gins that have emerged courtesy of the ginaissance that it is well-nigh impossible to keep on top of what is going on. I have long since abandoned as somewhat forlorn any ambition I might once have had of sampling them all. In truth, there are many, particularly the outlandish end of the flavoured gin spectrum, that I could live without but I do enjoy exploring small craft, distinctly regional gins and this week’s subject, Lantic Gin, from the Skylark Distillery in Lostwithiel fits the bill perfectly.

The name Lantic is a tip of the hat to Lantic Bay, a stunning stretch of coast with near white sand, turquoise water and lush clifftops, running between Fowey and Polperro in south-eastern Cornwall. In former times it had associations with smuggling but for distiller, Alex Palmer-Samborne, it is today the source for some of the botanicals that go into the mix. Whilst out walking with his dog, Alex gathers Rock Samphire, Gorse Flowers, Water Mint, Heather, Lemon Thyme, and Apple Mint which give his gin its distinctive flavour and play upon the solid base provided by the other nine botanicals.   

The base of the gin is a neutral English grain spirit, diluted with Cornish spring water, into which the nine base botanicals including juniper. They use a 150-litre copper pot still called Virginia into which the mix is poured and left overnight. The six locally foraged botanicals are then added the following day and reheated. The spirit is then diluted with Cornish spring water to bring it down to its fighting weight of 42% ABV. The use of Cornish water allows Skylark to designate their product as Cornish gin.

I bought my bottle at the excellent Constantine Stores, the physical incarnation of It is bell-shaped, clear with a synthetic stopper. The labelling consists of very light blue and white stripes with the lettering in a dark blue (think Cambridge and Oxford). There is a bit of a nautical feel to the label which informs me that it is “hand made by the Skylark Distillery, the Spirited Company of Foraging Ginmakers”. Disappointingly, there is no batch number or bottle number on the label. I know it must be a fag to do that but if you are going to go to the trouble of presenting yourself as a small, artisan distiller, it helps to make the point.        

It seems Alex and his friends, it pays to be friends with a distiller, had fun testing the various batches in an attempt to come up with the perfect recipe. The initial gins were juniper-heavy but they decided to move away from that to produce a more contemporary, floral, lighter, smoother gin. To the nose it is clear that this is going to be distinctive with the juniper downplayed and the floral elements to the fore. In the mouth it is a complex drink with a nice balance of all the elements in play with a smooth, lingering and none too spicy aftertaste. I mixed it with Navas tonic and its lightness brought out the best of the spirit.   

I enjoyed it, although I was missing the heavy juniper notes, and I found it a good opener to the evening. Indeed, so moreish is it that I am in danger of having to send out for some emergency supplies.

Until the next time, cheers!

Book Corner – October 2019 (5)

The Claverings – Anthony Trollope

The nights are drawing in and it is time to curl up with another Trollope. The Claverings, written in 1864 but not serialised in the Cornhill Magazine until 1866 and published in book form until a year later, could rightly be described as one of Trollope’s unappreciated gems. The author was rather pleased with it, noting in his Autobiography that it was well-written, with both humour and pathos. The problem, though, as he noted, was “I am not aware that the public has ever corroborated that verdict. I doubt now whether anyone reads The Claverings”, he sniffed.     

Well, if very few read it then, matey, these days it has pretty much fallen off the radar screen. If anyone reads Trollope nowadays it is probably going to be the Barchester series or the Pallisters or The Way We Live Now, which is a shame. The Claverings is classic Trollope and a perfect introduction to his world and style.

Yes, it is a tad long-winded – what Victorian novel, especially one written for serialisation, isn’t? – but has a pace about it and an engaging enough story to keep the reader interested. It is almost as perfect a novel as you can imagine, not a thread left undone, every loose end tied up. Trollope playfully cross-references the Barsetshire series, Bishop Proudie forbidding Henry Clavering, the rector, from fox hunting. So, why did it never find much favour with the reading public?

Part of the trouble, I think, lies in the fact that the lead characters are a tad ordinary with all the human failings of the common man. As the narrator of the story says, “men as I see them are not often heroic”. The plot revolves around a love triangle. The story opens with Julia Brabazon rejects the marriage proposal of Harry Clavering, a man she loves but who has very modest prospects, in favour of hooking up with the loathsome, dissolute but rich, Lord Ongar. In answer to the obvious Mrs Merton question, Julia “had no reliance on her own power of living on a potato, with one new dress every year”.       

The marriage was an ordeal but Lord Ongar quickly succumbed to the strains imposed on his body by his dissolute lifestyle. Meanwhile Harry has plighted his troth to Florence Burton, the daughter of his boss. When Julia reappears on the scene, what should Harry do, return to his first love or remain faithful to his vow of marriage? Cue much soul-searching and wringing of hands as all three protagonists try and work their way through this moral Gaudian knot.      

It takes an intervention of Neptune as an improbable and extremely convenient deus ex machina to resolve the dilemma. The accident, telegraphed well before it occurs, suggests that Trollope was grappling for a way out for his story and many might see it as a structural weakness which detracts from the reader’s enjoyment of the book. I find with many a Victorian novel you need to suspend credulity when considering the plot. Whether you consider the device to be a cop out or not, it does free the main characters from their torment.

I thought Trollope treated the moral anguish of the characters with sympathy and gave the reader an insight into their psychologies. On a more superficial level, the book is full of humour, social insight and pathos. Along the way we meet some wonderful characters including a supposed Russian spy, the sporting and devious Captain Boodle, who I’m sure gets a namecheck in Phineas Redux, a belligerent cleric, Dr Saul, the brothers Clavering, Sir Hugh of the hard heart and Archie, the feckless one, a sleazy foreign Count and many more.

I enjoyed the book and as a book that stands alone as opposed to being one of a series and being of moderate length (by the standards of the day) it is a good introduction to the author.

Burger Of The Week

It’s hard enough coming up with a new type of burger without having to fend off attacks from the Big Mac of burger chains, McDonalds.

About six months or so ago, Woodshed Burgers in Edmonton in Canada introduced a new item to their menu, nattily entitled Effing Filet O’Fish, a combination of a cod burger with coleslaw and red onions. Effing, as well as intended to be mildly cheeky – these Canadians, what are they like? – also references the name of their seafood suppliers, Effing Seafood.

Served with homemade buns and condiments, it has begun to make some waves with their customers, selling around 30 or so a week.

Chef, Paul Shufelt, was somewhat surprised the other week to receive a letter from solicitors representing McDonalds, demanding that he pulled his burger because it was “likely to cause confusion among consumers” and could “diminish and dilute the strength of McDonald’s trademark”. Apparently, they have their own Filet-O-Fish, the effing supplied when the consumer bites into it.

Shufelt has duly complied, not wanting to get into a time consuming and costly legal battle, but has hit back by launching and trademarking a new fish burger. It is the McEffing Fish Filet and comes with a warning to consumer not to confuse it with the McDonalds Filet-O-Fish.

As if you would.

You’re Having A Laugh – Part Twenty Nine

Zzxjoanw – a lexicographical hoax, 1903

For those who love to play Scrabble words which are a jumble of consonants, particularly ones containing z and x, are manna from heaven. Anyone who had the tiles to make Zzxjoanw would have scooped the jackpot but the story behind the word shows that not all was what it seemed.

Rupert Hughes, an American novelist and composer, compiled an encyclopaedia of classical music in 1903. Within this tome was a sort of dictionary giving definitions of and tips on the pronunciation of non-English terms that a musician or music-lovers may encounter. The final entry in this section was the tongue-twister, zzxjoanx. According to Hughes it was a Maori word and quite a versatile one it was too. It had three meanings, two of which had musical connotations, a fife or a drum, and one, slightly incongruously, meaning the conclusion. The word was retained in several reprints of the book and even escaped excision following Deems Taylor and Russell Kerr major revision of the Music Lover’s Encyclopaedia in 1954.

The first hint that there may be a problem with the word came in 1974 in Mrs Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words. But it was not the word itself that came under Mrs Byrne’s microscope. It was accepted as a Maori word for a drum. Rather it was Hughes’ proposed pronunciation. Hughes had claimed, somewhat bizarrely, that this jumble of letters sounded like shaw. Mrs Byrne’s dictionary begged to differ, proposing the somewhat more believable ziks-joan.

It was not, however, until November 1976 that the extent of Hughes’ hoax was revealed. Philip Cohen was sufficiently intrigued or troubled by the word that he decided to delve into the Maori language, publishing his results in an essay entitled What’s the Good Word, published in Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics. The starting point in Coen’s investigation, quite logically, was the Maori language itself. There he discovered that they use just fourteen letters and that all their words ended in a vowel. It will come as no surprise that the letters z, x and j were not among the fourteen they used and, of course, the word did not end in a vowel.

The next problem was that of all the Polynesian peoples the Maoris were unique in not using a drum in their music. They kept time by stamping their feet or slapping their thighs. Indeed, what musical instruments they had were hollowed out of wood or bone and blown, although they did have a single-stringed instrument, the ku. And in any case, even if they had a word for a drum would they have also used to describe a fife?

Then there was the problem of the alleged third meaning of the word, conclusion. Was it more than a coincidence that this definition was the final word of the lexicon? Cohen not unreasonably concluded that the word was a figment of Hughes’ imagination.

But why did he go to the trouble of inventing the world?

Some conspiracy theorists think that Hughes was having a dig at none other than George Bernard Shaw. At the time GBS was an eminent music critic and an impassioned campaigner for spelling reform. Shaw had even invented his own word, ghoti. This may explain why Hughes suggested that the word was pronounced shaw. But joan could not have been a reference to Shaw’s play St Joan as this was not performed until 1923, twenty years after Hughes’ invention of the word. However, it is possible that Mrs Byrne’s Dictionary recognised and played on the joke.

The other theory is that Hughes was just interested to see whether he could get away with this bit of nonsense. Maori was an obscure language, there were very few native speakers at the time, and Hughes’ intended readership were unlikely to either notice it or have the knowledge to challenge it.

Either way, Hughes got away with it for seventy-three years.

If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Scams and Hoaxes by Martin Fone

Hobby Of The Week (3)

Everybody should have a hobby, they say, and if you find one that piques your interest, if you are not too careful, it can take over your life. Take 16-year-old Danish schoolgirl, Freja Louise Kristiansen, from Aarhus.

Her bag is to collect the coloured wrappers that surround the posher type of tea bag. She claims she was inspired to start collecting them nine years ago by her grandmother, who used to make rosettes out of them. Her collection grew and grew and when, in 2017, it had reached 650 and she learnt that the world record for a collection was 743, she thought she may well have a go for the record.

In June 2018 she claimed the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of tea bag covers with 1,023. But still her collection grew and with the help of a local tea shop, AC Perchs Thehandel, Freja counted, archived, and put her collection into alphabetical order. Her collection, now in three folders, stands at 1,237, a new world record, naturally.

I wonder if she likes tea?