Gin O’Clock – Part Ninety Eight

The ginaissance knows no international boundaries and one of the pleasures to be derived from sampling gin is to find ones that come from distant parts of the globe.  This is a case in point with this week’s featured gin, Scapegrace Premium Dry Gin, which hails from New Zealand. It is made by the Rogue Society Distilling Company who are based in Canterbury, a company founded in 2014 by Mark Neal, Richard Bourke and Daniel McLaughlin. It soon became New Zealand’s top-selling premium gin, scooping up a few prizes along the way.

Plans to distribute their product internationally, and specifically with in the European Union, have not been plain sailing as they ran into trademark issues. A US brewer by the name of Rogue Brewers had got in there first and as trademark rules prohibit two products in the same category from having similar names, the Kiwi Rogues had no option but to change name.  It is now known as Scapegrace by Rogue Distilling Co throughout the world, the trio taking the bold step of using an internationally accepted name in their established home market. Scapegrace, apparently, is 18th century slang for a rogue so the connection is not lost. You can improve your knowledge by drinking!

The bottle itself is stunning, taking its shape, solid, squat, square, from the old genever bottles. The glass is black with Rogue Society Premium Dry Gin embossed on both sides. The front has a big, round metal plate just below the neck and the back has the logo and some information about the gin, but alas, not the botanicals, in white lettering, in keeping with its Kiwi origin. The stopper is artificial, black in colour externally and internally.   

In truth, it is not difficult to get hold of the botanicals in the mix, twelve in all, “nature’s wild apostles”, according to the bottle – juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, nutmeg, cloves, angelica root, liquorice root, orris root, cassia bark, and cinnamon sticks. The base spirit is a neutral grain and, the bottle tells me, the distillation takes place in “a whiskey still, 19th century, stumbled upon in a long abandoned shed”. What’s a missing hyphen between friends? The verbiage on the label gets almost poetic when it describes the water that goes in to the distillation process – “torn from the earth 80 years after it was hurled down on New Zealand’s Southern Alps” – seeping through sediment until finding its escapes into one of the world’s last natural aquifers.

On removing the stopper, I was relieved to be greeted by the unmistakable, but slightly subdued, aroma of juniper together with hints of citrus and spice. It was a nicely balanced aroma, not overpowered by the juniper but giving the hope that the principal constituent of a gin would have a significant part to play in the taste. In the mouth, this crystal-clear spirit is initially a tad disappointing. I was expecting an immediate hit of juniper, but it is more subtle than that, playing with us by presenting us with an opening burst of citrus and pepper, beautifully balanced. Now the juniper bursts on to the scene which, in combination with the spices, gives the spirit a warm, earthy feel to it before finishing off with a hint of liquorice and a warming sensation which lasts through to the aftertaste. Again, the aftertaste is not overstated, there long enough for you to take notice but not something which lingers with you for ages. To my mind it symbolises the spirit, well-balanced, smooth, but not over-powering.

Its almost shy, almost flirtatious, disposition poses a challenge for those who like a tonic to accompany their gin. So complex and delicate is the combination of botanicals that the introduction of a mixer which enters the scene with its hobnail boots on could ruin it. I don’t often drink my gins neat, but I found with this one that was the way to preserve and appreciate its subtle flavourings.

With an ABV of 42.2% it is an interesting twist on a juniper-led gin and made for a welcome change.

Until the next time, cheers!

Book Corner – April 2020 (5)

The Dead Shall Be Raised – George Bellairs

George Bellairs worked in a bank. To relieve the monotony, he wrote when he could and became a prolific, if somewhat underrated, producer of novels and short stories, often featuring his detective creation, Inspector Littlejohn of the Yard. Having only sampled his short stories, courtesy of Martin Edwards’ anthologies of crime stories from the so-called Golden Age, which I enjoyed, I was encouraged to sample one of his novels. The Dead Shall Be Raised was published in 1942, also going by the title of Murder Will Speak.

The first two chapters give us an insight into Bellairs’ style. The first is an atmospheric and slightly comic account of Littlejohn’s train journey in black-out England on Christmas Eve 1940 to the small Pennine town of Hatterworth where his wife is recuperating after their London home suffered a direct hit from a German bomber. The second features a description of a performance of Handel’s Messiah on Christmas Day evening, no slumping in front of the TV watching Strictly and Call the Midwife for them. Handel’s work gives the book its title. The humour is in Bellairs’ eye for detail, in his descriptions of his characters, the clothes they wear, the furniture they surround themselves with and comic juxtapositions, the local magistrate, arriving late for the performance, finds that he has to sit next to two of his regular clients, two incorrigible poachers.

The performance is interrupted by news that the Home Guard, whilst digging trenches on the moor, have unearthed a body, that of Enoch Sykes, popularly thought to have murdered his rival in love, Jeremy Trickett, and scarpered. Obviously, this could not now have been the case and the police, in New Tricks style, decide to reopen the case. Littlejohn is drafted in to help, not least because Superintendent Haworth has (conveniently) sprained his ankle. Any thoughts that Littlejohn had of a quiet Christmas disappear, but he doesn’t put up too much of a struggle about getting involved.

The plot is fairly straightforward, the investigation proceeds through the questioning, in a polite and gentlemanly way, of those still alive who had anything to do with the circumstances leading up to the deaths of Sykes and Trickett, and frankly it doesn’t take much effort to work out whodunnit. But to characterise it as a rather lightweight entertainment doesn’t do the book justice. It is laced with humour and full of insights into the human character.

It also showcases Littlejohn’s methods of detection. He is observant, knowledgeable of human nature and propensities to commit crime. He is rather like Simenon’s Maigret in that respect. Some of his methods wouldn’t pass muster these days but he nails the case with some ease. The trail towards what really happened on the moors of Hatterworth leads to three more deaths. What justice is natural rather than judicial.

I couldn’t help thinking that the moors around which the story is set were the scene of a real-life body search a couple of decades later, when the police were investigating the crimes of Myra Hyndley and Ian Brady, a case of real life imitating art. For those of a sensitive disposition, the novel is very politically incorrect, full of sexism and the odd racist remark. If you can get through that, you will have a pleasant, entertaining read on your hands.     

I shall read and review Murder of a Quack, which is the second novel in the volume, another time.

Poet’s Corner

Apparently, today is Great Poetry Reading Day, so here is a post celebrating poetry, which, surprisingly, can be an area of some controversy.

I remember hosting a literary event where one of the participants, a free-form, stream of consciousness sort of poet, was rounded upon by an elderly woman who complained bitterly that poetry was all about the poet and not about the wonders of the world. A lively discussion ensued with both sides agreeing to disagree.

It is fair to say that some forms of modern poetry have succeeded in freeing themselves from the constraints of iambs, dactyls and trochees, never mind pentameters and hexameters. And no bad thing too. What the poems may lack in formal structure, they more than make up for the in the intensity of feeling, directness, emotion and imagery.

A young American poet, Mal Young, whose burgeoning literary career I’m following with interest, has just had three of her poems, Two chambered, Think of you who wants and Corona borealis, published in the latest edition of Elderly magazine, a bi-coastal magazine featuring the works of rad poets. Click the link https://www.elderlymag.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2019.04.13-Elderly-31.pdf to see the magazine.

It is well worth a look.

The Streets Of London – Part One Hundred And Six

Cecil Court, WC2N

One of the famous people to lay their head down in Cecil Court was an eight-year-old music prodigy by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Mozart family rented three rooms between April 24th and August 27th 1764 from a barber, John Couzin, in the Court, although, according to Leopold, the rooms were not as commodious as they would have liked and had no cooking facilities. It is almost certain that Wolfgang composed his first symphony. The composer and music historian, Charles Burney, visited the Mozarts there and after the boy had wowed him with his musical abilities, “he played at marbles in the true childish way of one who knows nothing”. The insouciance of youth!       

A pub, The Angel, in Cecil Court gained some notoriety as a hotbed of radicalism, hosting a public debating society in the 1790s where anyone who had paid the weekly entrance fee could get on their hind legs and spout forth, often views that were considered dangerous if not subversive. The government, fearing an imminent French invasion, cracked down hard on dissidents, passing several Gagging Acts. In February 1798 the authorities raided the Angel and, according to The Gentleman’s Magazine, “the landlord was obliged to find extraordinary sureties, and informed that the licence of the house should certainly be withheld in the future”.

The pub, nevertheless, soldiered on only to find itself implicated, in 1803, in the treason trial of Colonel Despard, the last man to be sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered, a fate later commuted to just hanging and beheading. Despard was supposed to have headed a desperate plot to capture the Tower of London and the Bank of England and to assassinate George III. The Angel was to be the rebellion’s command centre, but, as the plot was foiled, it became just a footnote in London’s radical history.

Cecil Court is now known as Booksellers’ Row. Although the first bookselling transaction that can be definitively dated and traced to the Court was made in 1704, the street really became a centre for books at the beginning of the 20th century. One of the employees of Unicorn Press around 1901 was Arthur Ransome, he of Swallows and Amazons fame, who recorded in his autobiography that the Cecil Court firm was always on “very thin financial ice” and “lived under an almost continual threat of disaster”. Also to be found there was Greening Ltd, publishers and stockists of novels of a sensational kind, and at No. 21, Watkins, the oldest bookshop in London devoted to theosophy, spiritualism and the like.

In 1904, the brothers, William and Gilbert Foyle, opened a shop at No. 16 and were so successful that the premises were raided by the police on the suspicion that they were operating an illegal bookmaking operation. They grew to employ their first member of staff, who promptly ran off with the week’s takings, and in 1906 moved to Charing Cross Road.

The Court also became the centre of Britain’s nascent film industry, the newly built office space following redevelopment of the area in 1894, hosting the likes of Gaumont, Hepworth, Nordisk, Globe, Tyler and Vitagraph. The Court brought new industries to London, new skills and the proximity of so many pioneering firms meant that knowledge and expertise was spread around. From around 1907 what were originally one-stop establishments became specialised as the film industry grew in sophistication and popularity. Flicker Alley, as the Court was nicknamed, hosted over 40 film-related companies in the period up until the First World War.   

As the centre of power in the film industry moved during the course of the 20th century, Cecil Court was more often the backdrop to a film or advert. That said, it has a unique place in the development of the British film industry, and the book trade, for that. More importantly, to echo Graham Greene, “thank God, Cecil Court remains Cecil Court”.         

App Of The Week (3)

I have written before about one of the strange panics prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic; the need to find and stockpile toilet paper. No one has yet convinced me that, for all the terrible things this dread disease can do to your body and organs, it makes you go to the toilet more often than you ordinarily would.   

Still, if you are worried that you may run out of toilet paper anytime soon, a German website, Blitzrechner.de, has produced an app that will help you. All you do is enter how many toilet rolls you have, how often you go to the toilet a day, how many wipes per trip, how many squares of tissue per wipe, and how many people are in the house and press a button.

The app will work out how many day’s supply you have.

I suppose it serves a purpose. but the thought strikes me; can’t people solve simple mathematical problems these days without having to resort to an app?