Whilst the ginaissance shows no signs of flagging, it is doubtful whether more than a small proportion of the distillers scrambling for position can make a long-term sustainable business. The barriers for sustained success are high. Leaving aside the logistics of distribution and the sensitivity of price point, particularly in uncertain economic times, deploying unusual botanicals or distilling methods or distinctive packaging or coming up with an interesting back story can only take you so far. When being out of the box is the new normal, it takes something special to make that breakthrough.
I have been intrigued by Ableforth Bathtub Gin for some time, although not enough to be tempted to buy a bottle. It has a certain homemade feel about it with its brown paper wrapping encasing the bottle, the string around the neck and its wax sealant. And of course, the name Bathtub is redolent of the days of the Prohibition when bootleggers, at least so they say, used to infuse their spirit with various fruits and botanicals in their baths, often in a vain attempt to hide the dreadful quality and taste of the underlying base spirit. Bathtub has to this day that cachet of being poor quality, cheap gin, a rather difficult marketing hurdle to overcome.
Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin is created by Atom Brands, based in Tunbridge, using a base botanical spirit distilled in pot stills by Langley Distillery in Oldbury, near Birmingham. Its chief point of difference from other gins is that it is made using a process called cold compounding. What this means in layman’s terms is that the botanicals, juniper, orange peel, coriander, clover, cardamom, and cinnamon, are simply added to the base spirit and then filtered out before bottling. Distilled gins, on the other hand, infuse the botanicals and then distil.
There has been a certain sniffiness about compound gins as it was viewed as the method of choice of gin producers who were looking for a cheap product, often using artificial colourings and extracts, to maximise profits. Distilled gins, on the other hand, maintain the purity and authenticity of the product by using real botanicals and taste is as important as profit. The hard truth, though, is that distilled gins rule the roost because it is much easier to produce a consistent gin in commercially viable quantities by doing large distillation runs than fiddling around adding and filtering botanicals.
With its name, appearance and method of production, Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin has always seemed to me to have a bit of a mountain to climb. In these straitened times when trips out are restricted to the purchase of essential items, their gin was the only one on the shelves of our local Waitrose that I had not sampled. I decided that now was as good a time as any to give it a go.
Once I had got the wax sealant off and the cork stopper out, the aroma that greeted me was encouraging, a heady mix of juniper to the fore with citrus elements present but keeping a respectful distance in the background. When I poured the spirit into my glass, I was in for a surprise as it was a very light brown liquid, like an overwatered whisky. That aside, it was a smooth and more complex gin than I had expected. There was an immediate hit of juniper, always welcome, followed by more sweeter sensations and then a rush of spice and pepper before finishing off with the citrus elements. Each botanical played its part in a well-choreographed performance, there long enough for me to recognise the part it was playing but not overstaying its welcome or seeking to outdo the others.
With an ABV of 43.3% this is a well-crafted gin with a bit of welly. It does not try to be too clever or flash but delivers an eminently drinkable and moreish spirit. It does much to restore the reputation of cold compounding.
Until the next time, cheers!