Gin O’Clock (108)

The final bottle of the quartet of gins from the southwest I procured through Drinkfinder.co.uk’s exemplary mail order service was Salcombe Gin. Salcombe is on the mouth of the Kingsbridge estuary in southwest Devon and is renowned for its sailing. Indeed, the duo behind the gin, Howard Davies and Andrew Lugdsin, first met when they were sailing instructors there. In 2014 they decided to surf the ginaissance and create their own version of the spirit, taking the excellent Tanqueray 10 as the standard to aim at and to develop a London Dry Gin which put fresh citrus foremost.

The fruit bias is the distillers’ homage to the Salcombe Fruiterers, copper bottomed boats, crewed by locals, who imported between the 1820s and 1880s around 80% of the fresh citrus that was imported into the country. Their idea was to source citrus from the countries that were on the Fruiterers’ trading routes. In the mix we find juniper, fresh grapefruit, lemon and lime peels, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cubeb, liquorice, chamomile, bay leaves, orris and angelica. To maintain maximum freshness the citrus fruits are peeled immediately before maceration in a 450 litre Holstein still called Provident.      

The gin is made using a one-shot method, where the botanicals are allowed to macerate in a pot with the base spirit, made from English grain, and then the still is run with the botanicals in the spirit. The botanical distillate is then proofed with water, sourced from Dartmoor, and then bottled at its fighting ABV of 44%. One unusual feature of the production method is that use a helping of the tails from the previous run, claiming that the tail contains the majority of the angelica which puts some backbone into their spirit. Most distillers separate the heads and tails from a batch, only using the middle section for their final product, on the basis that the tails are generally low in alcohol and fairly unpleasant to taste.

The bottle is elegant, using a slightly dumpy wine bottle and crisp lettering and bronze edging, black print and white labels to good effect. It gives a distinctly crisp and clean look. The bottle is embossed with “SDCo” in the middle and “Born of the Sea” at the bottom. The neck of the bottle, just below the bronze cap with its artificial stopper, contains an image of the Kingsbridge estuary. The labelling tells me that the gin’s secondary name is Start Point, a reference to the “iconic lighthouse built in 1836, [which] stands guard on one of the most exposed peninsulas on the English coastline and marks the beginning and end of the 19th century voyages of the Salcombe Fruiterers”. My bottle is from batch number 341, a good vintage, I’m sure.

The gin did not disappoint. To the nose the immediate impact is one of a sweet, earthy smell, quickly followed by a welcome hit of juniper and almost an overload of citrus. There was a little hint of spice at the end, but the aroma was sufficient to satisfy me that I had a classic London gin on my hands. In the mouth it is remarkably soft, complex with each of its elements playing their part. The first to play is the liquorice, then a hint of peppery heat, before the sourer citrus elements start to make their presence felt. There is a distinctive earthiness to the taste, perhaps they are right about the used angelica giving the spirit an extra boost, and the last impression leading on to the aftertaste was of spiciness.

I was a little surprised that the juniper was so subdued. This all changed, though, when I put a mixer in. The juniper burst into life and the citrus elements made a game attempt to play their part. Remarkably, the gin took on two different characters, with or without mixer, a versatility that demonstrates its complexity and the care that has gone into its design. As a fan of juniper-led gins, I preferred it with a tonic, but that is just my preference. An excellent gin.

Until the next time, cheers!

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