Viper Barrel-Aged Gin

One of the advantages that distillers who specialise in gin have over those who concentrate on whisky is that of time. It is a relatively simple process, leaving aside the tricky bit of getting the mix of botanicals to produce an acceptable drink, and the period between staring the distillation and having a finished product can be numbered in a handful of days, if not hours, compared with the years that whiskies have to be laid down in barrels to mature. The pressure to differentiate your product in the frenzied marketplace spawned by the ginaissance has led to a new type of gin, matured in a barrel. On the face of it, it seems a tad counterintuitive to give up the immediacy of bringing your product to market for the benefit of infusing your carefully curated distillation with the flavours drawn from a wooden barrel.

However, for what may be called the taste archaeologist, someone keen to sample the tastes of yesteryear, a quirk perhaps analogous to the renaissance of vinyl records as the perfect antidote to the blandness of streaming, there is sound reasoning behind this latest trend in gin distillation. Well into the 20th century wooden casks were the most common means for the storage of spirits including gin. In the late 18th century Citadelle Reserve Gin was smuggled into England from France, supposedly by Royal order, in wooden casks and recipe books from the Savoy in the early 20th century show advertisements for barrel-aged gin. Wooden casks were only phased midway through the century.

A distillery that has added a barrel-aged gin into their range is Viper, based in Cerne Abbas in Dorset. The origin of their name is a delightful tale that marketeers love. As they were preparing their plot to grow some of the botanicals they intended to use, they discovered a viper in the long grass, and decided to use the name. At least they were able to justify the strapline, “a gin with a bite”.    

Viper Barrel-Aged Gin has been aged in a finely grained Allier oak cask, famed in their spiritual home in central France for the subtlety and elegance in which the convey spicy flavours and aromas, ideal for a juniper-led gin. The cask used is an exact replica of the barrels en route to South Africa when the MSC Napoli beached on the Dorset coast in 2007 and was previously conditioned with the finest Cider Brandy from the Somerset Cider Brandy Company. The barrel gives a distinctive smoky, oaky flavour to the spirit.

The base spirit is made from English wheat grain and ten botanicals are used, although, sadly their identities are not revealed save for the assurance that they have been “carefully selected” and sourced, wherever possible, locally.  

The bottle is shaped like a slightly overweight wine bottle with a rounded shoulder and a short neck with an artificial cork stopper. The labels, at front and back, use a chocolatey brown background with a typeface reminiscent of that used in 19th century posters with jagged edges and lettering in a muted silver. My bottle is from batch no 001.

The first thing that struck me was the spirit’s colour – a pale green. On the nose it is distinctively piney and smoky and in the glass is an exceptionally smooth and well-balanced drink with juniper and apple to the fore. The aftertaste is long and lingering. This is a gin with a difference and certainly has a bite with an ABV of 5%. I loved it and as it only comes in a 50cl bottle I will be savouring every drop. It is well worth seeking out and I will be intrigued to sample Vapour’s other gins. If this is the standard for barrel-aged gins, then it may be a trend that will be around for many a year.

Until the next time, cheers!

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