Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty Three

The ginaissance still shows no sign of running out of steam. Far from it.

Figures released recently by HMRC showed that export sales of British gins had doubled in value since 2010, reaching the heady height of £612 million in 2018. Meanwhile in Blighty, we consumed 66 million bottles of gin, a 41% increase on 2017.

Impressive statistics but, as I noted a few weeks ago, there is a discernible attempt to exercise some control of what is rapidly resembling the Wild West. Some companies have been playing fast and loose with what were the commonly held tenets of the gin industry, not least what a gin is.

The two key articles of faith, if I can put it that way, are that the spirit has an ABV of 37.5% or more and that it is juniper-led. The Gin Guild, which seems to be emerging as the self-proclaimed gatekeeper of all matters gin, puts it more succinctly on their website, recognising only “gin styles produced by distilling ethyl alcohol in stills traditionally used for gin, in the presence of juniper berries and other botanicals – provided that the juniper taste is predominant.” You can’t say fairer than that.

So, where does this leave the so-called gin liqueurs? The few that I have tasted have been fruit-heavy, sweet and with low ABVs, often as low as 18%. On so many levels, they fail the gin test. At best they can only be described as a juniper flavoured drink. The only reason that gin is mentioned on their labelling is that is so on trend that gullible consumers are likely to be attracted to it. There is a very strong case for forcing them to remove their misleading labelling. According to press reports, Nicholas Cook, director-general of the Gin Guild, has already reported a number of these liqueurs to Trading Standards. I shall be interested to see what they do, if anything.

The undoubted success story of 2018 has been the growth of coloured and flavoured gins, which now make up around 20% of all gin sales in the UK, contributing to around a half of the overall increase in gin sales in 2018. Pink gins make up around 75% of the increase in flavoured gins alone. Personally, I feel they are too sweet for my palate and on occasion the distinctive taste of juniper is overwhelmed. And, once more, it is hard to make a case for some to be included within the classic definition of a gin. Another area for Trading Standards to keep an eye on, methinks.

I am not arguing that there is no place for these drinks, just that they are labelled responsibly so that the consumer knows exactly what they are getting. That is not too much to ask, surely.

One development I will watch with interest is the launch and development of the Gin Guild flavour guidance or Gin-Note. As bottles of premium gin are expensive, it pays to do a little research before making a purchase. An impulse buy based on the shape of the bottle or the marketeer-ese description on the labelling can be the precursor to an expensive mistake. The idea behind the Gin-Note is that it gives a standard flavour summary of each gin signed up to the scheme.

There are three elements to the Gin-Note – a visual representation of the general characteristics of the gin, a 20-word brand supplied description of the gin and two words, think tags, drawn from a pre-determined list which the supplier thinks best fits or describes their hooch. Provided that there is sufficient buy-in from the suppliers and that the standards are applied consistently and are broad enough to encompass most of the wide variety of tastes and flavours of true gins, it should be a boon to the consumer.

Until the next time, cheers!

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Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty Two

Is Camberley in Scotland?

I only ask the question because I thought that Aldi’s tie up with Eden Mill distillery was limited to Scottish stores. But, lo and behold, there nestling in the spirits section of our local store is a bottle of Eden Mill Botanical Project Traditional Batch Gin. Perhaps the ginaissance has played havoc with the traditional concepts of geography.

And a lovely bottle it is too. It is a stoneware bottle with one of those weird metal swing top contraptions, similar to those found on a Grolsch lager bottle, that force the cap down and which you have to lift up to open. A word of caution, mine fell apart after the second time I used it. If you like those fiendish Japanese metal puzzles, you will easily put it back together again.

The labelling is in green, presumably to emphasise the botanicals in the mix. Unusually for a gin to be found in Aldi, the rear of the bottle is quite helpful in describing what you might encounter inside. Although it only comes in a 50cl bottle, so it is relatively expensive, at £19.99, on an Aldi gin price spectrum when compared to its 70cl rivals, any disappointment on that score is more than made up by its ABV of 43%.

Eden Mill operates out of St Andrew’s in Fife, better known for being the spiritual home of golf than the producer of spirits. But the team are setting out to change that. Originally a brewery, it branched out to produce gins and whisky in 2014. They use pot stills for distilling their gin, bringing in the neutral grain spirit which makes up the base.

There are a number of gins that have come from The Eden Mill distillery, principally Original, Oak Gin, Sea Buckthorn Gin, Love Gin and Golf Gin. The Botanical Project Gins that can be found in Aldi include Chilli and Ginger and Blueberry and Vanilla, as well as the Original which, given my dislike of weirdly flavoured gins, I considered the safest to try.

The botanical of note in the mix is caraway seed. This is not the first time I have encountered it in a gin, it is one of the botanicals in Boodles’ British Gin London Dry. Used extensively in European and Mediterranean cooking, the caraway seeds, when roasted gently under a low flame and then ground, provide a warm, sweet, and slightly peppery flavour. Tradition has it that it was used to ward off witches as well as freshening your breath, perhaps one and the same function, and others swear by its medicinal properties to counter digestive problems. I’m always looking for an excuse to drink gin and perhaps I’ve found another one.

The mix in this gin also includes lavender, mint and liquorice. To the nose the juniper is less prominent than I would have liked but the spices and pepper come through loud and clear. To the taste it is smoother and better balanced than I had anticipated with the liquorice and peppers coming to the fore and creating a lingering aftertaste. Despite not being able to abide liquorice in its raw state I found it fine as an ingredient in this gin. And I haven’t had indigestion since.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty One

Continuing my exploration of Aldi’s take on the ginaissance, the next gin I put in my trolley was Mason’s G12 Gin. Retailing at £24.99 it is at the premium end of the gins on the supermarket’s shelves but the price is still attractive enough to warrant me taking a punt on it.

In 2013 Karl and Cathy Mason established what was then, and may be now for all I know, the first gin distillery in North Yorkshire in the beautiful town of Bedale. Their established brands are Mason’s Yorkshire Dry Gin and two variants, one flavoured with tea and the other with lavender. I tasted the former on New Year’s Eve when I was, shall we say, one over the eight and so I need to a more sober, considered view of their main product.

G12 is a more recent addition to their range and, as far as I can deduce, it is not tied exclusively to Aldi. It takes its name from the fact that it is the product of the twelfth recipe that the distillers tried. They are, after all, a very prosaic lot up in Yorkshire. The blurb suggests that they consider it to be a contemporary gin rather than one from a traditional gin stable. I started to shudder at this point but providing it was juniper led, that would be fine.

Aesthetically, the bottle sticks out like a sore thumb on the shelf, with its vibrant green colour. Think lime and you will get the picture. The white lettering on the front of the bottle tells me that it is a “botanically rich dry gin with bursts of citrus fruit and hints of fresh Mediterranean herbs.” The Mason’s logo is towards the bottom and the Yorkshire rose is embossed in the glass towards the neck.

The stopper, artificial cork, fits tightly to the neck of the bottle and makes a satisfying plopping noise when it is removed. I do like a good plop. The aroma released is complex and pleasing, with the piny smell of juniper to the fore before the more effervescent lime comes into play. There is a distinct freshness to the smell which presumably comes from the herbs.

To the taste the first hit is from the juniper and that stays in the mouth before it is joined by zesty citrus notes and a little sharpness. Then the citrus elements seem to subside and a more refreshing, herbal taste can be detected. The aftertaste is warm and peppery and lingers. With a mixer the gin seemed to louche and for me it was not as smooth or balanced as I had expected. It seems to operate in distinct phases rather than being one complete complex taste. But, pleasingly for a contemporary style gin, it has a solid and detectable juniper base.

I did try to detect precisely what was in the mix and my best guess is; juniper, coriander, basil, lemon and lime peels, cinnamon and black pepper. There may be more botanicals in the mix, the distillers are rather coy on that point, but they do admit to sweet basil.

For me, this is a gin for a warm summer evening. It is pleasant, refreshing and at the right time and place could be moreish. A cold February day in England, when I first sampled it, is probably not the ideal time to try it.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty

Back to my Aldi trolley. The second gin I selected, for just £15.99, was Harrison Handcrafted Gin.

One of the criticisms levied against bargain basement supermarkets like Aldi, apart from the dispiriting shopping experience and the untidy shelving, is that they often play fast and loose with intellectual property rights and copyright laws. A case in point was the legal spat between Poundland and Mondelez, manufacturers of Toblerone, over the Twin Peaks chocolate bar. Mondelez claimed that the Twin Peaks bar looked suspiciously like their own brand, and to be fair, it did. Bowing to legal pressure, Poundland redesigned the bar, it has more chocolate content than Toblerone, and it is back on the shelves.

What has this got to do with Harrison Gin? Well, you will soon see.

It comes in a bell-shaped bottle with an oval-shaped brown label at the front and a rectangular label at the rear. On top of the bottle is an artificial cork stopper which fits tightly and makes a satisfying plopping sound when it is released. The front label informs me that it is “crisply and refreshingly balanced” while the rear tells me that it is specially produced for Aldi Stores Ltd, although there is no information as to who the distillers might be.

Where my suspicions were aroused was when I looked at the colour of the bottle, a distinctive dark green, and the ABV of the spirit, a respectable 41.4%. The label at the back tells me that it is “crisp, well-balanced and smooth with zesty botanicals, floral aromas WELL BALANCED (their capitals) with juniper and refreshing cucumber.” At this point the penny dropped. Was this an ersatz Hendrick’s, one of the early pioneers of the ginaissance, now part of the William Grant & Son’s stable, and the seventh best-selling gin in the world. Hendrick’s is around twelve to fifteen pounds more expensive.

On opening the bottle, there was a very definite aroma of juniper with orange and spice coming through. A very clear spirit in the glass, it had a distinctive mix of spice and the cooling flavour you associate with cucumber. The aftertaste was a very pleasant mix of spice, citrus and cucumber. As it said on the bottle it was a well-balanced drink and quite moreish. If you are a fan of Hendrick’s, then you will appreciate this gin and save a few bob into the bargain.

Of course, the unanswered question is whether this is a deliberate rip-off of a well-respected, well-established brand, a cynical attempt to cash in on a demand already created for cucumber-based gins or is it just happenstance. After all, if you intend to make a gin that has cucumber as one of its principal ingredients, then perhaps it is not too surprising that the result should taste rather like another gin which is cucumber-based? I do not know the answer and perhaps it will be a point to be deliberated over by more razor-sharp minds than my own in the months to come.

However, in the short term we have two very similar gins on the market, albeit one restricted to the Aldi supermarket chain, and it is the consumer’s choice as to which to buy. But it doesn’t quite seem to be cricket to me.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Nine

Am I beginning to detect a bit of a kick-back in what hitherto seemed to be the unstoppable wave of the ginaissance?

We have gone through phases of gins boasting many weird and wonderful mixes of botanicals, often losing that unmistakable flavour of the juniper berry along the way, selected as much to give the marketing lads and lasses a good story to spin as to enhance the flavour. Then we have had that godawful trend of 2018, the flavoured gin craze. And then there is the presumption that because a few herbs have been thrown together and poured into an attractive bottle, the gin can justify a price tag well in excess of £30.

Perhaps it is time to have a rethink and go back to first principles. What gin drinkers want, OK this one at least, is a well-made, well-balanced gin, preferably where juniper is to the fore or at least has a fighting chance of making its presence felt, attractively packaged and reasonably priced.

Like them or hate them, budget supermarkets are here to stay and Aldi, at least, are trying to cut through much of the bullshit that seems to surround the ginaissance and provide a range of no-nonsense, sensibly priced gins which might appeal to the more adventurous toper of the nation’s favourite tipple. On my last trip to our local store, I usually get dragged there kicking and screaming so I need to find some solace somewhere, I filled my trolley with four gins that piqued my interest and all of which were priced under £20.

The first is Boyle’s Gin, an Irish gin produced exclusively for the supermarket by the Blackwater Distillery, based in Waterford. It won, in a blind tasting competition, a gold medal in the 2018 The Gin Masters competition. It comes in a stumpy glass jar, rather like the ones you would see on the shelves of a chemist, with a light brown label and copper plate writing in a darker brown ink. My bottle informed me that it was from batch 01.16 and recipe 32a was used. Quite what that means is anybody’s guess.

It takes its name from the chemist, Robert Boyle, perhaps Waterford’s most famous son. The label bears an image of the equipment he used to develop his law which, if I recall my schoolboy science, demonstrated that in a constant temperature the volume and pressure of a gas are inversely proportionate. Or was it drinking gin and sobriety? I can’t remember.

The gin has that tried and tested base provided by juniper, coriander and angelica. Top notes are provided by blackcurrants from Wexford, apples from Cork and elderflower from Waterford. My senses also tell me that there is a citrus element in the mix too – a nice blend of botanicals, I must say.

On removing the artificial cork stopper, the first smell to hit me was the reassuring one of juniper and then hints of citrus and apple. The aroma indicated that the hooch would be well-balance with juniper to the fore. This impression was confirmed when I took my first sip, juniper to the fore, then citrus followed by apple before the other fruits came into play. It seemed incredibly smooth, finishing off with a warm aftertaste. It reminded vaguely of William’s Great British Extra Dry Gin, and none the worse for that.

A fighting weight of 40% ABV means that it will not blow your socks off and at a penny shy of a score it is not too heavy on the pocket. It is well worth a try.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Eight

Is it cause or effect? The ginaissance has firmly established gin as the trendy drink du jour. More people are drinking it and more distillers and brands are entering the market. Is this fuelling the demand or simply a market-led response? Who knows? But what is becoming crystal clear is that gin makers are having to become ever more innovative and resourceful to carve out even a small space in the gin market.

If there was a prize for the most beautiful and impressively designed gin bottle, and for all I know there may well be one, Generous Gin would be up there amongst the leading contenders. It is a stunning, white vase-shaped bottle covered with the images of botanicals in black – the organic version of the gin uses green. In the centre of the front of a bottle is a black label with white script, informing the prospective purchaser that it is called Generous Gin and that it is “delightfully fresh and aromatic.” The label at the rear gives more information about the product.

Generous is a French gin which, rather like G-Vine Floraisson, comes from the Cognac region, and bottled by Odevie SAS, who are to be found in La Rochefoucauld. The bottle proudly proclaims its French provenance. According to the manufacturers, it is their attempt to create a “simple gin” which highlights the “best of what French tradition can offer: great natural ingredients, combined with a high precision of distillation in small pot-stills” and one which can give “the best Gin and Tonic.” Their aim, they state, is to produce “a smooth and aromatic gin which combines fruity, floral and spicy scents with an extraordinary freshness.” No lack of ambition there, then.

From what I can establish, there are six botanicals which make up the gin – juniper, citrus, red pepper, jasmine and elder flower – some of which are macerated and others distilled. The process is not quite clear but then it’s the product rather than the process that we should concern ourselves with.

The bottle is a delight to touch and feel and opening the screwcap top unleashes a heady aroma of pine, citrus and flowers, quite delightful and somewhat intoxicating. If you get the impression that this is going to be a floral gin with the dial set at eleven, you would not be wrong when you take your first sip. The spirit, wonderfully crystal clear, has a very fresh taste to it with floral elements and spices to the fore. The juniper takes very much a backseat in this gin. The aftertaste is clean, fresh with a lingering sensation of dryness and at 44% ABV it packs a punch.

I could imagine myself sitting in a shady bower, seeking refuge from the harsh sun, breathing in the aromas and fragrances of the flowers which surround me, sipping a glass of Generous. The match between the floral notes of the gin and my surroundings would be perfect. But for everyday drinking, I miss the juniper lead and I found that if you were not careful with the mixer you used, you could seriously destabilise the fragile balance of the spirit. A very neutral tonic seems to work best for me, at least.

If you like a floral led gin, then this is definitely one to explore. For me, it will certainly feature on my summer gin-drinking menu. For the meantime the bottle will take pride of place on my gin shelf, standing like a Ming vase, until the sun starts to shine.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Seven

 

Whether you like it or not, 2018 was the year of flavoured gins, jostling for attention in the crowded marketplace created by the ginaissance. For me, though, it seems nothing more than a fad, one unlikely to stand the test of time. I have commented more than once that what really floats my boat is a gin that is firmly in the London Dry Gin camp, juniper led and uncomplicated, without too many botanicals jostling for attention.

One gin that firmly ticks all my requirements is the rather delicious and moreish Foxdenton 48 London Dry Gin, a welcome gift from Santa. It comes in a clear, rather squat, cylindrical bottle with a large, beige-coloured label with silver and black script. The bottom part of the label has a tableau of the botanicals that make up the mix and at the top a line drawing of Foxdenton Hall. There is a potted history of the estate on the left-hand side of the label, as you look at the bottle. The neck is covered in black foil with the Foxdenton logo, a bull and crown, embossed in silver. It oozes class and elegance.

Disappointingly, the cork stopper is artificial, you can’t have everything, I suppose, but any momentary disappointment is soon dissipated by the satisfying sound that the cork makes when removed. The aroma released is heavily juniper led, the classic gin smell, with more than a hint of spice. To the taste it is thick and creamy with the juniper making way, but still remaining in situ, for the coriander and a citrusy after note, introducing a refreshing element to what might otherwise have been a little spice heavy. The aftertaste, which is predominantly juniper, lingers and invites you to sample some more.

At 48% ABV it is at the heavy end of the gin spectrum but you wouldn’t guess it when drinking the spirit. There are just six botanicals in the mix, less is certainly more in this case – juniper berries, orris root, coriander seeds, angelica root, lemon peel and lime flower oil. The result is a smooth, rich, well-balanced gin, almost luxurious to the taste. In my book it is just what a gin should be.

Inevitably, there is a story behind the gin. The current owner of the Foxdenton Estate Company, Nicholas Radclyffe started to turn his hand at making fruit liqueurs for his shooting party guests. His concoctions went down well and so he set about producing them, on a relatively small scale. Each of his liqueurs used gin as a base and were made using traditional recipes.

It was perhaps no surprise that Radclyffe should turn his attention to the spirit that underpinned his liqueurs, gin. In collaboration with business partner, John Simpson, and the head of Thames Distillers, Charles Maxwell, whose family has been producing gin since 1700, he set about creating a new gin. After six months of experimenting they produced a gin that met their exacting standards and in July 2009 it was launched on the world. Naturally, it forms the base for their liqueurs, of which I have sampled the delicious Damson.

If you are looking to buy only one gin this year, the superb Foxdenton should be at the top of your list.