Category Archives: Gin

Conker Spirit RNLI Navy Strength Gin

A type of gin that I am enjoying exploring is Navy Strength Gin, a type not for the fainthearted or for those who blanche at paying more than £40 for a bottle. Still, it does the soul good to push the boat out now and again, especially when your purchase contributes to a good cause. Many distilleries spawned by the ginaissance are tripping over themselves to brandish their green and sustainability credentials, and while that is undoubtedly a good thing, you cannot but help thinking that unless there is a universally concerted effort, it is but a small drip in the vat of life.

Conker Spirit, based in Bournemouth and established in 2014 as Dorset’s first gin distillery have decided to take a different approach with their Conker Spirit RNLI Navy Strength Gin. It follows their template of excellence in craftsmanship and the use of the best possible ethical ingredients but is dedicated to the courageous men and women who risk their lives to save the skins of seafarers who have got into trouble. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, for that is that fine body of people, receives a donation of £5 for every bottle sold.   

The bottle has a dumpy, squat shape with broad shoulders, a small neck, and a coppery coloured screwcap. On the shoulder is embossed in the glass “Conker Spirit” at the front and at the back “Dorset Est 2014”. The label at the front has a serrated bottle top look about it using navy blue, white, and copper to good effect. They proudly display the RNLI logo, not once but twice, although only once in colour. The labelling at the rear extols the virtues of the RNLI quite rightly, but there is precious little about the gin itself, save that my bottle is number 997 from batch ten. While I am happy to endorse the RNLI, it would be nice to know something about the spirit other than it has an ABV of 57%. Perhaps that’s just me.

Anyway, after some digging, I find that there are nine botanicals involved in the mix, a fairly conservative line up of juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, and cassia bark, with bitter orange peel and fresh lime peel providing the citric notes and marsh samphire and elderberry giving a distinctive twist.     

On the nose the aroma is distinctively that of juniper and in the glass the spirit is remarkably clear retaining its clarity even with the addition of a premium tonic – no louching here. In the mouth the juniper makes its presence known loud and clear, but the spirit is balanced with the citrus elements and the herbaceous notes. There is a pepperiness that comes through which together with the spicier botanicals produces a long and pleasant warming aftertaste. It takes the best of a classic London Dry adding a bit of oomph and a slightly saline, nautical twist to present a very well-balanced, moreish tipple.

If you are looking to dip your toe in the water with Navy Strength gins, this is a good place to sart.

Until the next time, cheers!

Juniper Freak Gin

Gin is juniper or, at the very least, a spirit where juniper is the predominant flavour. A distillery that never lets you forget that is the enterprising Never Never Distilling Co from South Australia, whose products are pure nectar for a juniperphile like me. Juniper Freak Gin is their take on a Navy Strength gin with an ABV of 58%. It is a very clever, sophisticated concoction that manages to belie its strength both on the nose and with its silky smoothness. As they say on the bottle their intention is “to deliver a seriously intense gin because we’re not here to f*** spiders”.

The base to this gin is their flagship Triple Juniper Gin in which juniper goes through three processes in distillation, maceration, boiling, and vapour infusion. Incredibly, that is not enough juniper for Juniper Freak. A pure juniper distillate made from Macedonian juniper goes through the same triple distillation process and is blended with a distilled batch of Triple Juniper Gin, both diluted to 58% ABV. It is a lengthy and complex process, with a touch of the mad scientist about it, but the end result is astonishing. To maintain the consistency of flavours, both the Triple Juniper gin and the juniper distillate are made from the same vintage of junipers.

To add depth and complexity to the spirit eight other botanicals are used – coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, lemon peel, liquorice root, cinnamon, and Australian pepper berry. They all have been especially selected to enhance and promote the juniper rather than to hide it. After all, this is first and foremost a homage to the juniper berry.

On the nose, it does not smell like a strong spirit where the whiff of alcohol obliterates everything else. Instead there is a wonderful overpowering aroma of piney, fresh juniper with a hint of lime and pepper in the background. In the glass the spirit is clear when poured neat but louches to a cloudy consistency with the addition of a premium tonic due to its high concentration of essential oils.

What surprised me is that for an uber-strong gin it is remarkably smooth and silky, inviting itself to be lovingly caressed around the mouth so that the spirit with all its subtleties and complexities can be savoured. Naturally, there is a heavy hit of wonderfully flavoursome juniper, but the flavours of coriander and lime are also detectable.

The aftertaste with a hint of sweetness from the cinnamon and a spicy tingle from the pepper berries is long, probably the longest I have tasted from a gin. It leaves a glorious souvenir in the mouth of a wonderful gin, but also poses something of a dilemma. Do I just enjoy the mellow glow in my mouth or do I take another sip? The answer is obvious, but this is a gin to be savoured rather than rushed, the epitome of the distiller’s craft.

The 50cl bottle uses the same design as Never Never’s other gins, although the dominant background colour is purple, so you do not mix them up. In comparison with other distillers the design is a little underwhelming but when your product is as good as this, anything else seems rather superficial. One to seek out.

Until next time, cheers!

Never Never Southern Strength Gin

I am often asked which is my favourite gin, a question I find incredibly difficult to answer. My response often depends on mood, what I am looking for from a gin at a particular time and the type of flavour profile that suits the occasion that I am drinking. It is much easier to give the characteristics of gins I do not like. Still as I trawl through the wonders of the ginaissance I travel in hope that I will find the Holy Grail, a gin that knocks my socks off and its virtues are such that it will suit any mood or occasion. I might just have found it in Never Never Distilling Co’s Southern Strength Gin.

I have written about and raved about this distillery based in South Australian distillery when I reviewed their Triple Juniper Gin some while ago and so I will not repeat their backstory. Suffice it to say that the trio behind the distillery, George Georgiadis, Tim Boast, and Sean Baxter, are taking the gin world by storm. They regularly win awards and in 2019 their Southern Strength Gin won the award for best Classic-style Gin in the world. It is not for the faint-hearted with a ferocious ABV of 52%, strong enough to throw its weight around in either a cocktail or with a tonic, although its strength puts it a tad under the Navy Strength classification.

There is something of the MasterChef about their approach to juniper which they rightly consider to be the kingpin of any self-respecting gin. They use the juniper in three ways, initially steeping it in the base spirit for twenty-four hours, then adding further fresh juniper when the spirit is redistilled, and, finally, adding juniper to the vapour basket in the still as well. If you like your juniper forward, front and central, then this will set your juices flowing.

They use eight other botanicals in the mix, including angelica root, coriander seed, lemon, Australian pepper berry, and cinnamon. So heavy is it in flavoursome botanicals that it louches with the addition of a premium tonic, making it a cloudy, misty spirit in which a taste bomb lurks. In the mouth the juniper is ever-present but the other botanicals, particularly the tarty citric elements, give it a very rich and round taste before signing off with spice and warmth in a long and lingering aftertaste.

Wonderful tastes and flavours rebound around the mouth as it is a spirit that does not retire discretely. Definitely a gin to sip and savour, a little old-school in style but with an approach that squeezes the potential of the botanicals to their maximum, a gin to sip and savour and allow the flavours to do their work.

Never Never let their gin do their talking which means that their bottle design with its clear glass does not quite stand out as it might. The Southern Strength Gin uses a blue background to its labelling as opposed to the orange deployed on the Triple Strength. I enjoyed the warnings on the back label, particularly the notice that “no ingredients in this bottle were hand foraged (by us, anyway)” and “to wear sunscreen”. As I was drinking on a cold March evening in the northern hemisphere, I dispensed with the blocker. You have to live dangerously!

One note of caution. I bought my Never Never through Master of Malt. I found their service very good until my package got into the hands of their delivery partners, Evri, when it disappeared into the never never. After a week when, according to the online tracker, the package had not moved and an automated bot cheerfully told me that it was somewhere in the system, I got back to Master of Malt. They were superb and within 24 hours I had a replacement package, delivered this time by DPD. The original package never appeared. What a waste of superb gin.

Until the next time, cheers!

Jynevra Organic Gin

In 2006 that head brewer Stuart Thompson and distiller David Carbis formed Atlantic Brewery with the specific brief of creating unique, memorable, and quality small batch alcoholic drinks. They quietly beavered away for a decade or so on Treisaac Farm, a 2.5-acre site a few miles from the sea near Newquay in Cornwall, making a name for themselves by using traditional methods to create contemporary organic ales, using the wealth of natural and organic ingredients which they grow on the farm, including their own hops, or forage or otherwise acquire from the county. Atlantic Brewery is still an important part of their endeavours.

However, in 2017 they decided to see if they could make some headway in the market spawned by the ginaissance and established Atlantic Distillery. They now have a range of gins and vodkas to offer the discerning drinker, all organic, vegan, and organic producer and processor accredited. Their sustainable practices ensure that the botanicals used in their spirits are free from herbicide, pesticide, and insecticides. Adding further to their green credentials, Atlantic Distillery is powered by the wind and Cornish sunshine, they use their own Cornish spring water and for packaging, the bottles are made from re-cycled glass, the labels are paper rather than plastic and the cardboard boxes contain as little printed matter as possible.

The spirits are distilled in copper Bain-marie stills, which are essentially double boilers, often used to produce delicate sauces such as hollandaise and béarnaise as well as alcoholic beverages. The design is simple; an interior pot chamber which sits above a larger pot half-filled with water. The water acts as a form of insulation, allowing the mixture in the interior pot known as the mash, to heat slowly, and generally very evenly, thus preventing the botanicals from scorching and preserving their natural flavours.

Bain-maries can run continuously, as the water does not need to be replaced often. Steam is purified by the still’s copper, is condensed, and then falls back into the large pot to be used again. They are also highly efficient; the reflux and natural refining of the distillate means that fewer cuts are needed to make the spirit.

Jynevra is Cornish for gin and, appropriately, is the name for what Atlantic Distillery describes as its signature gin, and the first they produced. The bottle is squat, dumpy with pale green glass. Rounded shoulders lead up to a short neck, a wooden cap, and a cork stopper. The eye-catching part of the bottle os the labelling just below the neck, a riot of copper coloured engraving and wording against a black background, giving it a distinctive and somewhat old-fashioned feel. Underneath that, the essential information, including its ABV of 40% is given in more subdued black and white lettering against a blue background.

Sadly, they are not forthcoming on the precise make up of the botanicals, but it is clear from the aroma of the spirit that there is a bold hit of juniper, and that orange dominates the citric elements. This impression is not dispelled when the crystal-clear spirit is poured into a glass. The juniper is punchy and more than holds its own against the overtures of the orange, bergamot, soft spices, and some discernible floral notes.

I wonder if Juniper and orange is a particularly Cornish combination. I have had several gins over the last couple of years from the region where orange is the dominant citric element. I am not complaining as I think it makes a great companion for the juniper.

All in all, this is a delightful gin, one that grows on you. It is well worth seeking out.

Gin Resolutions

Here are my hopes for the gin world for 2023.

Survival of the fittest

With rising energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis, you do not to be a genius to realise that the artisan gin world is going to have a tough time with many lucky to come out the other side with a business intact. Let’s hope that as many as possible survive, especially those that bring something distinctive and refreshing to the market, survive to tell the tale and resist the siren calls of the big boys.

More information for the consumer

The other side of the coin is that the consumer will have less spare cash to make impulse purchases and will increasingly stick with the tried and tested. Gins that command a premium price will be seen even more as a luxury item, a treat. There is even greater incentive for distillers to be more up-front with the identity of the botanicals they use and the flavour profile, stripping away the marketese to give the prospective consumer an honest description of what is inside the bottle. While the precise calibration of botanicals is, rightly, a trade secret, it is not too much to expect a complete list of botanicals rather than a select number plus “special ingredients”. Distillers who are open about their product are more likely to survive.

Industry standards

With too many products marketed as gins that are either not gin by the generally accepted definition, having an ABV of 37.5% or above, or where the juniper has been so dissipated that it has waved a white flag and surrendered, there is a very strong case for a strengthening of the criteria for a gin to be so classified. At the same time, a standard flavour profile could be agreed on and distillers encouraged/forced to include it on their labelling. It is getting a bit of a Wild West out there and serious distillers and gin enthusiasts would welcome such steps. Let’s hope 2023 sees some progress on this.

Until the next time, cheers!