Gin O’Clock – Part Forty Seven

It’s been a while since I had some Old Tom Gin. I have already explained its history and where it sits in the gin spectrum before so I won’t bore you with this again. The temptation to rediscover the delights of this style of gin – Winston Churchill preferred it because he deemed it not as dry as London gin and not as sweet as genever – was too great when I was perusing the amply stocked shelves of the Constantine Stores, a testament to the depth and breadth of the ginaissance. So to complete my sextet I chose a bottle of Gin Lane 1751 Old Tom Gin.

The story behind the Gin Lane 1751 brand is interesting. It is a collaboration between a group of veterans from the drinks industry with a passion to recreate the authentic styles of Victorian gin known as the Bloomsbury Club, and a distiller, Charles Maxwell, of Thames Distillers who are to be found in the Clapham district of London. The name is redolent of the history of gin, Hogarth’s famous print of the suffering caused by gin and the Act of that year which, inter alia, prohibited distillers from supplying the hooch to unlicensed sellers and forced the hoi polloi to take up beer and tea instead.

There are four gins from the Gin Lane 1751 stable – I’ve featured their Victoria Pink Gin before – and they all have the same staple ingredients, the difference in strength and taste being down to adjustments in the quantities of each in the mix and their relativities. The front label on the slightly dumpy bottle helpfully lists the botanicals which have been added to the 100% neutral spirit base –  cassia bark, angelica, Sicilian lemon, coriander, orris root, Seville orange, juniper (of course) and star anise.

These days there are a couple of ways that distillers achieve the sweetness that is the essential characteristic of the Old Tom style, namely the use of sweeteners or, alternatively, deploying botanicals to give the illusion of sweetness. It is the latter route that Gin Lane 1751 has chosen to go, using two elements.

The first is star anise and the recipe requires the distillers to turn it up to number 11 on the dial. For those unfamiliar with the spice, it is a staple of Chinese cooking, combining a strong anise flavour with an aroma not unlike liquorice, and is often used as an alternative to cinnamon. If you’ve drunk some pastis, you will have had some. The other element used to up the sugar content is refined sugarcane.

Removing the artificial cork stopper the immediate sensation is one of juniper – always a good sign – and citrus. To the taste the spirit, whilst lighter and less intense than a London Dry, is a complex mix of juniper and pepper with the sweeter elements coming to the fore as you roll the liquid around in your mouth. The aftertaste, at least to me, was a little on the sweet side. Perhaps the dial should have been set to 10 for the star anise.

That said, it was a refreshing drink and a welcome option to have in the ever burgeoning gin cabinet.

Until the next time, cheers!

Advertisements

Gin o’Clock – Part Forty Five

I’m not normally much of a share picker but I seem to have chosen a winner when a few years ago I invested some of my hard-earned cash in shares in a relatively unknown drinks company called fever-Tree. The ginaissance continues apace with gin sales doubling in the last six years, reaching a heady £1.2 billion in the year ending September 2017, and as we need something to put mix in it, it didn’t seem too much of a bet to invest in a company that produces premium mixers. By July of this year the market cap of Fever-Tree stood at around £4.5 billion. I’ve bailed out but I’ve made enough to fund a few more bottles of my favourite spirit.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of all things organic. Does the reputed improvement in taste – it may be my taste buds but I’ve never noticed a significant difference – really justify all the effort and the additional cost? If you really want to enjoy the taste of a vegetable, then there is no substitute to growing your own.

Such is the battle amongst distillers to create a market differentiator for their product that it was only a question of time before an organic gin popped up. Never one to let my prejudices and scepticism get in the way of exploring the outer reaches of the ginaissance, I picked up a bottle of Juniper Green Trophy Organic and Wild Gin from the shelves of the Aladdin’s cave that is the Constantine Stores.   It claims to be, and I have no reason to doubt it, the world’s first organic gin. The label bears the Prince of Wales’ coat of arms and states it is by appointment to Charlie boy but don’t let that put you off.

The base of the spirit is made from grain, organic naturally, and the botanicals used are all organic, juniper, coriander, angelica root and summer savory. The latter, used to add a bit of sweetness to the mix, is grown and hand-picked in Somerset whilst the juniper is certified as Fair Wild which means, apparently, that it is harvested in a sustainable manner. The label on the rear of the bottle also has vegan and organic Soil Association accreditations and states that it is suitable for coeliacs, vegetarians and vegans.

All good to know and very worthy but what does it taste like?

Well, surprisingly good. It is perfectly clear and at 43% ABV has a bit of a kick to it. What I particularly liked about it was that it was a simple gin, not overwhelmed by too many botanicals, and the taste when the glass stopper was removed from the bottle was overwhelmingly of juniper with hints of citrus and spice coming through. To the taste it was smooth with a hint of spice, pepper and citrus and left a wonderful spicey, juniper-laden after taste. Did I detect the added-vim of organically produced ingredients coming through? I’m not sure and whilst it was the classic style gin that I like, there are better ones on the market.

The bottle is slightly squat and the label has a green background with the lettering primarily in a gold bordered white. Again, it was not one that would stand out in the crowd. The gin is distilled in London, by the Thames Distillery, which the company claims to be the only gin distillery which both distils and bottles gin in the capital. Such are the margins required to create a differentiator.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Forty Four

There are only so many of bottles of gin that you can pack into an already crammed car boot and, frankly, afford. So some hard choices have to be made when you are surfing the ginaissance. On my visit to the wonderful Constantine Stores last September I debated long and hard about adding Tarquin’s Handcrafted Cornish Gin but ultimately decided to leave it until my next trip. So, naturally, it was near the top of the list of gins to buy on my recent visit.

Unlike Herno and Granny Garbutt’s you can’t say that the bottle doesn’t stand out from the crowd, courtesy of a rather spooky looking, light blue, melted wax creation which runs from the top of the bottle down to its mid-point. Once the contents have been consumed it would make a great candle holder or a decoration for your Halloween celebrations. The label is black with Tarquin’s Dry Gin in silver print and a picture of a flying bird with berries in its beak – juniper, perhaps. The logo is repeated on the wax wrapping on the cap and the stopper is an artificial one.

The hooch comes from Southwestern Distillery which is located on Higher Trevibbhan Farm in St Ervan, near Wadebridge in Cornwall. The distillery was established in 2012 – it now has three copper stills – and the gins were first made available commercially in the following year. Each batch produces 300 bottles of hooch and only spirit from the heart of the run, the head and tail lis discarded, makes it into the bottles. My bottle came from batch 1033 and bears Tarquin’s signature, as do all bottles made for commercial sale. Beware all imitations!

The sourcing of the botanicals is distinctly cosmopolitan. The juniper comes from Kosovo, the coriander from Bulgaria, angelica root from Poland, orris root and bitter almond from Morocco, cardamom seeds from Guatemala, cinnamon from Madagascar, liquorice root from Uzbekistan and Devon violets from Tarquin’s garden. The citrus notes are provided by the zests of seasonal sweet orange, lemon and grapefruit.

The base is a wheat spirit into which the botanicals are steeped overnight, distilled, tasted and adjusted and cut with pure Cornish water sourced from the Boscastle area to bring it to its fighting weight of 42% ABV. When Tarquin, the distiller, is satisfied with the end product, it is laid to rest for a few days before being bottles, sealed and labelled. Quite a performance!

And all the effort is not wasted. It has a very solid base of traditional gin botanicals and these come through loud and clear when the stopper is removed. But the citrus elements are also to the fore. When poured into a glass I found it a very well-balanced spirit, clear, juniper to the fore before the more earthy spices and citrus flavours come into play. It was neither too spicy nor too sweet, a sure sign that the mix and balance was just right. Surprisingly, perhaps, it did not leave much of an after taste but, I suppose, that is an invitation to reacquaint yourself with the taste sensation by having another mouthful.

I was really impressed and it is up there with my all-time favourites. At the rate I am going I can see I will have a spooky candle holder well in time for Halloween!

Until the next time, cheers!

 

Gin O’Clock – Part Forty Three

The ginaissance shows no sign of abating.

If you stop and think about it with a relatively clear head, you can soon begin to see why. Gin, after all, is not a difficult spirit to manufacture. It does not need time to mature, like whisky, or an investment in tracts of real estate in which to grow the staple base product, like wine. There is an astonishing variety of botanicals which can be added to the hooch and the limitations on combinations are simply down to taste. The market is now so established that the addition of the words hand-crafted or premium or, heaven forbid, artisan is enough to move your product into the £30 plus price range.

These days you don’t even have to persuade your teetotalling local bank manager that your spirit is going to be the next Hendrick’s or Sipsmith’s. There are more fun ways of raising capital, like a crowd funding campaign on the internet. And this is the route that the distillers of the latest gin I feature, Granny Garbutt’s Intriguingly Thoughtful London Dry Gin have chosen to follow. Indeed, so new is this gin that my bottle, acquired at the wonderful Constantine Stores, headquarters of drinksfinder.co.uk, that it is marked number 69 from Batch 1.

Let’s deal with the back history first. Granny Garbutt is grandmother of the distiller who was rather fond of gin, as women of a certain were before it became on trend. Born on the North Yorkshire moors near Osthmotherly in 1901, she was a local character, much loved and talked about.

The moor theme is taken up with the botanicals used to give the hooch its distinctive flavouring. Like all good rock bands there is a solid bass line, provided by juniper (natch), coriander and orris root. The virtuosity is provided by locally sourced – despite the Yorkshire storyline, this gin is distilled in Exeter in a copper still called Isabelle – gorse flowers, marigold, hibiscus and heather. To finish off Dartmoor honey, blackberries and vanilla are added and it is reduced to its fighting weight of 42% ABV with pure Devon spring water. The label states that there are 14 botanicals used but these are the only ones specifically identified.

The bottle is squat with four slightly rounded sides, an artificial cork as a stopper and the labelling is in a pale green background with gold lettering in an old-fashioned looking script at the front and densely packed, almost indecipherable, script at the back. Again, the labelling, stylish at is may be, does not really make it stand out from the crowd.

To the nose, there is a strong juniper hit with floral elements coming through. On pouring into a glass the spirit was slightly cloudy – I assume this is intended to be so rather than a technical hitch with the first batch. To the taste it has a well-balanced feel about it with floral notes coming through. Rather like the label it is rather understated and modest in its pretensions but if you like your gin on the lighter and more floral side, you will not be disappointed. With apologies for the pun, it is definitely moreish.

They also produce Grandad’s Revenge, a Navy strength version of Granny Garbutt’s, which is best served cold and packs quite a punch.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Forty Two

If you want to know what gin heaven might look like, you could do no worse than visit the Constantine Stores, near Falmouth, the front for the worldwide spirits distribution operation that is drinkfinder.co.uk. My picture shows just a subset of the many and varied gins that are available. I exercised a degree of self-control on my recent visit, buying just half a dozen bottles.

It pays to do a bit of research before entering this Aladdin’s cave as you can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer range of bottles available. During my stay at the splendid Trengilly Wartha, it was barmaid, Emily’s birthday, and on the recommendation of the owner of drinkfinder she was presented with a bottle of Hernö Gin. I was allowed to smell it – it had a big hit of juniper with some spicy elements coming through – and I was hooked. I had to get a bottle.

Herno is from Sweden, distilled from around 2012 in the village of Dala, near Härnösand, in a 250 litre copper pot named Kierstin. The base spirit is wheat based and the botanicals used are mainly of Swedish origin. At first glance, the core components of the gin – juniper, coriander, cassia, black pepper and lemon peel – come straight of the classic recipe for a London Dry Gin. What gives Hernö its particular twist is the addition of meadowsweet, lingon berries and vanilla.

Meadowsweet is a herbal flower with a sweet smell and taste to it. You might find it giving a bit of a kick to your pot of pot-pourri and medicinally it is used to cure headaches – a gin with its own in-built hangover cure, I like that. It also flavours a range of foodstuffs but a word of warning. It is banned by the Americans and so if the gin is to make it Stateside, it will need to be replaced by something like yarrow, as Hendrick’s had to do. Lingon berries grow in the wild in Sweden and whilst they are sour to the taste they contain a high percentage of sugar, adding a mellow sweetness to the hooch.

The bottle is dumpy, almost bell-shaped with an artificial cork stopper which makes a satisfying pop when it is opened. The label and the band around the neck of the bottle are a darkish blue in colour with the coat of arms of Härnösand below the name of the gin in a rather contemporary-looking script. It is rather subdued as labels go, very Swedish and one that would not stand out on a crowded shelf. Its ABV is 40.5% and bottles are 500ml, rather than the normal 70ml, making it quite an expensive buy. The label at rear tells me that my bottle is number 1280 from batch 267.

As might be expected from the initial smell, this gin is heavily juniper led, no bad thing in my book, with a floral note coming through, almost certainly from the meadowsweet. As I rolled the gin in my mouth I began to detect the citrus and then at the end and certainly in the aftertaste, there was a gorgeous peppery, spicy finish. Perhaps it is my tastebuds but the vanilla didn’t come through as I thought it would do.

My conclusion was that it is a very subtle, well balanced, refreshing and moreish gin and one well worth seeking out and digging deep into the wallet for. Styled as Sweden’s first artisanal gin it was certainly a welcome addition to my collection as I continue to surf the ginaissance.

Gin O’Clock – Part Forty One

The fortunes of social media platforms seem to wax and wane with astonishing rapidity. Who remembers Friends Reunited? Facebook has lost its appeal for many and LinkedIn with pretentions to be the medium of choice for professionals to stay in contact with each other or to rediscover long-lost colleagues is on a downwards slope. But occasionally, they have their uses and you can unearth someone you have lost track of and who is now doing something exciting and interesting. Bear in mind, my contextual framework is insurance and the financial services sector!

Take Tim Boast. I used to work with him in London about ten years ago. I knew he had gone back down-under and had assumed he was beavering away in some financial institution over there. But no. His name came up on one of those irritating prompts that plague social media sites, bringing attention to people with whom you share mutual connections.

What intrigued me about Tim was that he is now the head distiller at Never Never Distilling Company in South Australia. Indeed, he is described on their website as the Fermentalist. Mind you, he has a pedigree in this line; his great, great, great-grandfather was Alfred Gilbey, who founded along with his brothers Gilbey’s of wine, spirits and, of course, gin fame.

At the moment, Never Never produce three gins, which, I understand, are heavily juniper-orientated but with balance restored by a careful selection of botanicals. Sounds my type of gin. I have not tasted any of their wares but Tim told me via e-mail, as he was running off another batch – social media does have its uses – that they are expanding rapidly, have their sights on the Asian market but with no current plans to tap into the English ginaissance. If that changes, I’m sure he will let me know.

In the meantime, more power to his elbow.

Another welcome entrant to the ever-growing field of gins is Berry’s London Dry Gin, which is as you would expect from London’s oldest wine merchants, Berry Brothers and Rudd, definitely a gin of the old school. Relaunched this year (2018) it is based on what was previously known as Berry’s Best. Only one bottle of the original gin remained, dating from the 1950s, and from this the distillers, rather like scientists recreating an extinct animal from DNA samples, have produced a spirit which they believe matches the original.

The bottle is a rather stubby wine bottle with an artificial stopper. My bottle was marked 2018/002, presumably meaning it was from the second batch that they made commercially. The label is black and white with the firm’s two royal warrants proudly printed in gold and bears an illustration of their wine merchant shop at No3, St James’s Street in London in days of yore.

Was the effort worth it?

It is a relatively simple blend of juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root and winter savory, a cure, amongst other things, for flatulence, which might be helpful. On opening the bottle, the primary sensation was of juniper – always a good start in my book – with a sweeter, more floral smell coming through. Crystal clear in the mouth it was smooth, very moreish and with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Competitively priced, weighing in at 40.6% ABV and not to be confused with their already well established no 3 gin, this is a welcome addition to the traditional, juniper led gin stable.

Off to Cornwall to fill my boot and boots with gin. Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Forty

Fusion is a style which has gained a foothold in the culinary world and it is beginning to carve out a niche in the ginaissance as distillers jostle to find an edge in an ever-growing marketplace.

Take our featured gin, Jinzu Gin. At first glance you may be forgiven for thinking that it is a Japanese gin but you would be wrong. True it draws its inspiration and some of its botanical from the Land of the Rising Sun but it is distilled in Scotland and is the brainchild of English bartender, Dee Davies. The name Jinzu comes the river that wends its way through the prefecture of Toyama, on the coast of the Sea of Japan on central Honshu, about 300km north-west of Tokyo.

A feature of the river is the profusion of cherry blossom that lines its banks. It would not surprise you, then, to find that cherry blossom is a key botanical in the gin that bears its name. The other botanical giving the spirit an Oriental flavour is yuzu, which, to the uninitiated, is a citrus fruit whose flavour is a mix of lemon and grapefruit. It is used by the Japanese to make jams, marmalades, and ponzu sauce and by the Koreans with honey as ersatz tea.

The principal constituents of Jinzu are juniper, coriander and angelica which are added to a neutral grain spirit and allowed to macerate before the Japanese elements, the cherry blossom and yuzu, are added. It is when the gin taken off the still with a proof of 82%, then something controversial, at least from the point of view of the gin purist, happens. It is blended with Jemnai sake, also distilled on site, and then watered down with Scottish mineral-free water until its fighting weight of 41.3% is achieved. For some the presence of another spirit puts it beyond the pale.

I think you can get a bit too petty about these things and for me what really matters is what the drink tastes like.

To the nose it has a fairly citrusy smell, although there is a hint of sweetness which I assume comes from the sake. In the mouth it is wonderfully clear, smooth, and creamy, again courtesy of the sake, but the solid gin base of the juniper comes through as do the floral hints of the cherry blossom and the citrus of the yuzu. It is unlike any other gin I have tasted and it seems to have been designed to appeal both to the gin drinkers who like a juniper-led hooch and those who prefer a more contemporary style. It runs the danger of falling between the two stools but avoids failure with some panache.

The bottle is clear and slightly dumpier than a wine bottle, with a wooden top with a bird holding an umbrella on it. The stopper to the top is a cork. The front of the bottle again features the brolly carrying bird together with a branch of cherry blossom and an opened bird cage. It is a delicate design in a Japanese style. The label claims that it is distinctively crafted, whatever that means.

If you want to go slightly off-piste, you could do worse than try this outlier of the gin world. My bottle was picked up in CostCo at a price at least a tenner below the RRP.