Gin O’Clock – Part Eighty Seven

There are more than enough gins produced in this country, thanks to the ginaissance, to be going on without having to consider ones produced from farther afield. But I’m not one to shut my eyes to what is on offer globally, particularly if it fits my taste requirements almost to a tee. It doesn’t do to be a little Englander.

Always one willing to judge a book by its cover, my eye was immediately drawn to the wonderfully elegant bottle housing Puerto de Indias Pure Black Edition Gin. It is tall and black, using brass embossing to fine effect at the front, representing the Tower of Gold, one of the symbols of the city of Seville and around which its trading activities were concentrated. The glass at the rear and below the bottom section of the bottle are embossed within the glass itself. It is stunningly simple in design but highly effective and, if nothing else, is a welcome aesthetic addition to my gin shelf. The labelling is disappointingly uninformative, save for that it is “Sevillian Premium Gin”.  

The name of Puerto de Indias takes as its reference Seville’s monopoly status in trading relationships between Spain and its territories in the Americas, the gateway through which gold, other valuable minerals, and unusual fruits and vegetables came into Spain and the rest of Europe. The distillery is located in Carmona and is one of the oldest and most traditional distilleries in Andalusia.

There are, currently, three gins on the market under the Puerto de Indias brand, which was launched in the latter months of 2013; the Black Edition, which we will go into more detail in a minute, a strawberry-flavoured gin and the Classic, which, at an ABV of 37.5%, promises a more traditional flavour, whatever that may mean. The Black Edition, the latest of their gins, was launched in March 2016.         

It takes as its inspiration, so says the inevitable marketing blurb that seems to go hand-in-glove with gins these days, springtime in Andalusia. So, we are warned to expect the gentle aromas of orange blossom and citrus, mingled with strains of jasmine and vanilla. It is supposed to conjure up a picture of the province at that time of year. However, we are advised, it is not a flavoured gin and is aimed to appeal to the serious gin and tonic lover. I tend to take this sort of drivel with a sip of gin.

Astonishingly, they were not wrong. Quite simply, this is one of the finest gins I have ever tasted and has bulldozed its way into my favourite handful of gins I have tasted. It is one to be savoured and kept for those special occasions when you want to rise above the humdrum.

Removing the screwcap, a cork stopper would have really finished this product off, my nostrils were greeted by the reassuring smell of pine, courtesy of the juniper, and jasmine but there was also a distinctly floral overtone. None were so overpowering as to hinder the others from getting a look in. In the glass the spirit was crystal clear and in the mouth was a perfectly balanced mix of spiciness, floral notes and citrus from the region’s oranges and lemons. It made for a very smooth drink with enough astringency in the aftertaste to remind you that you were drinking not only a gin but a high-class gin.

It shows that you do not have to have to go too far off the piste in terms of botanicals to produce a distinctive and thoroughly enjoyable gin. Often less is more and simplicity is to be preferred over unnecessary complexity. I’m sold.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Eighty Six

The power of the ginaissance is such that distillers have to be imaginative to ensure that their product muscles its way into the consciousness of gin lovers. One way is to do it by the design of your bottle, another is to have a good back story for the gin and a third is to have an unusual flavour combination. Perhaps master distiller, Meindert Kampen, is being greedy because he seems to have ticked all three boxes with his Black Tomato Gin.

The gin is distilled at the Kampen Distillery in Zeeland in the Netherlands and comes in a rather dumpy 50cl bottle with a black matt finish and a dark red, almost maroon cap, suggestive of a black tomato, and an artificial cork stopper. It is certainly distinctive in size and colour. There is a dark red label at the front with a picture of a black tomato. The words “Dutch, quality, premium, gin” are embossed on the shoulder of the bottle and the label at the back raves about the qualities of these tomatoes; “full of nuances of merlot, salt, and citrus, with robust, tangy firmness. Dark fruits with rich, sweet, dynamic flavour and a smoky note”. There is no mention of any other flavours or botanicals, it is all about the black tomato. The rear label did inform me that mine was bottle number 2,377 from Batch 24.   

Black tomatoes are not everybody’s cup of tea but aficionados claim that they are the best tasting of all, turning a bluey-black on ripening and with deep, blood red flesh inside. They are also stacked full of anthocyanin, the same antioxidant you find in the likes of blueberries and blackberries. It may not come as a surprise to you that this is the gin, at least so far, that uses this fruit as one of its main ingredients. The tomatoes that go into this gin are grown in Sicily where the combination of salty groundwater and sun produces especially flavoursome fruits.

Once the ripened tomatoes, grown organically (natch) are picked from the bushes they are crushed and mixed with a neutral spirit, the resulting liquid then filtered and distilled. The two other botanicals in the mix, juniper, of course, and an unnamed secret botanical, it is annoying when this happens, are each distilled separately and then three separate distillations are mixed and purified salt water, from the Oosterschelde which the distillery overlooks, added. Grain alcohol is then introduced and the hooch is finally reduced to its fighting ABV of 42.3%.

So, what is it like?

I think it is fair to say that it is not for everyone’s taste. On removing the stopper, there seems to be little in the way of subtlety about the aroma. It is overpoweringly one of tomato, strong and fruity, with juniper and whatever the secret ingredient is barely getting a look in. Surprises continue when the spirit is poured into a glass. It is a light brown in colour. In the mouth, when drunk neat, there is an initial sensation of salt but that is soon overwhelmed by the tomato. It is not clear what the juniper is doing as the taste is predominantly one of a fruit juice rather than the more peppery taste one normally associates with a gin.

Pouring in a tonic, I expected that the gin would settle down and the other flavours would surface, if only briefly. Far from it, though, the tonic seemed simply to give the tomato a fresh lease of life. The aftertaste is sweet and tomatoey. It wasn’t an unpleasant drink, in fact the sweetness makes it quite a refreshing drink, notwithstanding the presence of salt, but it was just not what I would have expected of a gin and would probably make an interesting base for an adventurous sort of cocktail.

Several glasses have convinced me that is worth persevering with but if you are thinking of indulging, be certain that you like tomatoes. It is certainly as far left field on the taste spectrum that I would care to venture.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Eighty Five

The second and final gin I picked up at Vancouver airport’s duty-free shop was a bottle of Victoria Premium Cocktail Gin, in for a cent in for a dollar, as they say. The ginaissance has spawned a wide variety of categorisations for gin, some less helpful than others, and this is supposed to be New Western or New Wave or New American, take your pick. There is no formal, or should I say legal, definition of this style but in essence the juniper element is toned down and other botanicals, not normally associated with London Dry Gins, are deployed.   

The Victoria Distillery is now to be found in Sidney, a town on the southern tip of Victoria Island in British Columbia, although when it first started operations it did so in Victoria. The move was made in 2016 and coincided with a rebrand and relaunch of the gin. Victoria Distillery is one of British Columbia’s oldest distilleries and gin making started in 2008 under the direction of Ken Winchester. However, the gin was revamped and the recipe recalibrated in 2009, the upshot being that the juniper element was reduced and some of the original botanicals changed.  

The bottle is bell-shaped and cylindrical, with a long neck a brassy-coloured top and a synthetic cork stopper. The labelling is long and thin with a large V in a bronze colour, the name of the gin and the batch number; mine is from number 187. The label at the rear gives some information about the gin, namely that “the world’s finest botanicals are lovingly distilled and blended with pure Canadian water”. Some claim. A nice touch is that the clear parts of the bottle contain motifs of hearts, glasses and the like. A nice touch.       

Yet again, though, the labelling is schtum on what the magic ingredients are that constitute the world’s finest botanicals. I will have to rely upon my jaded palate and senses. On opening the bottle, the aroma seemed to be missing that heavy, distinctive juniper smell. Instead, it seemed quite light in comparison with many gins that I had tried with quite a bit of citrus. In the mouth, this impression was confirmed. There was juniper in there but it was not dominant, a fair amount of citrus in play and some coriander.

Then came a spicy element and what I can only describe as a toffee-like flavour became apparent. The aftertaste was principally of spice and pepper but not excessively so. And, I guess, that was my overall impression of the gin. It seemed a bit undercooked with little in the way of a distinctive taste. It relied on other elements such as ice and/or a tonic to give it that whoosh that made it come alive. With an ABV of 42.5% it should have had enough power to stand on its own glass stem but it didn’t.  

It was somewhat disappointing, perfectly acceptable for drinking but with little of what I look for these days in a gin. Each to their own, I suppose.

Until the next time, cheers!   

Gin O’Clock – Part Eighty Four

I have recently commented on the growth of gin distilleries in British Columbia, particularly in Vancouver. Pleasurable as it would have been, time precluded me from visiting more than the couple I did but there is always the airport duty free shop. It is getting increasingly more difficult to find new gins, mainly because they seem to be majoring in on one of the more regrettable fads spawned by the ginaissance, flavoured gins. Still, tucked away in relative obscurity I managed to find a bottle of Tempo Renovo Dry Gin.

An elegant bottle it was, too, rectangular in shape, leading up to a longish neck and a brown, artificial cork stopper. The labelling is modest and elegant with a beige background, what looks to be the sun embossed at the top and lettering in brown, blue and silver. It doesn’t exactly shout out at you and can easily get lost amongst its more vulgar and brash competitors but if the design means anything, it suggests something that is sophisticated and confident of its own merits.

Tempo Renovo is distilled by Goodridge and Williams Distilling who were established by Stephen Goodridge in 2013. They started out making vodka, using grain from the Peace River Valley in British Columbia which was mashed and fermented at their distillery in Delta. Their take on vodka having been well received, it was a natural progression to use the spirit as a base for a gin. And so Tempo Renovo was born. The name, so the rear label informs me, means time to revive or refresh. I will drink to that.

The rear label goes on to describe the product as “a modern expression of contemporary dry gin for our times; smoothly refreshing, it delivers the perfect balance”. Frustratingly, though, there is no indication what has gone into the mix. It is becoming a bit of a hobby horse of mine but a little more information beyond marketing-spin would be appreciated.

Of course, the only way to find out what it tastes like and what may have been added to the grain spirit is to try it. On removing the stopper, I could detect the juniper but the presence of liquorice was equally apparent as were hints of some citrus elements. In the glass it is clear and in the mouth it has a creamy consistency to it. The juniper is discernible but it has a fight on its hands with the liquorice to make its presence felt. Then the spices came in to play with a hint of lemon at the end. The aftertaste was slightly peppery.

I found that the addition of ice and a decent tonic pepped the gin up, after all it was designed with those elements in mind, but, overall, I was a bit disappointed with the drink. I like my gins firmly juniper-led and Tempo Renovo would certainly not fill that requirement. With an ABV of 40% it seemed a bit muted to me, trying to steer a steady path between the inherent flavours of the botanicals. Perhaps I got the wrong message from the labelling. In reality, it was a pleasant enough drink but a bit understated.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Eighty Three

I have commented before that such is the strength of the ginaissance that companies, best known for producing whiskies, are coming down from their Mount Olympus to get a piece of the action. And it is not difficult to see why. To make a decent gin takes far less time than to distil a whisky and time is money.

On a recent visit to the excellent Constantine Stores I was recommended to try Nikka Coffey Gin. I’m not a whisky drinker but I recognised the name Nikka Coffey as brand of Japanese Scotch and I was fascinated to see what Asahi Breweries’ take on my favourite tipple would be. Incidentally, the Coffey in their brand’s name a reference to the Irishman, Aeneas Coffey, who developed a two-column continuous still in 1830 and revolutionised the spirits industry. Asahi’s first foray into the gin market is distilled in Coffey stills which were imported into Japan in the 1960s.

There are eleven botanicals that go into the mix and, as you would anticipate, a number are particular to the gin’s country of origin. Rubbing shoulders with our old friends, juniper, angelica and coriander are apple, orange and lemon. The oriental twist is provided by Japanese Sansho pepper and by a quartet of citrus fruits, amanatsu. Hirami lemon, Kabusu and yuzu, the latter of which I had encountered in Roku.

Interestingly, the base spirit, which is a blend of barley and corn, is intended to be as much a feature of the gin as the botanicals. You get the sense with many distillers that whilst they prefer to use neutral grain spirits they see it as an artist does a canvas, a means through which they can demonstrate their cleverness rather than an integral and important part of the whole. Asahi may be on to something because the base spirit can set the tone for the drink, some of the gins which use wine bases have a heck of a job eliminating the astringent taste that comes with it.

Asahi haven’t gone overboard on the design of their bottle. It is bell-shaped with a simple green label at the front and a black screwcap. The label at the back of the bottle is a little more informative, extolling the virtues of the gin. But then again, Nikka Coffey is such an established brand in the drinks market that it feels it does not need to stand out from the crowd in presentational terms. It does come, though, in a nice presentation box.

The acid test, of course, is; what does this gin with a 47% ABV tastes like? Upon removing the screwcap I was greeted with an incredibly powerful, citrusy aroma, not surprising considering the amount of citrus in the mix. To the taste it was incredibly sour at first and took my breath away. Other tastes and sensations then began to come into play, the bright lemons and oranges giving way to the more bitter Japanese citruses before ending with a peppery feel. The aftertaste was of pepper and quite bitter too and it stayed with me, not in an unpleasant way, for as long as I can remember a gin doing. When I added tonic, I found the gin louched because of the high oil content.

I’m still at a loss as to what to make of it. If you are looking for a contemporary-style gin with a unique taste, then this is one for you. Once I got over the initial shock, I was expecting citrus overload but not something so tart, I found it an extremely complex, satisfying drink. I discover something different in it each time I try it. But I suspect once the bottle is gone, it will be Sayonara from me.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Eighty Two

If Lantic Gin has the feel of a gin made by an enthusiast, then today’s gin, Monterey Helford Gin, has much loftier pretensions. Such are the variations in approaches that the ginaissance has spawned. It comes in a wonderfully ornate, tall, octagonal bottle, four short sides at the corners and four longer faces, with a glass stopper. The label, a dark green background with predominantly gold lettering, has a profusion of art deco style geometric shapes. It tells me that it is “gin for the discerning”, I would expect nothing less, and that its ABV is 43%.

I bought my bottle, number 62 from batch one, from the Constantine Stores on a recent visit and it came in a splendid white presentation box, resplendent with the art deco Monterey logo in gold. It is an impressive object and stands out on my crowded gin display.

The name of the gin, distilled in Helford, near Falmouth, in Cornwall ties in nicely with the art deco feel of the bottle. Monterey pines, which stand tall and proud along the banks of the Helford river, overshadowing the indigenous oaks, were introduced in the 1920s and 30s from California. They found the area to their liking and have not looked back. The brains behind Monterey gin wanted to create a gin that resonated with the days of speakeasy bars, flappers and when cocktails were de rigueur, a gin that would be equally at home as a component of an extravagant cocktail as the companion to a tonic.

There are eleven botanicals in the mix. Frustratingly, they do not reveal what they are save that you will find Gentian Root, it is the main ingredient in Angostura bitters so you get the idea, Mate, a form of tea from Argentina, and Sea Buckthorn. The starting point is an organic grain spirit into which the eleven botanicals are steeped in a copper still named Shirley. As the still heats up, the infusion is allowed to evaporate and then is cooled and condensed. Once the Heads and Tails of the batch are disposed of, the Hearts are diluted down to its fighting weight using de-mineralised water.

What this process, known as “one shot” distillation, means is that other than the water dilution, the spirit isn’t changed – what goes in is what comes out and all the oils and flavours resident in the botanicals are retained – but it is also a time-consuming process and means that the number of bottles obtained from any one batch is on the lower end of the production spectrum.      

The key question, though, is; is it all fur coat and no knickers? Does it live up to its image and hype?

I don’t know why but I was expecting a bit of a let down but my endemic pessimism was misplaced. The aroma told me that this gin was going to be juniper-led and that spice, peppers and some citrus elements were going to be in the mix. To the taste it was a smooth, complex drink with all the elements coming into play once the initial juniper hit had passed. The aftertaste was long and slightly spicy.

It went well with Navas tonic, the lightness of the tonic emphasising some of the subtler flavours in the gin. Not only does Monterey gin look good, it tastes good and you can’t ask for better than that.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Eighty One

Such is the proliferation of gins that have emerged courtesy of the ginaissance that it is well-nigh impossible to keep on top of what is going on. I have long since abandoned as somewhat forlorn any ambition I might once have had of sampling them all. In truth, there are many, particularly the outlandish end of the flavoured gin spectrum, that I could live without but I do enjoy exploring small craft, distinctly regional gins and this week’s subject, Lantic Gin, from the Skylark Distillery in Lostwithiel fits the bill perfectly.

The name Lantic is a tip of the hat to Lantic Bay, a stunning stretch of coast with near white sand, turquoise water and lush clifftops, running between Fowey and Polperro in south-eastern Cornwall. In former times it had associations with smuggling but for distiller, Alex Palmer-Samborne, it is today the source for some of the botanicals that go into the mix. Whilst out walking with his dog, Alex gathers Rock Samphire, Gorse Flowers, Water Mint, Heather, Lemon Thyme, and Apple Mint which give his gin its distinctive flavour and play upon the solid base provided by the other nine botanicals.   

The base of the gin is a neutral English grain spirit, diluted with Cornish spring water, into which the nine base botanicals including juniper. They use a 150-litre copper pot still called Virginia into which the mix is poured and left overnight. The six locally foraged botanicals are then added the following day and reheated. The spirit is then diluted with Cornish spring water to bring it down to its fighting weight of 42% ABV. The use of Cornish water allows Skylark to designate their product as Cornish gin.

I bought my bottle at the excellent Constantine Stores, the physical incarnation of drinkfinder.co.uk. It is bell-shaped, clear with a synthetic stopper. The labelling consists of very light blue and white stripes with the lettering in a dark blue (think Cambridge and Oxford). There is a bit of a nautical feel to the label which informs me that it is “hand made by the Skylark Distillery, the Spirited Company of Foraging Ginmakers”. Disappointingly, there is no batch number or bottle number on the label. I know it must be a fag to do that but if you are going to go to the trouble of presenting yourself as a small, artisan distiller, it helps to make the point.        

It seems Alex and his friends, it pays to be friends with a distiller, had fun testing the various batches in an attempt to come up with the perfect recipe. The initial gins were juniper-heavy but they decided to move away from that to produce a more contemporary, floral, lighter, smoother gin. To the nose it is clear that this is going to be distinctive with the juniper downplayed and the floral elements to the fore. In the mouth it is a complex drink with a nice balance of all the elements in play with a smooth, lingering and none too spicy aftertaste. I mixed it with Navas tonic and its lightness brought out the best of the spirit.   

I enjoyed it, although I was missing the heavy juniper notes, and I found it a good opener to the evening. Indeed, so moreish is it that I am in danger of having to send out for some emergency supplies.

Until the next time, cheers!