Gin O’Clock (105)

Towards the end of June my wife and I normally make an annual pilgrimage to the Falmouth area of Cornwall. One of the highlights, for me at least, is a trip to Constantine Stores, an unprepossessing store with an Aladdin’s cave of gins of all shapes, sizes and qualities. It is also the headquarters of Drinkfinder.co.uk and as, what with one thing and another, we haven’t got down there, I have had to resort to their exemplary mail order service. It was simple to use and the bottles arrived, well packed, the following day. Superb, although I did miss the opportunity to browse through shelves of tempting goodies that the ginaissance has spawned.

Given its location Drinkfinder has a fine selection of Cornish gins and so my selections all come from the south-western peninsula and its outcrops. The first I selected was Rosemullion Dry Gin from the little Cornish village of Mawnan Smith, a village we have driven through many times en route to Glendurgan and Trebah gardens and the head from which the gin takes its name. Among the reasons for selecting it was that I was keen to taste some new gins from the area, the distillery was established in 2018 and the Dry Gin was launched the following year, and I was intrigued by the base spirit that was used.

Not content to do things by halves, husband and wife team, Andy and Liz Bradbury, have not only decided to create their own range of gins but also to develop their own base spirit. Most distillers find the task of creating a gin daunting enough and bring in pre-prepared spirit. Grain is the usual base, although I have sampled apple-based spirits, and spirits using potato and even wine. Fermented sugar, though, the ingredient of choice for the Bradburys is a new one on me. My concern with “unusual” base spirits is that without care a flavoured spirit can unbalance the taste of the gin, giving the botanicals even more work to do. I find that wine spirit, for example, makes the gin too astringent.

The bottle is a work of art, reminiscent of a Plymouth Gin bottle on steroids. Its Cornish roots are shown in the Celtic-influenced logo, repeated both on the front and on top of the wide cork stopper. At the rear at the base is a sticker telling me my bottle is number 90 from Batch DG6 and initialled AJB, presumably by Andy. The only other other labelling is a tag at the neck which informs me that the gin is “born from a passion to create world beating (a phrase now surely devalued) spirits, using traditional techniques from the very heart of the Cornish countryside”. Beautiful, but understated presentation.

The gin is made in copper stills in batches of 100 bottles. Twelve botanicals go into the mix including juniper, coriander seeds, orange, orris root, angelica root, liquorice, black pepper, lemon and cassia bark and Cornish rainwater, of which they get a lot from my experience, is used in the distillation and fermentation process. At 43% ABV it is mid-range in strength, packing enough punch to make it interesting.  

So, what is it like?

On the nose it has a full-bodied, intense aroma, a heady mix of the floral and the spicier, peppery juniper-based elements. In the mouth it has quite an intense taste, marking it out from other gins, probably because of the choice of base spirit. It seemed well-balanced with the sweeter elements combining well with and complementing the welcome and intense hit of juniper and the earthier elements. The aftertaste was prolonged and enticing, providing a warm spicy glow.

When I added a mixer, I found that it louched, due to the oily elements in the botanicals, nothing wrong in that. It also seemed that the addition of a tonic gave extra prominence to the herbal and floral elements within the botanicals. I would suggest if you are going to use a mixer, you need to select a fairly bland, neutral one. There is so much going on that to disrupt with an unfortunate choice of tonic would be a shame, if not a crime.

I really enjoyed this gin and it had a taste as distinctive and sophisticated as the bottle it came in. It made me pine for the area.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock (104)

It is important if you are going to make a bit of a splash in the world of the ginaissance to be able to stand out from the crowd. A slick, punchy marketing message with a quirky backstory, as we have seen, certainly helps. The shape and design of the bottle is another. After all, that is the first thing you notice about a gin on the shelf and an attractive or unusual design can catch your attention. The irony of it all, of course, is that the more distillers who put some of their energy not designing an eye-catching bottle, the less likely it is that any one bottle will stand out. Indeed, you could argue that in those circumstances it is the plain, dull bottle that will look unusual on the shelf. And you need to consider the impact of an unusual bottle on the overall price.

There’s a lot to consider but there is no getting away from the fact that there are some beautiful bottles around. Those of you who have followed these posts will have realised by now that I take some time in a review to consider the design and aesthetics of the bottles and their labelling. I find it is part of the overall experience. Here, in no particular order, as they say on all good reality shows, are some of my favourites.

For elegance, simplicity and a touch of its heritage, you cannot beat the Plymouth Gin bottle. The glass is a beautiful pale green, embossed with the name of the distillery and the year it was founded (1793), topped off with a copper coloured screwcap. And the gin is superb. I was so enamoured with the white bottle with floral designs in black which the French gin, Generous Gin, comes in that it is still standing on my shelf, even though, alas, its contents have long since gone.    

I also think the classic wine bottle shape, as favoured by the excellent Portobello Road No 171 Gin, one of my absolute favourite gins, adds some elan to the gin shelf, a style also adopted, albeit in a slightly more elongated form and in an almost fluorescent green, by Crawshay Welsh Dry Gin, whose distillery at Hensol Castle I shall enjoy visiting when I can safely cross the Severn.

A bottle that is simply a stunner is Silent Pool’s beautiful pale blue cylindrical number, etched in gold with motifs of some of the flowers and botanicals that go into the mix. The cynic in me fears that the more effort that is put into the look, the more disappointing will the end product be. My fears on this occasion were ill-founded. The gin was as good as the bottle looked. The City of London range, I love their Christopher Wren Gin, is contained in a bottle with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral leading up to the neck. A lovely shape.

Bottles need not be round and there is something distinctive about a geometric shape, particularly one that is in synch with the product itself. No 3 London Dry Gin from Berry Bros & Rudd is in a distinctive pale green triangular bottle, while the New Zealand Scapegrace Premium Dry Gin is in a square one. The gorgeous Caorunn Small Batch Scottish Gin is in a pentagonal bottle, representing the key Scottish botanicals, Heather, Rowan Berry, Dandelion, Bog Myrtle, and Couls Blush Apple, while, not to be outdone, the Japanese Roku Gin is in a hexagonal bottle, each side representing one of the six traditional Japanese botanicals that go into the mix.

I’m also a sucker for a metallic plate, Puerto de Indias Sevillian Premium Gin using a brass one to particularly good effect. Gin bottles really do come in all shapes and sizes.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock (103)

What with one thing and another, I have hardly been out over the last few months, save for a weekly trip to the local Waitrose. It has meant that the opportunities to explore the world created by the ginaissance have been limited. There have been two positives, though. My enforced bout of reclusiveness has afforded me the opportunity to revisit some of my favourite gins, ones that I go back to even though I am keen to sample the new and unusual, and to give some thought to the state of the gin industry.

It is no use distilling the finest gin in the world, if no one has heard of it, let alone drunk it. One of the trends that come through loud and clear is that distillers must have a strong marketing message. It is a crowded market, almost saturated and verging on the unsustainable, I would suggest, and to break through and survive, it is almost obligatory to have a back story, the quirkier the better. Some, frankly, are just plain daft and barely survive even the most cursory inspection, and I have highlighted some of them. Some seem to be straight out of a Marketing 101 manual – tell me in a sentence what is distinctive about your product. Others seem designed to aim the gin at a very distinctive subset of the market.          

Here are two, neither of which I have sampled (yet), which have gone out of their way to differentiate themselves wildly from the rest of the pack. I have come across Arbikie before, enjoying their Highland Estate Kirsty’s Gin (https://windowthroughtime.wordpress.com/2019/09/05/gin-oclock-part-seventy-four/), whose USP is that it is a single estate gin ie all the components are sourced from the distiller’s locale. Even the spuds which make the base spirit are grown on the farm, a sort of from soil to bottle approach.   

It was probably, therefore, a fairly natural step for the master distiller, Kirsty Black, to have developed what Arbikie claim to be the world’s first climate positive gin. Called Nàdar, which is Gaelic for nature, it has a carbon footprint of -1.54 kg CO2e per 700ml bottle. How do they do it, I hear you cry? The secret ingredient is the peas which are used in the distillation process. The leftover parts of the peas from the distillation process are mixed with spent yeast to produce something known as pot ale, which is then fed to the animals.

You are helping to save the planet by drinking the gin, something we can all raise a glass to. Of course, where all these initiatives go wrong, laudable as they are, is that the distribution process is reliant upon carbon emitting transport, but you have to start somewhere. I will be intrigued to sample it.

The fad for throwing more and more botanicals into the mix is a tad time consuming and it is tempting to introduce a middleman into the process. This seems to have been the thinking of South African couple, Paula and Les Ainsley, when they developed their Ibhu Indlovu Gin. Its principal constituent is elephant dung, a batch of 3 to 4,000 bottles requiring five large bags of dung. The dung is dried, washed and then crumbled to leave behind the remnants of the fruits, leaves and bark eaten by the elephants. It can be a bit hit and miss, the taste changing dependent upon the season and what the donor elephants have actually consumed. The taste is described as woody, earthy and almost spicy. I wonder what the aftertaste is like.  

Our gin is shit is an interesting marketing strategy.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock (102)

Ah, February 2020. In retrospect, it seemed such an innocent time, barely touched by the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Life went on as normal and inventive distillers, fuelled by the demand created by the ginaissance and seeking to carve out a space for themselves, continued to ply their trade to come up with new, beguiling concoctions for their eager public. Little did we know what was ahead of us.

I am less enamoured with what could be described as contemporary gins than I am with London Dry, but I have to confess that if I want a break from a heavy juniper-led drink, I find Hendrick’s Gin, a quirky spirit infused with Bulgarian Rosa Damascena and cucumbers provides a refreshing and welcome respite. As far as the new wave of gins goes it is now firmly established, having been launched from its distillery, the Gin Palace, just outside Girvan in Ayrshire in 1999. It is now owned by William Grant & Son and is here to stay, something that cannot be said with any degree of certainty about many of the gins that cross my path.

The temptation to stray from the tried and tested is too strong even for the most established master distiller and Lesley Gracie is no exception. Over the last year Hendrick’s have released a couple of her concoctions as limited editions under the tag of Lesley Gracie’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The first out of the traps, released in early 2019, was Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice, followed, in February 2020, by Hendrick’s Lunar Gin. I picked up a bottle in our local Waitrose.

The bottle itself is that familiar squat shape, popularised by Hendrick’s, but instead of a bottle green colour the glass is a dark blue, if not black, signifying the night. The principal labelling at the front of the bottle is attractive with a lighter blue background and using lettering in an even paler blue and white. Above the name Hendrick’s there is a charming illustration of the moon, with a man in it (natch) surrounded by a selection of constellations and a banner either side nestling on a bed of flowers and bearing the legend “Limited Release”.       

The bottle comes with a little booklet tied to the neck, replete with marketing spiel and recipes for servings but, alas, no details about the botanicals that have gone into the mix. That is particularly disappointing as part of the marketing puff talks about the gin being inspired by a moonlit evening spent tending botanicals in the hothouse. It would have been nice to know what they were and in what way the components differ from the Hendrick’s mainstay. All the marketeers will say is that the limited-edition releases are “designed to enhance and accentuate the existing elements of the Hendrick’s Original house style”. Mmm.

Anyway, there is nothing for it but to release the agglomerated cork stopper and sample the spirit which weighs in with an acceptable 43.4% ABV. On the nose it is somewhat floral with violet and lavender to the fore. The spiciness of the juniper and some citrus elements are detectable but take a back seat.

In the glass the spirit is crystal clear and gives the drinker a really pleasant sensation, a mix of floral elements, providing waves of different taste sensations, and enticing spices, perfectly blended so that they compliment each other rather than detract. There is a lot going on in there and it is a pleasure to see that each element plays its element, like individual instruments in a symphony orchestra. Too much of one or a reticent other would spoil the effect. As for the aftertaste, it was long and a continuation of the exotic blend of floral elements and peppery spices.

All in all, I was not disappointed. This was a classy gin, the sort that you would expect from a distiller that has lasted the pace and still rates amongst the best. It just would have been nice to know what was in it.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock (101)

The seemingly unstoppable impetus of the ginaissance has, rightly, had me focussing on the enormous range of so-called premium gins that are now available. Such is the range and so wide is the taste spectrum that it is almost impossible to find a gin that doesn’t suit, unless you have a pathological hatred of the spirit. I have always found it a little strange, though, that with so much attention focussed on the gin, the botanicals used, the aroma, taste and aftertaste, the backstory of the distillers, the look and feel of the bottle, and the marketing, there is little focus on what you mix it with. There is little point, it seems to me, to go to enormous lengths selecting a gin that suits your taste or the mood of the moment, and then pour any old mixer into it. One size does not necessarily fit all.  

I am wired psychologically to resist the blandishments of market leaders and like from time to time cast my net out wider. Bored with the hegemony of Fever-Tree and Schweppes 1783, my normal mixers, and finding my favourite spirit a little heavy for an evening’s session when taken neat, I was attracted to investigate Double Dutch Indian Tonic Water, available at my local Waitrose and with a price enticingly discounted. I am on a pension, after all.

The name, Double Dutch, refers to the founders, twins Joyce and Raissa de Haas, who were raised in the Netherlands, the spiritual home of gin. Frustrated that the spirit of innovation and experimentation amongst gin makers was not being matched by the providers of mixers, they decided to take matters into their own hands. The initial two flavours they developed were Pomegranate & Basil and Cucumber & Watermelon. Now the range has been extended to include Ginger Ale, Double Lemon, Soda Water, Indian Tonic Water, Ginger Beer, and Cranberry & Ginger. Something for everybody’s taste, it would seem.

The duo’s aim was to produce a mixer that stood up on its own as well as being a perfect accompaniment to a spirit and that they were natural and free from preservatives. Despite the name the drink is manufactured in the United Kingdom, using natural ingredients, according to their website, and the highest quality (natch) spring water from the North of England. They are also slimline, for those who care about such matters, with just 66 calories.  

As I prefer a tonic that enhances the flavours of the gin I’m drinking rather than setting itself up as a rival, I decided to err on the side of caution and go for the unflavoured Indian tonic. It comes either in a bottle or a can, I bought the canned version. Emphasising the Dutch origin of the idea if not the manufacture of the tonic, the can is an appealing orange colour with a logo of two girls, perhaps the De Haas twins, facing each other with glass in hand and the motto “perfectly balanced”. There is a strangely Masonic feel to the design between the two women, but that may just be me.

I decided I would try the tonic on its own before adulterating my gin. It had a slightly spicy note to its aroma and in the glass had enough bubbles to convince you that it wasn’t flat without unleashing a torrent. To the taste it was not as bitter as some tonics I have tasted. The spicy elements were present as was the citrus, but they seemed well balanced and unobtrusive, making it an interesting, if somewhat bland, drink.

Mixed with a gin, if anything it improved immeasurably and seemed to enhance the flavours of the juniper-led spirit I had selected. I suspect with the spicy element that you need to be careful which gins you decide to add it to, but I found it a perfectly acceptable alternative to the tonics I normally use. And with all the other flavours in their cabinet, some a little too recherche for my taste, they are well positioned to make a splash in their market.

Until the next time, cheers!