Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Four

There must be some consolations to be had for pushing a rather battered trolley around the grubby aisles of an Aldi supermarket. Well, on my last trip to our local outlet, I found one at least. They are bringing their fetching approach of stack them untidily, sell ‘em cheap to the ginaissance and have a rather intriguing selection of gins available.

The one that particularly caught my eye was a rather squat, rectangular-shaped bottle with a rather unobtrusive, if not apologetic, label. Picking it up, I saw that it was Beckett’s London Dry Gin, the brain child of the eponymous Neil Beckett and which has been around since 2014. It is distilled at Kingston Distillers. The label, white with a pale green surround of branches and juniper berries, was unusually informative, always a bonus I find when browsing through gins. Intrigued by the write-up in Ginventory, I decided to give it a go and what a find it was.

As often is the case with gins, there is a back story to the gin, usually a desperate attempt to find that ever elusive marketing edge. But at least with Beckett’s there is a conservationist angle, if that is your bag. The junipers are hand-picked from Box Hill in the rolling Surrey Downs. They claim, and I have no reason to doubt them, that it is the only the gin, to date, that uses juniper grown and picked in England. The cynic in me says that there is usually a very good reason something is not used but the proof of the botanical is in the drinking.

What is laudable about using English juniper is that it is an attempt to reverse the lamentable decline in the fortunes of the berry here in Blighty. A combination of poor seed quality, disease and, until recently, the decline in interest in gin has meant that juniper has almost been eradicated from large parts of the country. As a quid pro quo for using the junipers, Beckett’s gin is being used as a flagship for the juniper conservation effort. If more distillers follow Beckett’s lead, then there may be a chance that juniper will re-establish itself here.

Along with the juniper, five other botanicals are added to the neutral grain spirit to produce the hooch – mint grown in Kingston upon Thames, lime and coriander from Morocco, orris root from Italy, and orange peel from Spain. You will probably have gathered by now, if you read these posts on a regular basis, that I am a fan of relatively simple gins using a small number of botanicals which allow the juniper to take the lead. This gin certainly ticks that box.

The label informed me that it was from Batch no LDG17 and was bottle number 5018. Come in No 5018, your time is up. Removing the grey foil from the neck of the bottle and the artificial stopper, the aroma that greeted me was one heavily influenced by juniper with hints of citrus and, perhaps, mint. To the taste it presented as a well-balanced gin with the juniper blending well with the citrus elements and the mint giving it a rather bittersweet taste and a long, cool, refreshing aftertaste.

It made for a very satisfying drink and at 40% ABV is one that is going to encourage you to have another one.

Until the next time, cheers!

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Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Three

For those of us who surf the ginaissance and like to stock our drinks cabinet with hitherto untried gins, sourcing the stuff can be a bit of a problem. For sure, there are a plethora of on-line wholesalers but by the time you have added postage and packing into the equation, what seemed like a bit of a bargain can turn into an expensive acquisition. Trips to Cornwall have to be rationed and so I’m left with the local supermarkets and offies.

I was getting a bit fed up with our local branch of Waitrose. They have an extensive range of gins, to be sure, but by now I had sampled all of their buyer’s selections. On a recent visit, though, I spotted a bottle of Cotswold Dry Gin which I seized with the alacrity that a cobra does an unfortunate rat.

It comes in a rather distinctive, and dare I say it, elegant dark-green bottle, almost like a premium wine, with a dark, wine bottle-like label at the front, silver edged bearing the name of the spirit, the logo of a pheasant fanning its tail and date that the gin was established, 2014. My bottle was the first of 7,500 from the 19th batch produced in 2017, or so a signed second label stuck on at a jaunty diagonal angle tells me. It is stunning and can be purchased in a gift box if you are foolhardy enough, and generous enough, to part with it.

A neutral, pure wheat spirit used as the base in a 500-litre copper pot still, to which is added some water. The base botanicals – juniper, coriander seeds and angelica – are added and left to mascerate overnight for around 15 hours. The rest of the nine botanicals used are then added – lavender, grapefruit, bay leaf, lime, black pepper, and cardamom – and the mix is then slowly boiled. The first and last third of the resultant mix are discarded, and then allowed to rest for five days before being diluted down to its very feisty fighting weight of 46% ABV.

One thing to note is that a large amount of the botanicals is used in the process, the result of which is that the eventual gin is somewhat on the oily side and when ice and/or a mixer is added, it can cloud, a phenomenon known as louching. Just think of what happens when you add water to ouzo. If a crystal-clear gin is your thing, either drink it neat or steer clear.

Upon removing the artificial stopper protected by a foil a la wine, the aroma is one of citrus and, perhaps, lavender with the heavy tones of juniper lurking in the background. To the taste the gin is initially rather sweet but eventually the pepper fights its way through and then the juniper and lavender make an appearance. In the mouth it has a rather oily texture but not in an unpleasant way. The aftertaste is a well-balanced blend of sweet and spice. I found it very refreshing and a nice twist on a juniper-led gin.

The story behind the gin is one that is by now very familiar. Master mind Daniel Szor, a former hedge fund investor, established a distillery in the beautiful village of Stourton, near Shipston-on-Stour, deep in the heart of the Cotswolds, in 2012, the first distillery in the area. The plan was to distil whisky, a long and time-consuming affair, and one which can have a significant impact on cash-flow when there are significant fixed costs to absorb.

The answer, of course, was to introduce a product range that was available and ready to sell in a much shorter time frame – gin. And so this rather intriguing and high-quality gin was born.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Two

My wife and I are regular visitors to our local garden centre, she on the hunt for bargain-basement plants and I in search of unusual gins. Such is the power of the ginaissance that anywhere that attracts the middle classes with a chunk of disposable income jangling in their pocket seems to want to cash in on this particular gravy train.

To give Longacres their due, they do avoid the common or garden varieties and I have found there, on occasion, something that piques my interest. On a recent visit I stumbled across a bottle of Aber Falls Small Batch Welsh Dry Gin or as we bilinguists like to call it, Rheadr Faer Jin Sych Cymru.

It comes in a very distinctive light blue bottle with a convex neck and a wax covering over a synthetic cork stopper. The front of the bottle has one of those Celtic designs which were once all the rage amongst those who sported tattoos and the double lls in the Anglicised version of the hooch’s name are elongated to represent the eponymous waterfalls.

Mercifully, the spirit is clear and uncoloured and once the tightly fitting stopper is removed accompanied by an inviting and satisfying sound, the aroma that assails one’s nostrils is primarily one of juniper with notes of citrus coming through. To the taste it presents itself as a well-balanced mix between the spicy elements in the mix and the citrus with juniper to the fore. The aftertaste is a subtle and pleasing mix of sweet and spice. With an ABV of 41.3% it makes for a moreish and satisfying drink and for someone who loves variations on the more traditional London Dry Gin model this is certainly right down my stryd.

As to what is in the gin, it is hard to be certain but my educated guess would put juniper, liquorice, angelica and coriander seeds in there with grapefruit, lemon and orange. There may be more, who knows? What is certain is that it is distilled in a small copper still using the pure waters from the Aber Falls which gush down from the Snowdonia mountain range. For the more adventurous Aber Falls Distillery offers a Rhubarb and Ginger Gin and an Orange Marmalade Gin.

You may have realised by now that the Aber Falls distillery is Welsh. More accurately, it is to be found in North Wales in the village of Abergwyngregyn, at the foot of the waterfall. It is one of only four distilleries (currently) in Wales and the only one in the northern half of the country – indeed, there hasn’t been one there for over a century – occupying what was originally a slate works and then a margarine factory.

The original objective in establishing the distillery was, and is, to distill whisky but, as we have noted before, it takes such a long time. With time on their hands, the equipment and space, James Wright and his team noticed the boom in gin and decided to get a slice of the action. This they have done with some aplomb and their Welsh Dry Gin is a very welcome addition to my gin shelf.

The first batch of whisky should be available in the autumn of 2020.

Until the next time, lloniannau!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty One

There is an app for pretty much everything these days, it seems. It is not surprising then that some apps have emerged to capitalise on the ginaissance. Even for a luddite like myself, it is handy to have an encyclopaedia of gins at my beck and call stored on my phone as I peruse the shelves looking for a new gin to explore.

I’m using Ginventory which lists 5,099 different gins from around the world together with descriptions of varying length and quality, culled from the distillers’ websites, plus suggestions for mixers and garnishes. There are even buttons that direct you to the websites of wholesaler so you can order the hooch there and then. It would be helpful if there were independent reviews of each of the gins but, perhaps, that is asking for too much. That said, I’m hooked.

I’ve always been a bit snooty about the German discount supermarkets, Aldi and Lidl, which have emerged here in Blighty over the last decade or so to disrupt the once cosy cartel that the likes of Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury had over the shopping needs of the Brits. Entering their stores has always seemed to me to be a bit of a depressing experience. Utilitarian they certainly are – the lack of choice and the absence of any discernible care in which they display their merchandise remind me of the East German supermarkets I visited before the Wall came down – but they score on price.

And they are making a determined effort to gouge out a place in the gin boom. In our local Lidl my attention was piqued by a rather distinctive, bell-shaped bottle that contained their contribution to the artisan gin market, Hortus Original London Dry Gin. The label had what can only be described as a wreath of botanicals in lavender against a white background with the name of the hooch in the middle, a bee and some basic information to the effect that it was distilled in England – Warrington, actually, and, presumably, courtesy of Greenall’s – and that it was traditionally distilled in copper stills.

Around the neck of the bottle, which had a nice dark blue covering, was hung at a rather jaunty angle a card giving serving suggestions and a modicum of information about the product. The stopper, artificial cork, makes a very satisfying plopping sound as it is removed. With a fighting weight of 40% ABV, at the lower end of the strength range but still strong enough to give the toper a bit of a kick, and a price of £15.99, almost half of what you would pay for an independent artisan gin, it proved a temptation that was too much to resist.

And a wise investment it proved to be.

On removing the stopper the smell of juniper immediately hit my nostrils, always a good starting point, with some citric elements in the background. To the taste it was remarkably smooth with a big juniper kick. Then came some floral elements making it quite refreshing and moreish. The aftertaste had hints of lavender and liquorice or that is what it seemed like to me. I was pleasantly surprised.

Lidl are rather coy as to what precisely are the botanicals that go in to the mix. Apart from juniper there is certainly lavender, rosemary, lemon verbena and cubebs. There is certainly more but quite what I haven’t been able to discover. All the botanicals, apparently, are carefully added by hand and left to steep for at least eight hours before distillation. An image of a tortoise on the card providing this basic information is presumably meant to indicate that this is a slow process.

I think that there is too much nonsense around the unusual botanicals that have been thrown into the mix. For the consumer the only questions are; what does it taste like and is it worth the money? Lidl’s contribution to the artisan gin market certainly scores well on both points.

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty

One of the discernible trends of the ginaissance in 2018 is the increasing availability (and, presumably, concomitant popularity) of pink and rosé gins. I have already fulminated about oddly coloured drinks and whilst a light pink liquid is less offensive to my finely tuned sensitivities, it feeds straight in to another of my prejudices, my dislike of rosé wines. To my mind they are a sign of indecision. Make your mind up, go red or white. I must admit though I did have a rather fine Corsican rosé in La Rochelle this summer – the choice of my host – which caused me some mental perturbation but I soon got over it.

Notwithstanding all this mental baggage that goes along with pink liquids, I’m not one to let a trend go completely by unacknowledged and decided to pick up a bottle of Larios Rosé Premium Gin from the duty-free shop in Alicante airport. It was a moment of madness, akin to picking up a tasteless piece of tat as a souvenir for the woman who has looked after your pet goldfish whilst you have been away.

Aesthetically, the bottle is impressive. The clear, tall bottle showcases the pink of the gin perfectly and the swirly, gold effects around the front label make the trademark name of Larios, in white, stand out. Just so you don’t miss the differentiator of this particular gin, there is an image of a  strawberry on the screwcap and above the part of the front label which announces “Premium Gin Mediterranea.” The colouring and the elegance of the design makes it stand out and is a welcome, decorative addition to any shelf of gin bottles.

The label at the back goes into more detail about what’s inside. It is, it says, “a delicate result of four distillations and the blending of wild juniper with citrus fruits of the Mediterranean and the intense aroma of the strawberries.”  The copywriter then becomes more lyrical, claiming it is “a gin with a mild balanced taste that transports the sense to that rosy moment of the Mediterranean dawn.” I’ve never seen a Mediterranean dawn – perhaps it’s the gin – but I get the drift.

The trouble starts when you open the bottle. The aroma is overpoweringly of strawberries, no bad thing in itself, but this smell rather clinical and sickly. The neck has also become unusually sticky, perhaps because of the amount of sugar in the hooch, something I’ve not experienced before with my gins.

In the glass the spirit is a pleasing shade of light pink, clear and at 37.5% ABV it won’t blow your espadrilles off. But the taste!

So strong is the flavour of strawberry that it is hard to detect any other of the botanicals in the mix. The juniper decided to give up the fight and the citrus elements didn’t seem even to make it to the starting line. It also had a rather astringent aftertaste, making it a rather unpleasant drinking experience. Even the addition of a Mediterranean tonic didn’t help matters overly.

I’m told that it is better as an ingredient in a cocktail but if you need to add other liquors to drown out the overpowering taste of naff strawberries, what’s the point? I am going to keep it to appreciate its aesthetic qualities on my gin shelf, in the knowledge that it will only retain the pink colouration if I drink it. So I expect it to be a rather permanent fixture unless I pick up a winter cough.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Forty Nine

Regular topers will know that occasionally the ingestion of an alcoholic beverage can prompt moments of introspection and philosophical reflection. If we followed the latest advices of the health police and eschewed all alcohol – apparently, even the teensy-weeniest amount can be injurious to your health – these moments would be lost to us.

I found as I was contemplating a glass of The London No 1 Gin that my thoughts passed to the psychological impact of the colour of a drink. Not to put too fine a point on it; should a drink ever be blue in colour? Call me an old traditionalist, but to me a blue drink is a bit off-putting and, well, beyond the pale.

But the rather grandiosely named London No 1 Gin is a turquoise blue. When I picked up a bottle at the Alicante airport duty-free shop I had assumed that the blue of the bottle, a rather delightful aquamarine, it has to be admitted, was the colour of the glass a la Bombay Sapphire. But when I opened the artificial cork stopper and poured the gin out, I was surprised to find that it was the hooch that bore the colour and not the glass of the bottle.

This put the gin on the back foot as far as I was concerned but, fortunately, there was more than enough about it to redeem it in my estimation.

Although it is distributed by the Spanish company, Gonzales Byass, the drink is actually distilled, as the name suggests, in London. The base spirit is made from grain sourced from Suffolk and Norfolk. The recipe uses twelve botanicals – juniper, angelica root, coriander, almond, bergamot, liquorice, cinnamon, citrus peel, savory, cassia bark and orris root. Perhaps the most intriguing element is the bergamot, which has a distinctive spicy, floral smell. Just think of Earl Grey tea. After distillation, the mix is rested for three weeks before being bottled at an impressive fighting weight of 47%.

To the nose, the first sensation is one of flowers but as you breathe in the heavier juniper and spicy notes with a hint of liquorice come to the fore. In the mouth it is a subtle blend of sweeter floral notes and spices with juniper and citrus coming to the fore as you savour it. The aftertaste is intense, spicy with the liquorice coming to the fore again. It is a lovely, well balanced drink, a classic gin with a contemporary twist.

Let’s get back to the colour.

It is achieved by infusing with gardenia flowers in the maceration process. Whether it is necessary is another question but undoubtedly it gives it a unique twist, which is needed in the crowded market place prompted by the ginaissance. As the laconic labelling states, in what I take as a rather ironic twist, in red lettering, it is the No 1 Original Blue Gin and let’s hope it stays that way.

The bottle is a lovely bell shape and the stopper makes a wonderful, inviting sound as you remove it. What is lacking in information on the bottle’s label is more than made up by a little brochure attached to the neck which extols the hooch’s virtues in three languages.

Despite my misgivings, it is a lovely drink. I will just have to close my eyes when I raise my glass.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Forty Eight

One of the benefits of the ginaissance is that many outlets are getting in on the act of selling an increasingly widening range of my favourite spirit. Take the duty-free shop in Alicante airport. Eschewing a pair of castanets and a stuffed donkey that were the purchases of choice of British holidaymakers in days of yore, I headed to the spirits section and spent the last of my Euros on three gins that I had not tried before.

The first of these purchases was the intriguing G’Vine Floraisson – a bit of a mouthful in anybody’s language and probably the bastard offspring of some creative type in a marketing agency who thought the name perfectly blended the concept of gin and the vine. I’ll get back to you on that one.

The name aside, G’vine is from France, distilled in the Cognac region, and uses as its base a neutral grape spirit, made from Ugni Blanc grapes. In doing so the distillers tap into a tradition dating back to the 13th century when grapes were used in France and the Low Countries as the base for juniper spirits. It makes for a smoother base than the usual wheat based spirits.

The second differentiator in the drink is the use of the flowers from the vine as a botanical. The vine flowers for a few days in June before the grape berry forms and floraisson is the French word used to describe the flowering. The Floraisson gin uses flowers which have just formed whereas the other gin from the G’Vine stable, the Nouaison, uses more maturer blossoms. The flowers are hand-picked and macerated in the neutral grape spirit for a few days.

There are nine other botanicals used to create the gin – juniper, ginger root, liquorice, cassia bark, green cardamom, coriander, cubeb berries, nutmeg, and lime. Each botanical is macerated individually in separate liquor stills and then the floraisson infusion, the separate botanical mixes and the grape spirit are all blended together in a copper pot. Naturally, it has a name – Lily Fleur. The result is a clear spirit which weighs in at 40% ABV.

It seems a lot of trouble to go to and is a radical departure from the usual method of macerating all the botanicals in one mix. And, of course, the question is: is it all worth the effort?

While the spirit is crystal clear and smooth to the taste, the wine base gives it a sharpness that is not present with the more usual grain bases. It is certainly different but the astringent qualities of the base are not to my taste. To the nose it has a very floral aroma and the initial impression when one rolls the spirit in the mouth is of a very flowery concoction. I assume that this is the vine flower, which assumes a dominant position in the mix. It is only in the aftertaste that the, to me, more interesting flavours, principally juniper and ginger, come to the fore.

I didn’t find it unpalatable but I wouldn’t place it among my favourites, not least because it seems to have strayed some way from the tastes and sensations that one would associate with a gin. But there is clearly a place for a summery, floral-heavy gin and if that is your bag, it is worth a try.

The bottle is a dumpy with a light green coating towards the shoulder, a nod to the colouring of vineyards in the spring, apparently. The top is a hideously large, green screw cap. The lettering, on the other hand, is in a modern style and gives a rather stylish flourish to what otherwise would have been an unremarkable bottle.