Gin O’Clock – Part Seventy Two

So, what exactly is cold distillation? I asked myself that question when I picked up the long, elegant, exquisitely beautiful and extremely tactile bottle that houses Oxley Cold Distilled London Dry Gin in the Duty Free shop at Schipol airport.

Well, in a nutshell it is the use of vacuum pressure to bring the temperature at which the neutral grain spirit and the botanicals boil down from 78 Celsius to a much lower point, in the case of Oxley’s gin to -5 degrees Celsius. That’s a pretty impressive scientific achievement but what is the point? Those who know about these things say that one of the problems with the normal method of distillation where the mix is brought to the boiling point of the ethanol is that the botanicals can get cooked and lose some of their natural flavours. By lowering the boiling point dramatically, those oh-so precious and delicate flavours and aromas are preserved and added to the mix.

That’s the theory and I’m sure a lot of scientific brainpower has gone into perfecting a method which can give a gin an extra edge and an extra marketing edge is the sort of fine margin that can make a spirit in the crowded market that the ginaissance has created. Oxley, part of the Bacardi group, are not the only ones to use cold distillation but their claim to fame, at the moment, at least, is that they distil at the lowest temperature.

Their chosen method of distillation means that there is little of the wastage that normally comes with traditional distilling methods, namely the heads and tails, which can make up to two-thirds of a batch and contain unsavoury elements such as methanol and other unwanted substances. Oxley’s method means that pretty much of all that has gone in at the start is useable at the end. They also deploy what is known as one shot distillation where all the botanicals are macerated together rather than separately.

What this all means to the consumer is that even by premium gin standards, Oxley Gin is pretty expensive, something exacerbated by the fact that it is only available in litre bottles. So does this use of cutting edge technology translate itself into a memorable and refreshing drinking experience which, after all, is what we are paying the big bucks for?

According to the label on the rear of the bottle Oxley dedicated eight years and 38 recipes to perfect the process of making the gin in their specially invented and patented still. The principal problem was that they found that the taste characteristics you normally associate with a botanical which had gone through the traditional distillation process had changed, sometimes markedly, and some significant recalibration of ratios had to be made to get a spirit they were happy with. My bottle is C47670.

There are fourteen botanicals in the mix – juniper, grapefruit, lemon, orange, meadowsweet, vanilla, aniseed, orris root, liquorice root, cocoa, grains of paradise (a kind of gingery, peppery seed), cassia bark, nutmeg and coriander. This gave me some cause for concern as these days I am definitely in the less is more camp when it comes to botanicals.

But perhaps I needn’t have worried. On removing the artificial cork stopper the aroma was a reassuring and heady mix of juniper with spice and citrus. To the taste the initial impression was that the juniper and citrus elements were to the fore but as the extremely smooth spirit settled down, some of the other flavours began to make their presence felt, particularly grapefruit. It would be wrong of me to say I could detect each of the fourteen but as a whole they made for a crisp, almost too clinical a drink. The aftertaste was a mix of juniper and liquorice which lasted long after I had swallowed the spirit. At 47% ABV, it also packed a bit of a punch.

For its elegance, both in presentation and in its taste, it is definitely worth exploring but I’m not sure the finished product was worth all the effort that went into its production.

Until the next time, cheers!

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Gin O’Clock – Part Seventy One

Well, it had to happen. The crush is such that in order to stand out from the crowd created by the ginaissance distillers have to become increasingly more inventive in their marketing spin. If you are based in the West Midlands, why not throw your cloth cap in the direction of the hit TV show, the Peaky Blinders?

I have always been slightly baffled by the seeming success of a TV series, now four series long and a fifth in the pipeline, that revels in the antics of a group of unsavoury gangsters based in Birmingham who, through violence, murder and corruption, reach the summit of their particular greasy pole. Still, the name of Peaky Blinder, derived from their principal MO of injuring their opponents with blades concealed in their peaked caps, is firmly established in the nation’s consciousness and associated with England’s second city.

Sadler’s are based in Lye, just outside of Stourbridge, and can claim to be in the heart of the Black Country. Established in 1900 they have made their name amongst locals and real aficionados around the country with their fine beers, well worth seeking out if you get the chance. Now they have turned their hand to spirits, a whisky and rum and a Spiced Dry Gin, all under the brand name of Peaky Blinder.

After a night out on the lash in the area, the perfect accompaniment to a skinful of Sadler’s finest is a Balti, a fiery curry served up in a thin, pressed-steel wok. The idea behind the gin, according to Chris Sadler is to combine the glamour of the gin cocktail era of the 1920s when the Thomas Selby gang was in its pomp with the bold flavours of the Balti. Add to the mix a dash of the Blinders’ no-nonsense, whole-hearted approach to life and business and you will get the impression that this is not a spirit for the faint-hearted.

The bottle is clear and bell-shaped with a wax cap and cork stopper. The labelling is striking in its clarity with bold print and a laconic use of words, inevitably including an image of the Sadler’s brewery and a rather morose and fearsome man wearing a hat, a Peaky Blinder, I presume. The front label also informs me that the spirit is “perfectly balanced with exotic spices and botanicals”. We will see. Inevitably it has been produced “by order of Sadler’s Peaky Blinder”.

There are nine botanicals in the mix but as to what they are, the would-be consumer and toper is left somewhat in the dark. You can be a bit obsessive about these things but it is nice to know, it makes the tasting more interesting as you try to identify and tick off each component. Sometimes, though, it is nice just once in a while to have to rely on your own taste buds which means you should drink this before your Balti!

To the nose there is an immediate hit of juniper, always a welcome smell to my nostrils, but also elements of peppery spice and a rather gentle sweetness, perhaps cassia. In the mouth there is an immediate fiery sensation as the juniper and spices take centre stage, there is a hint of ginger there, but the sweeter elements fight back, producing a rather pleasing, balanced spirit. The aftertaste is long, dry with citrus elements to the fore.

If you like your gins juniper led and spicy, then this is one for you. And at 40% ABV its strength is in its taste rather than its alcoholic punch. Like a lenient judge I will even forgive them for their cheesy marketing pitch.

Until the next time, cheers!

 

Gin O’Clock – Part Seventy

Every gin needs a back story in order to elbow its way through the crowd of competitors that have been spawned by the ginaissance. Needle Blackforest Distilled Dry Gin is no different. I came upon a bottle at the Duty Free shop in Schipol Airport, my eye drawn to its dark green bell-shaped bottle with a distinctive diamond-shaped label with a stylised motif of pine needles. It was rebranded in February 2019 and the designers have made a good job of giving the bottle a contemporary feel.

It is a German gin, distilled by the Bimmerle distillery in Achern, a town in the south-west of Germany and, crucially for this story, is at the northern end of the Black Forest. The gin is supposed to be inspired by the forest and, in particular, the specific and distinctive smells to be encountered whilst wandering through the woods. I suppose I will have to take their word for it as I have never had a walk through the Black Forest and I suspect many who have drunk the gin will say the same. It smacks of marketing spin with a dash of pretension.

The smell and taste picture that the distillers are trying to conjure up allows them to introduce their distinguishing botanical, picea abies, better known as the common or Norwegian spruce. Yes, it is the one that we stick up and decorate just before Christmas and whose needles we find in unusual places for the next six months. What better use for these pesky needles than to put them in the distillation mix for a gin? It is the smell of the needles, so the blurb says, that is so redolent of the Black Forest region.

The other botanicals that make up the mix, there are eleven in all, include juniper, lavender, ginger, lemons and oranges providing the citrus notes, cinnamon and allspice. For those who can count you will realise that three are missing. These are the secret botanicals whose identity the manufacturers will not disclose. The recipe upon which the gin is based dates back to 1799, according to the label at the back of the bottle.

One of the ancillary benefits of exploring gins from other countries is that it allows you to brush up your language skills. My knowledge of German is rudimentary but with the help of an on-line translator I have managed to unlock the contents of the blurb on the back of the label. In truth it is not very revelatory but it confirms that the basis of distillation is single-batch and that “the spicy air of the Black Forest and the use of native hand picked botanicals such as spruce needles – are the crowning glory of our Needle Gins”.

The top is an artificial cork with Needle and the spruce needles stamped on. On removing the top the aroma is distinctive, juniper is in there somewhere and there is a dash of citrus but the smell is predominantly of pine needles. In the mouth the spirit seems well-balanced with the spruce and juniper blending surprisingly well. The citrus elements seem to hide in the background, though, and the aftertaste is dry and spicy.

At 40% ABV it makes for a pleasant drink but I felt it needed some help by way of a quality tonic to bring it to life. You could distinguish all of the components and the overall impression it left was fine but it seemed a bit of a monotone production. There was little in the way of a surprise as you explored the gin in your mouth or swallowed it. Perhaps I’m becoming too picky.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty Nine

My recent involvement in CAMFEST 2019 has meant that I have spent more time than I usually do in Camberley and its appallingly rebadged shopping centre, The Sq. The main supermarket in residence there is Sainsbury’s, a store I do not normally visit. With some time on my hands I had a perfect opportunity to investigate what that store was doing to cash in on the ginaissance.

The first bottle I selected was a rather dumpy, bell-shaped affair called Blackfriars London Dry Gin, distilled for Sainsbury’s by our old friends, G & J Greenalls from Warrington. The front labelling contains a floral design with a central plain strip in which the name of the gin is displayed together with a facsimile signature of the distiller, Mark Parton. The front label also contains two important bits of information, the first being that it has been “taste tested by customers”. I’m not sure what this is meant to tell us but I suppose it is mildly comforting to know that some people have had the hooch in their mouths, I assume not the very spirit I have bought. But what happened to them? Did they like it? Did they spit it out in disgust?

The second is that the spirit is “distilled four times using ten botanicals”. Readers of this blog will know by now that I like to know what the botanicals are that make up my gin. Frustratingly, having trumpeted the fact that it has used ten botanicals the labelling gives nary a clue as to what they may be. Trawling the web for enlightenment, I can only find five identified – juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica roots, and the peel from oranges and lemons. And that’s it. What the other five is anybody’s guess. The consumer needs greater clarity, I feel.

The cap is a black screwcap which, once removed, reveals an aroma pungent with juniper, always a good sign in my book, with some citric hints. To the mouth it has a reassuringly solid junipery taste, slightly oily, at least when sampled neat, but revealing a certain sweetness as you roll it around your mouth. The aftertaste is warm, spicy and earthy. At 43% ABV I found it a surprisingly complex drink which worked well with a tonic making it a crisp and moreish drink. Definitely a hit.

The other gin I picked up was in an even squatter, dumpier bottle, Drury 173 London Dry Gin. It has a rather striking front label, a mix of geometric and floral designs in gold against a turquoise background. The label tells me that “our gin has been skilfully distilled to create unique spicy notes with a lovely lemon finish”, that the distiller is Natalie Wallis and that the finished article is Recipe no 19. If at first you don’t succeed, I guess, try, try again.

Again, there is no mention of precisely what has gone into the gin but on removing the artificial cork stopper the aroma was a pleasant mix of juniper with hints of citrus. To the taste the juniper was foremost, giving a warm, spicy taste and then the more citrusy elements came into play, leaving a pleasant and lasting aftertaste. At 40% ABV it is fine to open an evening’s drinking with but a bit more information about its contents wouldn’t come amiss.

Both gins are exclusive to Sainsbury’s, so I believe, and were launched in June 2017 along with a gin in a tin, a Pink Gin and Lemonade Can.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty Eight

It has been a while since I talked about tonic. But as one advertising strap line says, “if ¾ of your drink is the mixer, mix with the best”, it is a subject that gin lovers ignore at their peril. In those far-off days before the ginaissance, a gin and tonic, at least in a pub, was a tot of Gordon’s drowned with a bottle of Schweppes’ Tonic. I always found it a bit of an overpwering mix of sweetness and bitterness.

The explosion of gins with their many and varied tastes in recent years has prompted gin aficionados to experiment with tonics which are more sympathetic to and compliment the spirit rather than overpower a rather bland offering. Schweppes has rather become a tonic of last resort rather than the go-to mixer and has seen its market place dominance, at least here in Blighty and in the gin arena, by new kids on the block like Fever-Tree.

But Schweppes have not been in business for over two centuries without knowing how to reassert their dominance. They have recently launched their 1783 range, a tip of their metaphorical hat to the year in which Johann Jacob Schweppe, on developing a process to produce carbonated mineral water, opened his first factory in Geneva. He moved operations to London in 1792. Tonic water was not produced until 1871.

Seeing their Crisp Tonic Water at an introductory price on our local supermarket’s shelves, I bought a few pallets. I was not disappointed. Whilst the citrus and quinine elements are still in evidence, the volume dial has been turned way down. The result is that it is a much more subtle mixer, still a bit bubbly, but one which better compliments and enhances the flavours of the better-balanced gins that have been spawned by the ginaissance. They also have a number of other flavours, their Salty Lemon being particularly moreish.

Passing through the duty-free shop in Alicante airport, my attention was caught by a rather dumpy bottle, black in colour with white and magenta lettering. On closer inspection I found it was called MOM with the strap line of “God save the Gin”, a sentiment we might all drink to. To add to the faux-royal feel of the bottle, there is a magenta crown above the word MOM. The label promises “royal smoothness. A premium gin made with exotic botanicals and berries to give a touch of smoothness. Infused after four distillations to achieve an amazing purity and class.” The only other relevant information on the bottle is that it is distributed by Gonzalez Byass of Cadiz.

It is a striking bottle which, at least the marketeers claim, is designed to show a mix of tradition and modernity. It is also supposed to appeal to the fairer sex. What that says about me, I know not. The cap is a screwcap and the nose is very sweet and fruity with hints of juniper and citrus, probably orange.

To the taste I found it amazingly sweet at first, it must be all those red berries and other exotic botanicals we were promised but the identities of which are not revealed, but then the juniper and spices fought their way through. The aftertaste was warm and long-lasting with a mix of pepper and citrus.

At an ABV of 39.5% it is at the lighter end of the strength spectrum and, on balance, was a little too sweet and syrupy for my taste. It was by no means unpleasant but, I fear, it will be a gin which will linger on my shelf.

Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty Seven

The ginaissance is so competitive these days that any gin hoping to make a splash must have a back story. Some seem to be the real McCoy but others have more than a little hint of the fevered brain of a marketing wallah about them. It’s probably best to take them with a pinch of salt or perhaps a slice of lemon and a dash of tonic. But one that seems to be the real deal is the one relating to Xoriguer Mahón Gin, a bottle of which I picked up in Alicante airport’s duty-free shop, as you do.

From 1708 to 1802 the island of Menorca, one of the Balearics in the western Mediterranean, and, specifically, its capital, Mahón was a regular stopping off point for British soldiers and sailors as they moved from Blighty to one of the far-flung parts of the Empire or vice versa. The troops and matelots, after being cooped up in confined quarters for so long, liked to stretch their legs and quench their thirst. One of the tipples that they kept asking for was gin. Rather than go to the cost and trouble of importing gins, the locals decided to have a go at distilling their own. The result was this gin, which was so popular, that when the military disappeared the locals continued distilling it for their own use.

What first caught my eye was the bottle. It is a bottle-green colour and shaped like a wine bottle with a dinky handle at the base of the neck. The top is a red screw ap. The front of the label has a picture, more accurately a drawing, of a windmill behind some agricultural buildings and the rear bears a description in Spanish which roughly translates as “made by complete distillation with juniper berries and wine alcohol, it offers a pleasant taste and represents the pride of an ancient tradition.” I may be doing the marketese an injustice, my Spanish is not that good, but I think you get the drift.

The two points to note are that it is juniper led, always a firm tick in the box for me, and that the base spirit is distilled from grapes, not so much of a tick from me but it seems to be the way with gins distilled in foreign parts. That, it seems, is a peculiarity of Xoriguer because to qualify as Mahón Gin any form of alcohol base, be it from grape, potato, sugar beet or wheat, will do. The next essential ingredient is juniper berries which must have an oil by weight content of between seven and nine per cent. The third component is distilled drinking water. And that’s it. No other aromas or extracts can be added.

What is absolutely essential, and a point the locals get steamed up about, is that the spirit together with the junipers are distilled in a copper still over a wood fire. Once distillation has been completed to their satisfaction, the hooch is filtered off. At an ABV of 38% it is at the lighter end of the gin strength spectrum but what it lacks in punch it makes up for in taste.

To the nose it is juniper heavy and there is very little else coming through, perhaps unsurprisingly given the proscriptions on the ingredients. To the taste it is incredibly thick and luscious, you almost get a juniper rush but there are some elements of citrus in there, admittedly faint but even these jaundiced taste buds detected it. The aftertaste is long and dry, peppery and a lingering taste of juniper.

If you love a juniper-heavy gin, and I do, check this one out. Ditch the stuffed donkey and sombrero and get yourself a bottle.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty Six

The vigour of the ginaissance is such that distillers you normally associate with other spirits are getting in on the act. I have discussed before the difference in time and cost between distilling gin and a spirit like whisky. The latter is a long-term project requiring considerable investment, time and storage before the spirit is put on to the market. Gin offers the opportunity for a much more immediate return.

It is always a pleasure to see a new gin nestling on the shelves of our local Waitrose and a bottle of Wildcat Gin proved too much of a temptation to pass up. It is distilled by Whyte & Mackay, a name normally associated with whisky and proof positive of my opening point.

I normally spend some time describing the bottle and this one is an absolute stunner, one to keep on the shelf even if it is devoid of content. It is tall, thin and round with a fluted extended neck and a n artificial cork. As well as the shape what is also stunning is the labelling. There is a majestic golden emblem with a cat astride a key with a rubric assuring us that it is “distilled with distinction.” Below the labelling, embossed in the glass of the bottle is the legend, “knock once, knock twice, knock thrice.

The clue to what all this is about is provided at the back of the bottle with a quotation attributed to Captain Dudley Bradstreet, from 1739; “it occurred to me to venture upon Trading in Gin, the people being clamorous for their beloved Liquor on account of its prohibition by Act of Parliament. I secured Premises and nailed the Sign of a Cat to my Window. Those with Knowledge of the Secret could Knock Thrice, Placing money in the Cat’s mouth to receive a generous Measure of Gin. This Scheme of Pass was a great Success, netting me Considerable Fortune.

No such subterfuge is required today but it is a charming story that takes us back to the days when Government tried to put the brakes on gin consumption. I went into more detail when I was discussing the origins of Old Tom Gin a while back https://wp.me/p2EWYd-227

As well as an insight into the history of gin, the label gives us an insight into a botanical I had not come across before; “London Dry Gin with Cat’s Claw Botanical”. For the uninitiated, that included me before I bought this bottle, what we are talking about is Uncaria tomentosa, a woody vine to be found in Central and South America. It gets its name from its claw-shaped thorns. Notwithstanding the thorns, its bark is said to have medicinal properties.

Having got top marks from me for the quality of the design of the bottle and the informative nature of the labelling, how does it rank on taste? Uncorking the bottle, the aroma is a reassuring mix of juniper with hints of citrus, spice and pepper. To the mouth it is a smooth spirit, refreshing with a nice blend of juniper and spice leading on to the citrus elements. It made for a well-balanced and crisp drink. The aftertaste is pleasant and long-lasting, with a spicy citrus again to the fore. With a premium tonic it was wonderfully moreish. I can see this bottle disappearing quickly.

It weighs in at a respectable 41.5% ABV and whilst Whyte and Mackay are a little circumspect in identifying all ten botanicals in the mix there is definitely liquorice root, coriander, angelica and citrus to accompany the juniper and cat’s claw. After some of the concoctions I have reviewed recently, a well-produced juniper-led gin was just what the doctor ordered.

Until the next time, cheers!