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Category Archives: Gin

Gin o’Clock – Part Twenty Nine

When in Rome, do as the Romans do – a piece of advice that dates back to at least 390CE and St Augustine. So, naturally, when I was in Spain a little while back, in order to extend my exploration of the ginaissance, I drank Larios, a local hooch, but part of the Beam Suntory stable. I tried two – Larios London Dry Gin and Larios 12 Premium Gin.

Whether it is the Brexit effect, I know not, but the London Gin has been rebranded and now goes under the sobriquet of Larios Ginebra Mediterranea, a welcome indicator of its land of origin. The bottle boasts a rather splendid label which is a riot of yellow and orange colours, informing us that Larios was established in 1866 and that the hooch was double distilled. The label at the back of the stubby, rectangular bottle confirms that it is London Dry Gin. The cap is a rather incongruous purple screwcap. At 37.5% ABV it as the weaker end of the gin spectrum but as I picked up a bottle for a very acceptable €8 at the local Aldi in Benijofar, I couldn’t complain.

As you might suspect from the labelling, citrus plays a key part in the flavour, the six botanicals used being juniper, lemon, bitter oranges, coriander, cinnamon and almonds. To the smell it is rather disappointing with the aroma of alcohol overpowering what hints of juniper and citrus can be detected. The clear spirit is quite harsh and the juniper has to fight hard to establish its presence, dominated by the citrus. Adding a tonic to it just provokes the citrus to overwhelm the drink to such an extent that it is difficult to consider it a London Dry Gin where juniper should take the lead. Perhaps that is why it has been rebranded and the spices may as well not have been there as they made little impact on my palate.

It wasn’t an unpleasant drink and one of the better budget gins I have tasted. But I suppose you get what you pay for.

Larios 12 comes in a tall blue bottle with an orange screwcap. The labelling is more subdued, using a white script with orange highlights. At least at the back the botanicals are listed, twelve in all which go through five distillations – orange, mandarin, coriander, tangerine, lemon, angelica root, lime, orange blossom, grapefruit, nutmeg, clementine and, oh yes, juniper. This gin has no pretensions to being a London Dry Gin and is firmly in the contemporary gin camp, where the juniper takes a very definite back seat.

To the smell there is a very distinctive orange feel to it with, perhaps, a hint of spice. The clear spirit, which is 40% ABV, provides a refreshing taste of citrus to the mouth but as I played with it in my mouth I began to detect the juniper struggling to make its presence felt, only to be overwhelmed by the more tart grapefruit in the aftertaste. On the whole I was a tad disappointed because the taste was a bit one-dimensional – not unsurprising given the heady cocktail of citrus. It is a perfectly acceptable gin but I think if you are looking for a contemporary gin, there are much better, even if they are more than twice the price.

Often I find that booze that was acceptable to swill when on holiday tastes awful when you get it home. I have to say that was not the case with either of the Larios hooches. If you are interested, they also seem to do a Rose gin, although a drop has not passed my lips (yet!).

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Gin o’Clock – Part Twenty Eight

The ginaissance keeps rolling on. In 2016 the Treasury received £3.4 billion in tax revenue from the sale of gin, up 7 per cent from 2015, and exceeding the £3.2 billion levied from beer. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association reckoned that 43 million bottles of gin were sold in 2016 and that there are now more than 80 brands on sale. And Charles Rolls, who founded Fever-Tree, cashed in some of his shares in May and trousered £73 million. Where will it all end?

I had a useful insight the other day into the power of branding to attract or deter a consumer. I had noticed the bottles of Daffy’s Small Batch Premium Gin on the shelves of our local Waitrose for some time and always found a reason to pass them over. Thinking about it, it was the image on the front of the bottle – a tousle-haired blond above a cocktail glass. It seemed a bit – well, girly. This time, though, as I was anxious to replenish my depleted stocks and this was the only one I hadn’t tried, I swallowed my male chauvinism and bought a bottle.

The bottle is a slightly dumpy one with a natural cork stopper and the hooch, which is crystal clear, weighs in at an acceptable an pedantically precise 43.4% ABV. Leaving the imaging aside on the bottle, it has a helpful strip to the right hand side identifying the botanicals. Pride of place is given to a salad mint from the Bequaa valley in Lebanon – something I had not experienced before in a gin. The rear of the bottle states that this is “the finest copper pot single-batch distilled gin” – no probably here – and “the adventure started with our discovery of what Lebanese mint can bring to the finest gin.

The other six botanicals listed are juniper (natch), coriander, angelica, lemon peel, cassia and orris. The bottle states that the Lebanese mint is mixed with eight other carefully chosen botanicals; so we are missing a couple. I suspect one is orange peel but as to the other, who knows? The botanicals are steeped in a neutral grain spirit from northern France for four days, distilled in the Midlands and then sent to Edinburgh where it is blended with Scottish water, minus minerals, until the desired ABV is reached.

Having made a great play about the mint, I was going to be fascinated to see what it did to the taste. To the nose the aroma is fresh and floral and in the mouth the liquid tastes rich and slightly oily. There is a hint of mint but it doesn’t overpower the other botanicals, rather adding some freshness to the overall taste. The after taste is warm and nutty and stays long in the throat. My fears that the mint would take over in the way that the horseradish does in Thomas Dakin Small Batch Gin but my fears were unfounded.

It is a lovely gin and one to sip and savour rather than to swill. The moral of the story is never judge a book by its cover.

And if you were wondering, Daffy was the name of an elixir given to children in Victorian times, often mixed with gin or, if there was none available, replaced by gin. As Mrs Mann explained to Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist, “’why, it’s what I’m obliged to keep a little of in the house, to put into the blessed infants’ daffy when they ain’t well’..as she opened a corner cupboard, and took down a bottle and glass. ‘It’s gin, I’ll deceive you not, it’s gin’.

Gin o’Clock – Part Twenty Seven

Perhaps it is my inner Brexit spirit buried deep within me but with so many British gins to sample during my extensive investigation of the ginaissance, I have fought shy of any distilled abroad. A staple on the shelves of our local Waitrose is Gin Mare which comes from Spain. Having run through all the other gins in their section and noticing that it was available at a heavily discounted price which with an eight pound voucher, it seemed that now was the time to put my prejudices to one side.

Gin Mare is made in the small fishing village of Vilanova i la Geltru near Barcelona on the Costa Dorada. The distillers are a family firm, Destilerias MG, who have been making aromatic cordials and dealing with wines since 1835, although to obtain global reach it has been part of the Global Premium Brands group since 2007 when this incarnation of the hooch was developed. As you might expect, it has a very distinctive Mediterranean feel about it as most of the botanicals are sourced from the region.

There are of course the traditional botanicals that you would expect to find such as juniper – the berries are hand-picked from the owners’ estate in Teruel and have a very soft skin – coriander seed, cardamom and citrus. The citrus is a custom blend of oranges, sweet from Seville and bitter from Valencia,  and lemons from Lleida, which are macerated for a year in a neutral spirit in clay jars before use. But the Mediterranean flavour is provided by rosemary from Turkey, thyme from Greece, basil from Italy and Arbequina olives which are local to the area.

Other than the citrus, each of the other botanicals are macerated separately for 36 hours and then distilled individually in a 250 litre Florentine still for around 4.5 hours. The separate distillations are then blended with a neutral spirit and water to produce the hooch which comes in a distinctive pale blue, rounded, pyramid-shaped, heavy bottle with a grey screw cap. The hooch weighs in at an acceptable 42.7% ABV and the label has a picture of herbs and towards the top of the bottle is the legend “Mediterranean gin, coleccion de autor.

So what is it like? To the smell it is distinctly herby with juniper and thyme to the fore. The clear spirit has a bold taste, initially of juniper and then the herbs give it a drier consistency, marking it out as a gin the like of which I have not tasted before. The aftertaste is dry and the spices come into play. It is a very flavoursome gin and with such a high herbal content could even be used as an accompaniment to a meal, Mediterranean style of course. My prejudices have been dispelled.

With so much care taken by the distillers, not just of Gin Mare, to create a distinctive taste, it behoves the toper to take some care over which tonic to pour in. I came across a new one on me the other week when I was browsing through the supermarket mixer section, Qcumber.  As its rather contrived name suggests – the marketeers have worked overtime – it has a predominant cucumber flavour, although it also has beet sugar and citrus, and is manufactured using spring water from the Welsh hills in Radnorshire. It is light with a very fresh taste and not so overpowering that it ruins the carefully crafted flavours of some of the more complex gins. My preference would be to use it with more floral gins.

Gin o’Clock – Part Twenty Six

Boodle’s Club, still going, was founded in 1765 and it moved to its current premises on St James’ Street in London in 1782. It took its name from its head waiter, Edward Boodle. The gin which bears the name of this famous London institution was first created in 1845 and went on to shape what is now known as the modern London style of gin. Reputedly it was Winston Churchill’s favourite gin.

Truth be told, this gin has had a rather chequered history. It was originally produced by Cock Russell & Co and then fell into the hands of James Burroughs Ltd whose most well-known gin in its stable is Beefeater. It then ended up being owned by Seagrams in 2000 but in the following year its assets, were sold to a number of companies with Pernod-Ricard taking over Boodles. There was another change of ownership in 2012 when Proximo Spirits of New Jersey. By this time the gin had disappeared from the UK market, although it has always been distilled here.

Fortunately for British gin drinkers, Proximo struck up a deal with our old friends, G & J Greenall of Warrington to continue distilling the hooch and to return it to the shelves of UK retailers. And so since 2013 we have been able to discover it again and enjoy its unique taste.

The British version of Boodles’ British Gin London Dry – there is a stronger version at 45.2% ABV available in other parts of the world – comes in a squat dumpy bottle with a silver screw cap and weighs in at an acceptable 40% ABV. The label at the front is navy blue in colour, bears the original distillers name of Cock Russell and Company and proclaims the fact that it was established in 1845. The label at the back has a pale blue colour with black lettering and advises that it consists of “100% grain neutral spirits” and that it is “fashioned with a proper balance of traditional herbs and botanicals without the addition of citrus.” It also comes with the rather strange advice that to appreciate its fine flavour, it should be used sparingly. That’s hardly likely to happen!

Boodles’ has carved out a unique position amongst London Dry Gins by not having any citrus flavouring specifically added to the distillation process. If you like your gins with a touch of citrus, then this is not one for you. You could add it by slipping a slice of lemon or lime into your glass or use a citrusy based mixer but that sort of defeats the purpose.

It uses nutmeg, rosemary and sage amongst the nine botanicals that give the grain spirit its flavour – no other gin, to my knowledge, does this but with so many coming on to the market it is difficult to be categorical on the point. The other botanicals are juniper (natch), coriander seed, angelica root, angelica seed and caraway seed. The gin is made in a vacuum still which allows the spirit to retain more of the texture and taste of the botanicals.

So what is it like? It is a clear spirit and to the nose the smells of juniper and coriander are to the fore. In the mouth it is smooth and surprisingly sweet with a clean, long and slightly peppery aftertaste. It makes for a very smooth drink and, dare I say it, quite moreish. After all, warnings are to be disregarded. If you like your gins to be juniper prominent and for the other botanicals to complement and allow the juniper to shine, then this may well be one for you. As an added bonus, it is reasonably priced. I picked up my bottle for just £20.

Gin o’Clock – Part Twenty Five

I have been steadily working my way through my stock of gins so that I have space to carry on my explorations of the ginaissance. It is almost an impossible task to keep up with all the craft gins that keep appearing. I was reading the other week that as well as UK sales of gin breaking the £1 billion barrier in 2016, 25% more distilleries opened in England and an astonishing 18 in Scotland during the course of last year. You see my problem!

What is interesting is that the really successful independent distillers are being made offers they cannot refuse by the big brewers. Sipsmith, one of my particular favourites, were bought up in December by the Japanese company, Beam Suntory. The Spencerfield Spirit Company, who distils the Edinburgh gin, has been taken over by Ian Macloed Distillers. Good news for the owners, for sure, but in my experience with real ales there is usually a diminution in the quality and taste of a drink when it gets into the hands of the big boys. It will be a shame if it happens to these two fine gins.

One of the delights of being a ginophile – is there such a word? If not, I’ve just invented it – is that you learn an awful lot about herbs and fruits. Take the Rangpur, a tree of which I had been blissfully ignorant for all these years. It originates, funnily enough, from the Rangpur region of Bangladesh but is now cultivated widely around the world. It is a hybrid between a lime and an orange. The tree itself is not dissimilar to a lime tree but the fruit that it bears is round and orange. It is very acidic and to the taste is very similar to a lime but the fruit is as packed with juice as an orange.

I have a soft spot for Tanqueray gins – the Number ten is divine and the Tanqueray Dry London Gin is an excellent opener for an evening’s bacchanalian revel – and so I was keen to try Tanqueray Rangpur Gin which, as you might expect from the name, features heavily the fruit of the Rangpur tree. It comes in the traditional fluted Tanqueray bottle with the embossed red seal at the front and the silver screw cap. However, the green of the bottle is slightly lighter than its stable mates – a sort of lime green.

Upon opening the screw cap for the very first time my nose was hit by a very powerful but fresh and mellow whiff of lime which seemed to take precedence over the juniper. The spirit is crystal clear and to the taste the first sensation is of sweetness and citrus before the juniper puts up a fight with a wonderfully peppery glow. The aftertaste reverts to a citrusy flavour. It is not unpleasantly sweet and I found it surprisingly refreshing, perhaps one like Bloom to savour in the garden on a hot summer’s day.

Its ABV is a respectable 41.3% and as for the botanicals we can be sure that there is juniper, Rangpur, bay leaves, ginger and coriander in the mix. These are added during the distillation process but there is a suspicion that there is some form of sweetener added afterwards which, rather like Martin Miller, means that it disqualifies itself from being classed as a London dry gin. If I had to categorise it, I would say that it was a contemporary gin because the citrus certainly gives the juniper a run for its money.

Gin O’Clock – Part Twenty Four

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We have come across London’s oldest wine merchants, Berry Brothers and Rudd, before as we were tramping the vicinity of Pickering Place. They occupy number 3 St James’s Street and it is appropriate, therefore, that their address is enshrined in their addition to the ginaissance, No 3 London Dry Gin. For such a long established company with a fine tradition, the addition of an in-house gin to their stable is a recent event with the hooch launched only on 21st July 2010.

Since the phenomenal growth in the popularity of gin in recent years, what is available now spans the whole spectrum of tastes. Some distillers seem to relish the opportunity to throw as many botanicals as they possibly can into the mix – some successfully, others less so – whilst others believe that simplicity is the key to consumer satisfaction. Perhaps it is not surprising that such a venerable firm as Berry Brothers has chosen the latter route. Their gin follows an old Dutch recipe and uses just six botanicals – juniper berries (natch) with orange peel and grapefruit peel adding the citrus components and three spicy botanicals – angelica root, coriander seed and cardamom pods. These are steeped overnight before the spirit is distilled in traditional copper stills.

Before we investigate the spirit it is worth lingering a while over the bottle. It is a masterpiece of design. The glass is emerald green and the shape, tall and square with slightly indented side panels to aid grip and facilitate pouring – always thoughtful additions after a few glasses – apes the open pontil gin bottles that were the norm, because of deficiencies in glass blowing techniques until the mid 19th century. The left-hand side panel is embossed with the legend No 3 London Dry Gin and the right-hand side with No 3 Berry Bros & Rudd.

The front of the bottle has a silver key two-thirds of the way up the bottle – it represents the key to the Parlour, the oldest room in their premises and symbolic of the tradition and reliability of the firm – and the label contains sky blue and white lettering. The stopper is made of natural cork held in place by alloy foil which, unlike many others I have tried, came away very easily. Whilst removing the cork my ears were greeted with a delightfully full plop sound. There is no getting away from it – this gin is presenting itself as a luxury product, a cut above the rest, perhaps gratifyingly so as it retails at a price beginning with a three.

Once the cork is opened, the first sensation is that of juniper, first and foremost, with a hint of sweetness. A clear spirit which packs a punch at 46% ABV, it is remarkably subtle in the mouth. The benefit of limiting the number of botanicals in play is that each has the opportunity to play its part – the citrus sweetening the juniper and the spicy botanicals giving a peppery spiciness. Although the juniper dominates the aroma and initial tasting, there is a rich, dry, peppery feel to the aftertaste. It is a wonderfully subtle and well-balanced drink and is testament to the wisdom of keeping things simple but doing the simple things well. If you can afford it and like a straightforward, no nonsense London Dry Gin then you cannot go wrong with this. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

Gin o’Clock – Part Twenty Three

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As anticipated, Santa obliged by bringing me a couple of gins to continue my exploration of the ginaissance. Both, in their different ways, reflect the trend to find diverse and unusual botanicals to give their hooch that extra bit of pizazz.

First up is Whitley Neill, a London Dry Gin which is described, according to the label, as “a handcrafted gin of exceptional quality, inspired by the captivating flavours of Africa”. The bottle is dumpy using a rather austere frosted black glass with a red image of a baobab tree in the centre and the legend, “Whitley Neill, handcrafted dry gin” underneath. It is so distinctive that you will not miss it on the supermarket shelf – a marketing coup, if there ever was one. About seven-eighths of the way down the bottle is a light brown label giving some guff about the hooch together with the all-important ABV – 43% which gives it a kick –the batch number – 20 in my case – and the signature of the creator, Johnny Neil.

Neill is from the fourth generation of the Greenall distilling family and the inspiration for this gin – the only one that comes out of the Whitley Neill stable – is his African-born wife. The African exotica is provided by the use of baobab fruit – supposed to be very good for you – and cape gooseberries to the more traditional botanical line up of juniper, coriander, lemon and orange peel, angelica root, cassia bark and orris root. The base spirit is 100% grain into which the botanicals are steeped before being distilled in an antique copper pot, using the purest of water (natch).

On removing the natural cork stopper the aroma is a delicate mix of pine and citrus, giving the sense immediately that this is going to be a classic and restrained hooch. The spirit is clear and to the taste the mix between the juniper and the other botanicals is well-balanced. Surprisingly, it seemed a little sweet and the aftertaste was prolonged and slightly peppery. The whole experience made for an extremely smooth, sophisticated and satisfying taste. It may be my taste buds but I didn’t detect any overt influence from the baobab and gooseberries – a tad disappointing – but they may have contributed to the prominent citrus and fruity effect. Mixed with a good tonic, it made a great G&T.

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My second gin comes from the Greenall’s stable and is their Wild Berry Gin. Available since September 2014 it is exactly what it says on the tin, or perhaps I should say what is on the bottle – Greenall’s London Dry Gin to which has been added raspberry and blackcurrant. The fruits are added after distillation to give a fruity berry-flavoured twist to the hooch. It comes in a standard Greenall’s bottle – tall and octagonal – but the labelling is a pinky purple, giving the spirit in the bottle a pinkish hue. When poured out, though, it is clear.

The bottle comes with a screw cap and the immediate sensation to the nose is of fruit. To the taste it is rather sweet and has for me more than a hint of Ribena and whilst in the aftertaste you can sense the juniper and peppers, the overwhelming sensation is that of fruit. But then, that is what you should expect. At 37.5% ABV it is at the lower end of the strength spectrum and makes a very satisfying opener for the evening. When the weather warms up, I might consider having it with some strawberries and cream. It is that kind of gin and is distinctively different. A welcome addition to the gin family.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin o’Clock – Part Twenty Two

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It was the great Athenian tragedian, Aeschylus, who wrote in Agamemnon that wisdom comes through suffering. Rather like Icarus I chose to reach for the sun and instead came crashing down to earth. No, I’ve not been overdoing it with the gin. What I’m talking about is my early experiments with making my own gin.

The hooch was a brackish brown colour, not the bright piss colour of Ungava but a colouration that is suggestive of some urinary complaint. Some diligent enquiries on the internet reassured me that this was not a problem. This is exactly what many commercial gins look like before they are distilled for a final time. As I don’t have a still, then I’m going to have to lump it, although sieving the contents will get rid of the floating sediment.

The major problems, though, were taste and aroma. The aroma was heavily peppered and to the taste it was like firewater with a very heavily pronounced spicy aftertaste. The problem, clearly, was that I had overdone it with the mix and that the ratio between juniper berries was out of kilter with the amount of other botanicals I had used. And, of course, whilst you can relatively easily add, what you can’t do is extract. So, other than dilute, I’m rather saddled with my first batch.

The only thing to do was to pick myself up, brush myself down, massage my by now heavily bruised ego and start again. This time I was going to play it safe. I had about 20 centilitres of triple distilled French grain vodka left to which I added 20 grams of juniper berries. This I left to mascerate. Originally it was going to be for 24 hours but some unavoidable family matters made me rather take my eye off the ball so that it was some 48 hours later that I was able to give the mix my full attention. There was a slight discolouration and the majority of the juniper berries were floating on the top but the smell and taste was much more like a gin.

It was at this point that I added some of the botanical mix – coriander, angelica, orange peel, cassia and cubeb peppers as beforebut this time, a much more conservative 5 grams – and after agitating vigorously – that is the distiller’s term for stirring – I allowed it to mascerate for a few days, checking and agitating daily. After a week I judged that enough was enough as the mix had a recognisably ginny smell to it and whilst it was spicy, it was not unpleasantly so.

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The next stage is to strain the mixture through some muslin or cheesecloth to capture the by now heavily marinated berries and other jetsam. I did this half a dozen times using fabrics with increasingly smaller mesh and, amazingly, the spirit started to clear. It still had a bit of a hue but was not as off putting as the original. Alternatively, you can use a water filter jug such as Brita make. I then bottled the spirit, put a label on naming it Hooch #2 and sampled it with some Fever Tree Premium Tonic. Not bad, if I say so myself, although the 200 or so distillers surfing the ginaissance have nothing to worry about – yet!

Gin o’Clock – Part Twenty One

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I have been chronicling my exploration of the ginaissance over the last couple of years and during that time have learned a lot about the history of my favourite spirit and the botanicals that give it its varied taste, ranging from the ultra-sweet to the spicy and all points in between. As there are over 200 gins available, there is no risk of me running out of new experiences for a while, particularly if I want to protect my liver. Everything in moderation, including moderation, as Oscar Wilde once said.

When I was younger, in the 1970s, and the beer and wine available in pubs and supermarkets were almost universally dreadful, there was a spell when every man and his dog was brewing their own. Shops like Boot’s would have row upon row of all the impedimenta you would require to brew a hooch of your choice in the privacy of your home – demi-johns, siphons, thermometers and the all-important home-brew ingredients, usually in round tins, if I recall. Wherever you went, airing cupboards were full of liquid fermenting away and occasionally friends and colleagues would sheepishly confess to an unexpected explosion which deposited the contents of the demi-john on the floor and surrounding walls. That was fine but the words that always filled me with dread were, “I have just bottled my fresh batch of nettle and bramble wine. Why don’t you come over and sample some?

In the age of JAMs we need to look after every penny and for a while, I have been mulling over the idea of making my own gin. This is what retirement does for you. The kick up the demi-john that made me translate idle fancy to practical reality was a thoughtful present given to me at Christmas, a gin making kit. It came with a glass jar with artificial stopper, a sieve, a funnel, some labels and chalk and 100 grams of juniper berries. The instructions were somewhat rudimentary but one of the joys of the internet is that you can easily find more extensive and coherent recipes at the press of a few keys.

Of course, the starting point is the creation of the base spirit which adds a greater degree of complexity to the whole process and elongates the timescales. As a beginner, I decided that the sensible course was to miss out this step and concentrate on masceration, by buying a commercial vodka – triple distilled French grain vodka, available at all reputable branches of Asda. It being early January when I conducted this experiment, there were no flowers in the garden or the hedgerows for me to pluck and the weather was unconducive to foraging in the garden for roots, I took the easy way out by buying a pack of botanical gin blend from the admirably efficient Drinkstuff website. The pack consisted of coriander, angelica, orange peel, cassia and cubeb peppers.

The process was remarkably simple. I weighed out 25 grams of juniper berries and 17.5 grams of the botanical blend and poured them into the 500 ml glass jar. A note of caution – juniper berries are tricky customers and if you are not too careful or attempt the exercise with the early morning DTs, you can find you spend some time chasing the varmints around the kitchen floor. I then added some vodka up to the start of the neck of the jar. Some of the botanicals sank to the bottom while the majority floated near the top and I could discern bubbles appearing in the spirit. Only time will tell whether this is anything to worry about.

I then put the jar in a dark, cool place, our utility room, where it will do its magic for 24 hours. Then the fun part will start, sampling and adjusting to taste. If I survive the experience, I will report on how I got on next time. Cheers.

Gin o’Clock – Part Twenty

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One of the joys of writing about my exploration of the ever burgeoning ginaissance is that it has encouraged others to share their experiences and discoveries with me. Two dear friends, both loyal followers of this blog, both separately visited Belfast, a city I have only been to once, and raved about a local hooch, Jawbox Classic Dry Gin. Had I tried it? No was my response but I will certainly look out for it.

Wandering around the spirits section of Marks & Spencer I spotted it, competitively priced and as I was getting low on gin, I decided to buy a bottle. The gin comes in a rather dumpy, squat bottle with an artificial cork stopper. The labelling has a solid Victorian feel about it with white and gold lettering on a black background. It boasts that it is Ireland’s first single estate gin – it is distilled at Echinville Distillery, the first such to be licensed to distil spirits in Northern Ireland for 130 years. The neck bears the signature of its creator, Gerry White, together with the legend, “harvested, distilled and bottled by hand on one estate”.

If the events of 2016 have told us anything it is that we live in a post-truth world. Looking at the list of eleven botanicals that form the recipe – juniper, coriander, angelica root, orris root, grains of paradise, liquorice roots, cubebs, cardamom, cassia quills, black mountain heather and lemon peel – this can hardly be the case. True enough, the base spirit is made from barley grown on the Echinville estate, as is the water used, but most, if not all of the botanicals, cannot have a local provenance. There is a certain economy with the actualite in the claim, I feel.

The label sheds some light on the gin’s unusual name. The sink in many a Northern Irish household was the focal point of the house, where stories and experiences, gripes and groans were freely exchanged. It was colloquially known as the Jawbox and the gin, so Neill explains, is supposed to be the lubricant to promote conversation in the bar.

So what’s it like? To the nose it has a spicy aroma with a hint of citrus. To the taste it is firmly in the classic gin corner with citrus and spice providing a solid base allowing the juniper to come to the fore and then follows a sweet, slightly oily sensation. The aftertaste is prolonged and pleasant, with juniper in the ascendancy again. At 43% ABV it packs a punch but worked well with a judiciously selected tonic. If you like your classic gins, which I do, you cannot go wrong with this. They just need to get their marketing message straight.

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On the same shopping trip to M&S I picked up a bottle of Jensen’s Old Tom Gin which comes in a very elegant, rectangular bottle with frosted glass, a rather trendy and minimalist label, a small gold image of London’s Tower Bridge near where it is distilled and a screwcap. It uses a handwritten recipe dating back to the 1840s and the botanicals used give it its natural sweetness. Unlike many Old Toms available now, there is no added sugar. Jensen’s are coy as to the exact component of their spirit but its aroma contains hints of pepper and citrus. To the taste, liquorice is initially to the fore and the aftertaste is prolonged and slightly bitter but the complexity of the spirit is such that it stands up well to a strong tonic or as the base for a cocktail. This is already a firm favourite and at 43% ABV provides a solid start to an evening’s drinking.

Until the next time, cheers!