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Gin o’Clock – Part Eighteen

edinburgh-gin

The Scots may be losing out in the whisky stakes to the Japanese but they are putting in a spirited performance with their premium gins. In my exploration of the ginaissance some of my favourites to date have been distilled north of the border. Perhaps this is not too surprising because in the mid to late 18th century the city of Edinburgh was a hub of distilling expertise. In 1777 there were eight licensed distilleries in the city and Port Leith area as well as upwards of 400 illegal stills.

In the early 19th century John Haig took over Leith’s first legal distillery, the Leith distillery, and the port area was soon established as a centre for rectifying and distilling as well as exporting rectified grain spirit to the distillers in the English capital. In 1823 duties on Scottish spirit were halved which meant that better quality spirit in larger volumes could be sent south of the border. The English distillers were soon up in arms and Parliament rescinded the tax break. This ostensible set back only fuelled Scottish ingenuity. By 1826 Robert Stein had invented  a new method of continuous distillation – a process further improved by the Irish distiller, Aeneas Coffey – which speeded up the process and allowed the use of cheaper grains rather than the more expensive malt barley.

The result was that inexpensive, lighter, neutral grain spirit was available to the London distillers by the gallon, leading many of them to move away from the sweeter Old Tom gin and to develop the London Dry. London Dry as a style has ruled the roost pretty much ever since.

With this heritage it is perhaps surprising to discover that there is only one gin distillery currently operating in the centre of Edinburgh, in Rutland Place in EH1 to be precise, and then only since 2014, a claim that The Spencerfield Spirit Company went to court to prove when Pickering’s Gin made a counter claim on their website. A prickly lot are the Scottish gin distillers, for sure.

Our featured gin this month, Edinburgh Gin, supplied by the ever reliable 31Dover.com, comes from the Spencerfield stable. Ironically, it started life out in 2010 in England at the Langley Distillery in Birmingham, although a 200 year old Scottish copper pot boasting the sobriquet of Jenny was used in the process. Using finest Scottish grain spirit together with juniper, coriander, citrus peel, angelica and orris root the spirit was then shipped up to Edinburgh where locally sourced botanicals such as heather, milk thistle, pine and juniper berries were added. It was only in 2014 that the whole process was migrated up to Edinburgh.

The bottle has an art deco feel about it using black and grey shades against a white background on the labelling. Edinburgh Gin is embossed in the glass and the stopper is synthetic. To the nose the gin which has an ABV of 43% has a piney and spicey aroma. To the taste the crystal clear spirit is very junipery with spices coming through with a creamy texture. The aftertaste is predominantly one of pepper and pine. Tasted neat and with the obligatory Fever-Tree mixed it had a very pleasing warm and smooth feel to it. A definite hit.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin o’Clock – Part Seventeen

silent_pool

One of the hardest things about exploring the ginaissance is striking a balance between returning time and again to gins that you like and taking a risk with something new. Now that there are many more premium gins on sale in pubs and bars you can mitigate the risk of trying something new by ordering a double of what you fancy while you are out on your travels. The problem with this approach is that your palate may not be fresh when you sample it and anyway the sheer pretentiousness that goes with tasting a gin is best done in the privacy of your own four walls.

The gin I am featuring this time is a local one, Silent Pool, whose distillers are to be found on the Albury Estate in the Surrey Hills near Guildford. Legend has it that Prince John came across the daughter of a woodcutter bathing in the altogether in the spring-fed lake known as Silent Pool. Instead of wooing her as he had intended the lusty prince startled her and she swam off to the centre of the lake, got into difficulties and promptly drowned. Her screams, they say, can still be heard around midnight.

Whether there is any truth in this I know not or what the frightened maid has added to the waters of Silent Pool is unclear but Silent Pool Distillers use the spring water, filtered I’m pleased to say, in the process of making their hooch. Their aim, according to their publicity, is to make a spirit which resonates with the area and utilises as many local botanicals as possible.

The gin comes in a beautiful turquoise tinted bottle with the 24 botanicals used pictured in a coppery colour. The top has a copper coloured seal and the stopper is made of glass. The front of the bottle bears the legend in white “Silent Pool – intricately realised gin – distilled from grain”. It is 43% ABV and there is no batch number, at least on my bottle supplied with their normal efficiency by those nice people at 31Dover.com.

The gin is crystal clear and to the nose is quite fresh and floral with a hint of honey. It is a surprise when to the taste it appears much more peppery and spicy than the aroma might indicate. The juniper is there but is quite subdued and there are a variety of flavours and sensations to enjoy as the botanicals jostle for attention. The aftertaste is citrusy and then spicy with a hint of lavender. I would put it at the more floral end of the gin tasting spectrum and, perhaps, there are too many botanicals in play to make it a truly exceptional gin.

The base spirit is made from grain and to that is added the first tranche of botanicals including angelica, bergamot, bitter orange, cardamom, cassia, coriander, cubeb, grains of paradise, locally sourced honey juniper, liquorice and orris. These are allowed to soak in the base spirit for 24 hours before being transferred into a 250 litre copper pot still. Alongside, chamomile, elderflower, kaffir lime leaves, linden flowers and rose petals are soaked in a higher proof spirit, filtered and then added to the mix already in the still.

Within the still is a gin basket in which the remaining botanicals – lavender, lime, orange and pear – are added together with additional angelica, bitter orange, coriander, grains of paradise and juniper. By the time the alcohol has travelled up the rectification column it has attained an ABV of 90% and then is blended with the spring water to ensure that socks are not knocked off by the first sip.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin o’Clock – Part Seven

brokers-london-dry-gin_src_1

My exploration of the ginaissance continues, buoyed by the news that I am surfing an ever-increasing wave. According to figures released by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, sales of gin from supermarkets and off-licences topped £400m in 2015 here in Blighty and sales in restaurants, pubs and bars exceeded £500m. They anticipate that sales in 2016 will top the £1 billion mark, fuelled by a further 49 distilleries opening up in 2015. It is hard to keep up with it all.

Without accelerating the inevitable damage to my liver, I am gradually working my way through my stock. There is always a touch of sadness when you realise that the latest double you have poured from one of your favourites has exhausted your supply. Over the last month I have had to say a heartfelt farewell to my bottles of Plymouth, Tanqueray, Opihr and Hendrick’s. Bottle levels of Caorunn and Berkeley Square are getting close to the plimsoll line.

Still, when one runs out there is always the opportunity to replace it. While I want to expand my tasting experience my newly developed strategy is to buy one that I have had before and enjoyed and to buy one that is totally unknown to me. Those kind people at 31dover.com with their exemplary next day delivery service do the rest.

The first of this month’s duo is an old friend, Portobello Road No 171, one of the first premium gins I sampled and high up on my list of favourites. It is a reassuring sight to see a fullish bottle on my shelf, rather than the empty one which served only to remind me what I was missing.

The second is Broker’s Premium London Gin, which comes in a distinctive bottle with a plastic bowler hat as a cap with a metal screw cap rather than plastic or cork and a pin-stripe and bowler wearing and umbrella bearing city gent on the label. The image is one of conservatism, reinforced by the approach to distilling and the botanicals used in producing the hooch. The men behind Broker’s claim to have eschewed the modern trend of throwing a kitchen sink of botanicals at the spirit a la the Botanist or going for an oddball taste a la Thomas Dakin and stick to a recipe that has existed for some 200 years.

Distilled in what was once a brewery just outside Birmingham using a copper still called Constance, the base of the spirit is a quadruple-distilled spirit made from English wheat. Ten botanicals – juniper berries, coriander seed, orris root, nutmeg, cassia bark, cinnamon, liquorice, orange peel, lemon peel and angelica root – are soaked in the base spirit for 24 hours and then the still is fired up for a fifth and final distillation.

So what is it like? To the nose the spirit has a pronounced juniper based aroma with a hint of citrus. In the mouth it feels very clean with a hint of spiciness and with juniper and citrus to the fore. As for aftertaste it has a spicy warmth which rounds off what is an exquisitely tasty gin. It is easy to see why this fine example of a classic London dry gin has won so many prizes. A definite hit.

Cheers!

Gin o’Clock – Part Five

the-botanist-islay-dry-gin

Those nice people at 31Dover.com, in return for my complimentary review of their excellent service gave me a 10% discount on my next order. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I did my research and selected two very different but excellent Scottish gins.

The island of Islay, the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides, is best known for its whiskies, including one of my favourites, the incredibly peaty Laphroaig, and so it was a bit of surprise to me that the Bruichladdich distillery has turned its hand to producing a contemporary premium gin, the Botanist. I was a little wary of ordering it as it uses 31 botanicals in its distillation process – a case of going overboard if there ever was one – but, astonishingly, the result is almost perfection.

The hooch is distilled in Ugly Betty, an over-sized upside down dustbin made of copper and the process takes some 17 hours. Naturally the wonderful Islay spring water is used in the process sourced from Dirty Dottie’s spring on Octomore farm. There are nine botanicals used which are not sourced locally – angelica root, cassia bark, cinnamon bark, coriander seed, juniper berries, lemon peel, liquorice root, orange peel and our old friend orris root. The gin is then passed through what might be termed a basket of botanical delights, twenty two botanicals foraged from the island itself – apple mint, birch leaves, bog myrtle leaves, sweet chamomile, creeping thistle flowers, the flowers of elder, gorse, heather and hawthorn, prostrate juniper berries, Lady’s bedstraw flowers, lemon balm, meadow sweet, the leaves of peppermint, mugwort, red clover, sweet cicely, thyme, water mint and wood sage and not forgetting tansy and white clover. Phew – you can see what I mean.

The bottle is squat and round with an artificial stopper and the Latin names of the Islay botanicals dimpled into the glass. At 46 per cent proof it packs a punch, is clear and to the smell is pungent and floral. The initial sensation when in the mouth is of the bitterness of the juniper but then the spices come into play and then a wonderful, complex and delicate fusion of tastes and sensations. The aftertaste is again dominated by the juniper but there is a faint taste of pepper and liquorice. I found it very acceptable, an excellent opener to an evening’s drinking and one not to be drowned by an overpowering tonic.

tanqueray_10_new

My other choice was the classic Tanqueray No Ten, distilled at Cameronbridge Gin Distillery in Windygates. It is 47 per cent proof and comes in an ornate green bottle which can only be described as a fluted dustbin with a conical lid and a red seal bearing the letter T just below the screw cap. It takes its name from the 500 litre pot, known as Tiny Ten, in which it is distilled.

A citrus flavour dominates, unsurprisingly as the whole fruit of grapefruit, lemon and lime feature among the ingredients, rather than just the peel, as well as botanicals such as fresh chamomile flowers, juniper, angelica, coriander and liquorice.The gin is clear but has a very silky, rich texture in the mouth and the flavours are kept in the aftertaste with an almost buttery finish. Very different from the Botanist it comes across as a more rounded, balanced, elegant and  dare I say, sophisticated drink and would be wonderful in something like a martini.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin o‘Clock – Part Two

chilgrove

My exploration of the ginaissance continues apace. Whilst it is sad to see the spirit levels of my bottles slowly but inexorably reduce, there is the consolation that it gives me an opportunity to add to my collection.

It is one thing, though, researching and reading about the merits of particular makes and another sourcing them.  Of the major supermarkets in the vicinity of Blogger Towers I have found that Waitrose boasts the widest selection. But even then you are hostage to the whims of their buyer and the possibility that some other gin enthusiast in the area has bought the last bottle of your chosen hooch.

Far easier is to shop from the comfort of your study. Again, you can spend hours researching the sites of vendors of gin but I settled for 31Dover.com. They boast a wide range of gins – some 90 or so – as well as other spirits and wines.  The prices are not noticeably heavily discounted but they offer the shopper convenience and next day delivery. If you spend over £100, not difficult to do if you don’t exercise some iron will, delivery charges are dropped. So I selected two bottles of gin, entered my payment details and pressed enter. And, as good as their word, a parcel consisting of two well wrapped bottles was delivered at my door the following afternoon. What not to like.

Frustratingly, on the day of their delivery I was suffering from a heavy cold and so my palette and nose were not up to giving the new gins the critical once over. I impatiently waited for my health to be restored and opened my squat, rectangular bottle of Chilgrove Dry gin. One of the reasons I selected this gin was that it is somewhat unusual in that it uses a neutral spirit distilled from grapes as its base rather than grain. Distilled in West Sussex it uses the natural minerals waters which have been filtered through the chalky Downs. There are eleven botanicals added to the redistillation process – juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, sweet and bitter orange, orris root, liquorice, grains of paradise, lime peel, wild water mint and savory.

On removing the synthetic stopper the initial aroma was spicy and the initial sensation on tasting was that it was very smooth but slightly sweet and that the spices I had smelt initially came through loud and clear. But the after taste was astonishing and long-lasting with citrus and a peppery sensation coming to the fore. A hit!

millers

My second bottle was the more controversial Martin Miller’s dry gin – controversial because the addition of flavourings after distillation required the manufacturers to drop the appellation London from their hooch. The bottle is distinctively tall and square-shaped and comes with a screw cap. As the bottle suggests, showing a map of the UK and Iceland with a red dotted line linking the two, once the distillation process is over the gin is shipped to Iceland to be blended with the natural waters there which are the purest in the world. There are 10 botanicals used in the distillation process – juniper, coriander, angelica root, orange peel, orris root, cassia, cinnamon bark, ground nutmeg, liquorice and, possibly, cucumber.

As you might expect the spirit was crystal clear and to the nose was aromatic with orange to the fore. The taste in the mouth was dominated by orange and peppers and the aftertaste was bitter with a hint of cucumber. I found it a very satisfying drink, probably to be had as a second gin, rather than an opener.

Cheers.