We live in strange times. In a world where the spirit of the times seems to be to want to reinterpret history from the point of view of the oppressed, and no bad thing too, it seems strange to come across people who want to celebrate, or at least acknowledge, the role of the oppressors in the history of their area. That is at least what Karen and Mick Skerratt seem to be doing with their Exeter Gin, a bottle of which I purchased through the excellent on-line service offered by Drinkfinder.co.uk.
Isca Dumnoniorum, modern day Exeter, was the principal stronghold of the Romans in the southwest and home, initially, to the 5,000 strong Second Augustan Legion from around 55CE. Isca became an important trading centre but seems to have suffered a rapid decline from around 380CE, when Roman influence waned and the garrisons withdrew. The Skerratt’s idea was to incorporate some of the botanicals that tickled the palates of the Romans into their gin.
There are nineteen botanicals that go into the mix, including tarragon, cardamom, basil, cinnamon, and marigold, but having made such a big thing about the Roman influence in their marketing puff, it is a tad frustrating to find that there is no definitive listing of the botanicals on their website. Citrus elements, in part, are provided by the peels of oranges and grapefruit which have been dried in an oven. More traditional (in a gin rather than Roman sense) botanicals such as all spice, angelica root and cubeb seem to be used and for a touch of the exotic, Goji berries. It is quite a list and it is not difficult to sense that the initial concept of a Roman-influenced gin has been overtaken by an enthusiastic determination to throw the botanical kitchen sink into the mix and see what comes out.
Developing the gin did not come without its moments of drama. An early batch was so lively that the corks popped out. Such is the rich oily content of the botanicals in the neutral base spirit that the gin louches when a mixer is added. Initially, the Skerratts thought that this was a problem and tried to engineer it out, until they realised that it was a natural phenomenon.
The bottle is made from clear glass, rounded and domed with a black top and artificial stopper. The labelling is in black and features a spear and shield with the words Exeter Gin in that ever so trendy and incredibly naff three letter per row arrangement. Assorted Roman legionaires, some standing to attention and two driving chariots, circle the bottom of the bottle, looking like classical Attic figurines. The design and feel of the bottle exude a sense of class, although the choice of light black lettering on a clear background makes it difficult to read. My bottle was number 178 from batch number 49.
The proof of the gin, though, is in the tasting. On the nose it was remarkably complex with a lot going on, juniper, citrus and spices. In the mouth, the immediate hit I got from the smooth spirit was of orange and grapefruit, and then the spices and peppers got to work before allowing the juniper and some of the more floral and herbal botanicals, lavender perhaps and blueberry, a seat at the table. The aftertaste was long, deep, slightly spicy and enticing.
With an ABV of 44% this is a robust, smooth gin and provides an interesting, delicious addition to the premium gin scene that the ginaissance has generated. I enjoyed it.
Until the next time, cheers!