Tag Archives: St Agnes

Wild Wingletang Gin

One of my greatest regrets is that I have not been to the Isles of Scilly. Still, there is plenty of time to rectify this omission. St Agnes is on the far south-westerly edge of the collection of islands off the tip of Cornwall and measures just a mile or so across. Its closest neighbour is Gugh to which it is joined by a sandy tombolo, known as the “Bar”, which is exposed at low tide. Small it may be, but St Agnes has a lot going for it, including a lighthouse, rocky outcrops on its westerly side, sheltered coves and stunning beaches and, to the south, a bracken-strewn heath.

The heath is known as Wingletang Downs, named after the “whins” of gorse and “tangs” of kelp that are found there. To complete the etymological research, down comes from an old English word meaning hill. It is these downs that have given their name to another fine gin to come out of the stable of the island’s enterprising Westward Farm. The ginaissance has spawned many a weird and wonderful name, usually the product of a crazed marketeer’s imagination, but at least Wild Wingletang Gin owes its origin to a genuine geographic feature.

The distillery is on the farm which has been in the hands of the Hicks family for generations. I have written elsewhere about the set up so I will focus on what intrigued me about this particular gin and persuaded me to lift it from the groaning shelves of Drinkfinder’s gorgeous little shop in Constantine, gorse. What Aiden Hicks and his family are trying to evoke with the gin is the aroma of gorse on a sunny day on the island. Although it flowers from November to June it is normally at its best in March and April, when it is handpicked. The gorse blossom is then distilled as a single botanical in a vacuum at a low temperature to ensure that none of the plant’s distinctive flavours are lost.

So, what exactly does the blossom of a largish, evergreen shrub bring to the party, and why is it not more commonly used as a botanical? Although gorse bushes are a common feature of British heathland, their bright yellow flowers are about 15mm and are protected by leaves which take the form of stiff green spikes. It can be a prickly business collecting them. Gorse or Ulex europaeus has been traditionally used in winemaking, the distilling in Irish whiskey, and the brewing of beers, particularly valued for the coconut-like aroma that is particularly evident when the blossom is picked on a sunny day. Some gin distillers are beginning to explore its virtues, such as in the Botanist Islay Dry and Merywen Gin.

When infusing the blossom into a spirit, there is a decision to be made; whether to remove the calyx, the hairy, yellow cover which encloses the petals. It can introduce a slightly bitter flavour to the mix. It is also advisable not to go too overboard with it, as the plant contains an alkaloid which can increase blood pressure and is poisonous in large quantities.    

The bottle-shape, characteristics and labelling are identical to that which they use on their other gins, save for the fact that the gin’s name and the wax at the top of the bottle are green coloured. It does mean that if you are not familiar with the colour coding, you need to inspect the bottle carefully before making your choice. My bottle told me it was from batch number 754 and that the distiller to whom my grateful thanks goes was Mike.

Clearly, the folks at Westward Farm know what they are doing as the gorse, as well as adding a faint aroma of coconut, introduces a nuttiness to the spirit which blends well with the spiciness from the more traditional botanicals to produce an interesting variation to their Scilly Gin. It is well worth searching out.

Until the next time, cheers!

Westward Farm Scilly Gin

Many a distillery spawned by the ginaissance is proud to proclaim that it is a small batch producer, but they will have to go a long way to beat the Hicks family. At the risk of sounding like Stella Gibbons, there have always been Hicks at Westward Farm, well at least for seven generations and they seem to be thriving on it.

Based on the island of St Agnes, the southernmost populated island in the Isles of Scilly. As well as distilling alcohol, which we will come on to in a minute, they produce essential oils from plants they grow on the farm from which they make a range of soaps and toiletries marketed under their “28 miles” brand. In their orchard they grow apples which they turn into apple juice and cyder and their Westward Farm beef can be found in the food shops of the island. In a quaint, country touch they have a wheelbarrow outside the farm gate containing seasonal produce. I must make a trip to the Isles some time.

Twenty-eight is a theme running through the farm’s produce because, astonishingly, they produce their gin in batches of just 28 a time. The botanicals they use for Westward Farm Scilly Gin are sourced from Java and Africa as well as from their own fields. They grow their own juniper, coriander, and angelica, and, as you might expect, source as much of their own energy as they can through their solar panels.

The base of their spirit is made from pure grain and the botanicals, frustratingly they are tight-lipped as to what precisely goes in, are gently vapour-infused in their stills to ensure that none of the unique qualities of each is lost in the process. It also means that no batch is precisely identical, adding an intoxicating variability to their product.

As well as Scilly Gin, they produce a Rose Geranium gin, a Wild Wingletang Gin, the name taken from the Downs on the island from which the gorse blossom they use is foraged, a Tanglewood Kitchen Pink Gin, and an oak-aged 28 Miles Gin. They keep themselves busy.

My bottle of Scilly Gin is made from clear glass and is bell-shaped with a small neck and an artificial cork stopper. The label is functional rather than elaborate and has an old-fashioned, chemical bottle about it. Black lettering is set off against an off white or beige background with the name of the gin in blue. The only symbols on the label are the co-ordinates of the farm and a rather forlorn tree at the bottom. Batch number 621 produced my gin, the label tells me, and was the work of Aiden to whom I offer my thanks.

On the nose there is the aroma of very fresh juniper with citrus and spicy elements in the mix. In the glass it is beautifully clear and in the mouth is a complex, but well-balanced, mix of juniper, citrus, and pepper which leaves a long lasting and warming aftertaste. It worked well with a good quality tonic and with an ABV of 40% is strong enough to make its presence felt while leaving enough room to entice you to pour another one. This was a real find and next time I pop into Drinkfinder UK in Constantine, I will be putting another bottle in my basket.

Until the next time, cheers!