Cotswolds Distillery – A Beautiful Ideology

Nestled in the countryside of Shipton-on-Stour is a tiny and unassuming property, the Cotswolds Distillery. It was so sweetly hidden in the rolling hills and golden fields that only those with intention could find it. And what a reward for those who do, as these quiet buildings are hiding something truly magical.

I first met Jack Barnard of Cotswolds Distillery at one of Gin Festival.com‘s Festivals in Bristol. Now, one of the perks of my job as a Brand Representative for Tinker is that I get to work these festivals and rub shoulders with other gins, terrible stuff, I tell you…with a wink and a smile. I spent a little time talking to Jack and fell in love with their 1616, (more on that later), which had me quickly asking to visit and write up on them. It’s a fantastic drink, but I didn’t realise quite how much they had going on there.

We begin our story with Dan Szor, a New Yorker that had moved to London. The Cotswolds were a regular holiday away from the city. He decided to make the move and being a whisky fan, he looked into setting up a distillery. I have to say, I made one trip to that place and I can see how he fell for it. It is utterly stunning, and this beauty has become the ideology behind their range of spirits in everything between the initial concept to the final product.

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Visitors Centre

Dan brought the two barn buildings and warehouse and set about renovating them. The first now houses the visitors centre and shop, the second is where every part of the production process happens and there’s also a warehouse housing one cask from each batch of malt spirit for them to check regularly. The rest lie in a specialist warehouse built next to the river Mersey. The whisky is ready soon, the 7th October, however the first batch is already sold out. Having tried the malt spirit, I’d say its a sound investment as it’s looking very promising that they’ll have created something very special. And, we need to thank this aging process, as the spirits they’ve created in the meantime are very special too. Unintentional and incredible, humble yet wildly spectacular.

To begin the tour we were sat in a room to watch a brief video giving an introduction to the distillery. The video opens with the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar and panning shots of the hedgerows and wildlife. The video covers the contributing companies including Warminster Maltings who supply the barley to make the Cotswolds malt spirit, and are local to the Cotswolds. There is a focus on the whisky as this was Dan’s primary intention however, it was the beginning of a path into lots of different spirits, included of course, the glorious gin.

As we find with some distillers, they distill a malt spirit but then start looking into other spirits while waiting for the aging process to make it whisky. Being that gin doesn’t require this aging process, many distilleries then turn to gin to keep “the lights on” until the whisky is ready. I am truly thankful that this is the case, as this has led to the production of some fantastic gins and other spirits to boot.

With Cotswolds, they wanted to create a classic London Dry “a gin that could stand up to tonic”. They began by distilling some 150 botanicals to create what they call ‘The Library’. Three distillers then set about creating a gin and they were blind tasted to chose a winner. The idea with the gin, as with the whole range of spirits, is that they are a taste of the Cotswolds, they evoke the peaceful countryside and the rich nature surrounding the distillery. Quality of process was paramount to evoke the status of the renowned landscape.

The botanicals in the Cotswold Dry are a heady mix with key botanicals lavender, bay leaves and pepper. Fresh zest of grapefruit and lime are used, requiring regular hand peeling as mechanical peeling includes the piff which gives the gin a bitter taste. When they originally thought up this plan they were making one batch every six weeks. Now however, they make two a day, every day. Has this changed their process? Of course not. This is a major part of the gins flavour and mouthfeel, so as Distiller Zoe Rutherford puts it “We’ve got to deal with it now”. This is a prime example of their attention to detail and their ‘roll the gloves’ up attitude to hard work.

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The tailor-made, hybrid Holstein Still 

The process of distillation is precise. The base botanicals juniper, coriander and angelica go in to the 96.3% NGS (Neutral Grain Spirit) overnight for 12 hours before the final 6 are added the next day before distillation. The still is steam powered and heats the mixture to temperatures under 100 degrees but above 78.5 as this is point in which alcohol evaporates leaving the water. They heat it slowly meaning a longer and more gentle distillation with 6-7 hours of heat. For each distillation they get 150L of hearts at 83% and they the leave this to rest for 5 days before watering down to the required ABV and bottling. As Zoe explains, its important to let all the flavours bind. “When we cook a stew or a curry it always tastes better the day after”. They’re quite happy to give the patience required to make a higher quality product. Even so, including the rest period the whole process of making a batch, from start to finish is still just a week, which in relation to the whisky, makes the gin a very practical staple.

And, the gin is doing very well. Since it’s launch in 2014 it’s won various awards, including the IWSC Silver in 2015 and the World Gins for Best London Dry in 2016. It’s now being stocked in Selfridges, and now in Waitrose’s around the local area. It’s also being exported to 23 countries around the world, which is impressive stuff for such a short amount of time. However, despite how far the gin is reaching, Zoe admits they “couldn’t have done” it without local support and that their core focus is still their backyard. The distillery prides itself on keeping business as local as possible and for operating in the most eco-friendly way. For example, all the waste, the heads and tails that come off each distillation get put into an effluent tank and taken to a local anaerobic digestion plant that turns it into bio gas.

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The Warehouse

After a look at the whisky process we are taken through to the warehouse by Ellie. We learnt some very interesting facts here. For example, the hotter the whisky is in the barrel, the quicker it ages (which makes sense) however more is lost to the normal 2% angels share, hence they are aged slowly at a lower temperature. The barrels are a mixture of American oak bourbon barrels from companies like Woodford Reserve and Jim Beam, giving warm vanilla tones and wine casks. For other projects a collection of wine casks, sherry butts and port barrels amongst other interesting casks.

Then, the exciting part. The tasting room. The tasting room is welcoming, a cosy front room, complete with log fire, sofas, tables and chairs and its own corner barn. There wasn’t one thing even slightly ‘business’ about this space. It was so comfortable and homely and had me immediately wondering how amazing it must be around Christmas. This for me, and most likely the others on the tour, was the grand finale. Because one of my favourite things about this distillery is the diversity of the other spirits that they produce. All of the other valuables that have come from their natural creativity and restless attention to detail.

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The Tasting Room

First up the Dry. Dry on the nose with lavender, peppercorn and lime, there is a high quantity of a high quality botanicals, around 10 times more than some distillers. In tasting I found the lavender so well balanced with the lime and peppercorn dancing at the end. With ice it becomes creamy, the citrus oils giving a thicker feel and a louche, an effect where the gin becomes slightly cloudy and iridescent in colour. This generally happens when there’s a lot of citrus oil in the gin and it reacts with water. Louching has has mixed reviews in the past and rather than shy from this, Cotswolds are very proud of their ‘cloudy gin’. I’m really behind them looking to change this opinion to be more positive. I love the citrus flavour, you can taste the freshness and hard work put into hand peeling all of the fruit. If this comes as a slightly cloudy gin then I’ll take my gin cloudy. More information on the technicalities of louching can be found on their website here. Recommended serve of this is with grapefruit and a bay leaf.

DSC_0477Secondly the 1616. The 1616 is what made me fall in love with them from the start. It’s essentially a Genever, a malt based spirit with juniper, but being a locally protected term they still refer to it as gin. Cask aged in specially toasted and recharred wine casks, it’s a truly fabulous drink and with the addition of ginger beer it sets ablaze, a glorious taste alluding to hot cross buns. As far as I’m concerned, this drink is a triumph. A tribute to William Shakespeare on the 400th Anniversary of his death, their malt spirit is re-distilled with juniper, coriander, cassia, nutmeg and orange peel amongst other secret ingredients before going into the casks to mellow. This is one exquisite libation. As Shakespeare wrote in the Merry Wives of Windsor “Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness”.

DSC_0479They’ve made a summer cup. I tried this with ginger and it was a beautiful ode to the old English tradition. Made using their dry, homemade Vermouth a splash or Triple Sec and their Spirited Sherry, it’s just gorgeous. They’ve made some experimental gins, the Countess Grey Gin and Bahorat with cardomen chili, cuman and black pepper, a gin that starts with sweet fruits moving on a gentle spice.

DSC_0475Then we have the other drinks. There’s a cream liqueur, which I shall be using to make the most delicious cheesecake. There’s an absinthe, modelled on a 19th century recipe. Absinthe is an interesting drink, botanicals like wormwood are believed to hold the power to give the drinker hallucinations. Don’t panic, they’ve tried and tested this and have concluded that you would need to consume 20-30 glasses of absinthe to feel this effect and at 60% it’s highly likely that would hit you first. There’s a gorgeous and warming apple brandy and my favourite of the off shots, the Spirited Sherry. They first got the idea from the Sherry-seasoned barrels for maturing the whisky. They left Dan pondering that “if sherried whisky tastes great, then so should whiskied sherry.” A blend of Spanish Olorosso and Pedro Ximenez are used along with the single Malt spirit. This is on my Christmas list for sure. If you could keep a note of that, Jack and Zoe, I’d really appreciate it.

Just in case this has wet your appetite somewhat, all of the delightful libations can be purchased through the Cotswold Distillery’s online shop, here.

When I write, I like to go into detail. And, the Cotswolds Distillery have so much detail, it’s almost easy to get lost in it. For this reason, this article needs a sum up, a conclusion at the end. My conclusion is this: that The Cotswolds Distillery has my respect. It’s a distillery that doesn’t cut corners, that tirelessly works to produce spirits to shine as a testament to their beloved local area, from the hard work of farmers plowing the fields of golden corn, to the beauty of the sunset after the day of work, to the light fragrances and soft sounds of wildlife that drift around in the evening; to the Cotswolds themselves. Their creativity has produced a large and varied range of spirits, wild and free, that still share a similar nature, a certain magic that can be found there and only there. And as harvest season is upon us, I raise a glass to everyone who works those beautiful fields and those whose imagination allows me to drink such an evocative thing and to imagine I’m sat amongst those fields myself.

Many thanks to Jack Barnard and Zoe Rutherford for hosting, for your assistance and the photos – courtesy of Cotswold Distillery.

 

 

The Endless Summer – TBGC’s Spit Roasted Pineapple Gin

With the summer slipping away like sand through our fingers, That Boutique-y Gin Company have done it again with a lovely little speciality, Spit Roasted Pineapple Gin.

Inspired by the second Golden Age of the cocktail (1950’s – 60’s), their Pineapple Gin is a lovely little ode to this bygone era, when liqueurs, cordials and fruit gins were all the rage. Some of the favourite flavoured gins were organs and lemon but there were other flavours, passionfruit, grapefruit and pineapple. Some of these fell out of fashion.

That Boutique-y Gin Company have brought back one of these fruit gins and has given it a 21st century twist. The result is the 40.1% ABV Spit Roasted Pineapple Gin, awarded the Master Medal at the Gin Masters 2017.

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The gin is made from whole, peeled pineapples that have been coated with Demerara sugar and spit-roasted until caramelised. This is the combined with a base gin of a classic recipe, with a sturdy base of botanicals including Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Orange, Lemon, Nutmeg, Cassia, Cinnamon, Orris and Liquorice.

On the nose, I can really smell the pineapple with a hint of caramel at the end. These flavours move onto the palette nicely with the freshness of the sweet and sour pineapple moving onto a lovely, tart ginny finish, even after its died away the pineapple and gin are left mingling on the tongue.

And it seems that this wonderfully indulgent spirit is also very versatile. It’s good with ice and tonic, ginger beer, sparkling wine or Ting grapefruit soda. It can also be used in with fresh lime in daiquiris and Tiki cocktails. Spit-Roasted Pineapple Gin.

This lovely little gin is available in 50cl bottles, RRP £29.95. They can be purchased through Amazon, House of Malt, Master of Malt. It can also be found at Hedonism Wine, Selfridges and Starmore Boss.

What a lovely thing that is. Well done Boutiquey! Keep them coming!

Our new arrival – Nattiel Lynch

Here at the Ginfluence, I am delighted to announce a new arrival!

Photo credit to Tom Marshall and the Ginfestival.com

A new writer, the wonderful Nattiel Lynch, has joined the party and I’m really excited about the stuff he’ll be posting! Between my love of writing long pieces telling stories of gin distilleries and history and Nattiel’s genuine passion for writing on gin and cocktails, we’re certainly widening the coverage and will be adding much more content for you lovely readers, aren’t you lucky! You can give his Twitter a follow here to keep up with his work, although I’ll

His credentials and enthusiasm are perfect for the Ginfuence. As he explains:

     “Since a young age I have always been intrigued and compelled by linguistics, investigative journalism and more broadly, the way in which we’re interactive with one another. With English being my favourite subject at school from as far back as I can remember, my love for journalism was ignited many, many years ago after a school trip to the local newsroom. I was sold!”

After scoring good grades at school and going on to complete 4+ A Level’s including English Language, Media Studies and City & Guides: Radio & Press Journalism (Southampton), Nattiel then went on to graduate with a BA Hons in Journalism from Southampton Solent University (London/Southampton).

     “With intention to continue my studies in the realm of communication in the form of Post-Graduate studies, I gained further experience at Portsmouth News Voice FM Southern Daily Echo Quay News (University Newspaper) NewsFeed (Solent Newspaper.”

     “In the midst of my advancements in education, I somewhat spontaneously found an overproof passion for the drinks industry, in particular cocktails. I was fascinated by the ways in which different flavours and ingredients combine, contradict and coalesce with one another; in addition to the intricate artistry and craft which goes in to making the particular spirit.”

     “Within a year of stirring my first Martini, ah, the memories, I was soon up against the best cocktail bartenders in the South, competing regularly in regional competitions and continuing to grow as a “Mixologist”.

“I have worked in many bars in Southampton at many varying levels, from Bartender to Assistant Managr whilst completing my BA Hons. (Some of my experience, most notable) Rockstone – Bartender, Marshals Cocktail Bar – Assistant Manager, Quay Fifteen – Head Mixologist, Gin Festival – Mixologist, Mangoes – Cocktail Bartender, Havana Club Selección de Maestros South Regional Winner – 2015 (went to Cuba, visited the Havana Club Distillery, learnt their distallation and blending techniques.)

Nattiel is knowledgable, he writes with his heart and he’s keen on the Ginfluence’s principles on helping nurture the gin industry by telling tales and sharing stories. He’s also a pretty exemplary person so I’m really looking forward to working with him.

     “I have three strong passions, Writing, Cocktails and Chelsea Football Club. I’m looking to combine the first two together and communicate the wonderful world of gin and cocktails through both historic research and modern-day alchemy, with the intention to continue my studies in the realm of communication.”

I ask you now to raise your glasses. Welcome to the Ginfluence, Nattiel! And here’s to many wonderful articles. Chin chin!

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Gin Tonica – David T Smith

A good friend of mine, Mr David T Smith, has recently launched a new book.

His book, Gin Tonica contains 40 different recipes for Spanish style gin and tonic cocktails. It was published by Ryland Peters & Small, 11th July 2017, £7.99. You can find it on websites such as Amazon.

The gin industry is booming in Spain and the Spanish style serve has taken the UK by storm. The drink is served with a generous measure in large copa glasses and the garnish adds to the flavour as well as giving the drink it’s beautiful and creative appearance adding to the luxury and indulgence of the experience.

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This trend in Gin Tonics, now considered to be a national drink of Spain, began in the north, in Basque country, where we an walk int a bar and be presented with a cart containing everything you need to make a Gin Tonica, premium gin, best quality tonic water, bitters, spices, herbs and flowers. The drinks are served in the copa style. The idea behind these large glasses is not just  generous portion. The shape is such that the drinker is able to enjoy all of the aromas. This is a long way from our old gin and tonics and the spectrum of flavours is amazing.

Attention to detail is important and a barman can take up to 15 minutes to deliver the perfect serve. The ice needs to be dense so it melts slowly. “This respect for the classic is what truly elevates the Spanish gin tonica above all others.” There are so many different gins and tonics out there. It’s a fantastic time to get involved and start experimenting at home. David’s book is a fantastic place to start and will give you a wealth of ideas to play with.

 

Ledgers Tonics and The Gin Lab

Recently I received an email from The Gin Lab asking me to write a review on Ledgers Tonics. I’m always keen to try something new and especially spend a bit more time looking at tonics as that part of the industry is really taking off at the moment. They kindly sent me out the three new tonics, flavoured with cinnamon, liquorice and tangerine to try out.

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The Ledgers story is an interesting one and the full story can be found at ledgerstonic.com. It begins in 1862 when Charles Ledger travelled into the forests of Peru in search of quinine from Cinchona Trees. At the time this was the traditional ingredient used by the Incas to heal malaria. He went on to discover a more powerful quinine that still carries his namesake.

The Cinchona Trees were being cut down without being replaced so export was banned with threat of the death penalty. Despite this Ledger collected them and had them sent to London and across Europe, India and Australia.

Nowadays many of the trees growing in India and Java have come from the collected seeds and the variety that he discovered is still though of as the best quinine in the world.DSC_0011

The tonic flavours are very unusual. I began with the licorice. The idea behind this is to stimulate the sense of smell, allowing you to enjoy more of the aroma for your drink. The tonic is well balanced, soft and sweet and having done some research it seems that licorice can actually be rather good for the love life too. Feel free to look that up.

Next up was the tangerine. The aroma of tangerine is strong and it’s a little more subtle on the palette. The lightly flavoured fruit would complement a lot of sweet and citrus gins. I like the tangerine. I found the flavour a little softer than the others but tangerine is a gentle flavour and a more hushed addition than orange or lemon which can sometimes be a little overpowering. This would be very good with delicate gins.

Finally the cinnamon tonic. There’s a nice hit of sweet spice, but still very gentle in the tonic itself The idea behind this is that cinnamon stimulates gastric acids. Apparently it’s very good for you on it’s own and can help relieve stomach cramps and heartburn and there are even some cases of it lowering blood sugar. There’s a lot of power in that spice!

All in all Ledgers are a very unusual range of tonic with a lot of history behind them. I would love to organise an evening trying these in lots of different gins and I can appreciate the extra scope on flavour to gins that they offer. Since Fever Tree notably upped the tonic game there are more contemporary tonics coming out with very inventive and fruity flavours. What I particularly like about the Ledgers tonics is that they are subtle. The hint of flavour is enough to keep a gin and tonic light and fresh, and the options are unusual opening a wider spectrum of flavours to offer gins. They are a very well balanced offering indeed.

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The Gin Lab run a mobile gin bar, offer support and customer service to trade (including helping design a G&T menu) and are also able to organise gin and tonic events. Ledgers gin is their newest offering and due for imminent release. For more information you can head to their site here.

Love you to the moon and back – Moonshot gin.

One small step for gin, one giant leap for gin kind.

Recently, That Boutique-y Gin Company ‘launched’ their latest creation, Moonshot gin.

The concept is a gin made from botanicals that have been sent into space and even a touch of moon rock for authenticity. Launched last month, Batch 1 proved to be incredibly successful. So much so, that Batch 2 is landing in late May with 2,200 bottles at a pokey 46.6% ABV (RRP 32.95 for a 50cl bottle).

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The ambitious project gets it’s name from “the act or procedure of launching a rocket or spacecraft to the moon.”

The botanicals were sent into near-space at altitudes of over 24km and are exposed to an air pressure of less than 1/100th of that at sea level. This is an incredibly low air pressure. After around 18km, where the pressure has dropped to just 1/16th of that at sea level, fluids in the human body will vaporise at body temperature. This is a phenomenon known as Armstrong’s limit.

The botanicals consist of Juniper, Coriander Camomile Flowers, Fresh Lemon Peel, Cardamom, Dried Bitter Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Cubeb Pepper, Liquorice Root, Angelica and Moon Rock from a lunar meteorite. This fruity and spicy mix is then vacuum distilled at room temperature for “freshness and elegance”, the vacumm still achieving pressure of nearer 1/10th of that at sea level.

There’s even a video of the launch available to watch here.

So how does it taste? I’ve never really known the characteristics of moon rock. I can however tell you that it tastes good. Those spices kick through nicely and there’s definitely something a little different in the taste. On the nose we get a sense of coriander and lemon drizzle cake with subtle pepper adding depth. On the palate we have juniper, oleo-saccharum citrus goodness and balancing spice with a finish of bitter lemon and tangerine. 

It’s an interesting idea, one that reminds me of IOW distillery’s HMS Victory Gin, a gin that has been stored in casks made with staves of wood from the ship herself. This idea of flavouring could potentially come across as a simple gimmick, but I think that these things are interesting. Historians ove a bit of HMS Victory Gin and equally all the gin drinking scientists out there have something a bit special for their collection.

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That Boutique-y Gin Company is the world’s first independent gin bottler, releasing small batch gins from some of the world’s best distilleries, brands and minds. They also feature their own creations such as their delicious Cherry Gin and now the Moonshot Gin. Their labels are illustrated by Grae J Ward and often include gindustry ‘in-jokes’ and well known faces.

The gin is now available for purchase at Master of Malt. Batch 1 is still available for those of you who love collecting interesting first batches. No worries for when it runs out though as Batch 2 is already up and ready to go.

 

 

 

Sipsmith and Portobello Road – Two staple gin related London landmarks.

Friday 24th February, I went on a lovely jolly up to London with the illustrious David T Smith and delightful Cherry Constable, in order to research for a new book. It’s a hard life, I tell you.

First up was the monumental Sipsmith Distillery. Now any discerning gin drinking will know the importance of Sipsmith. Back in 2009 they successfully completed a court process to allow small batch distillation again and set up the first distillery in London for approximately 200 years. Due to this, they are arguably the forefathers of the ‘glorious’ revolution we have been experiencing the last few years. They are essentially the gardener who pulled up the paving slabs and let the flowers grow.

With this in mind, you can perhaps understand my overwhelming excitement at visiting their distillery with new bar. It’s an interesting thing, discovering where the magic happens. The entrance to the distillery is purely functional, looking more like a garage for your MOT than one of the most successful and established gins in the artisanal range. As soon as we get inside however, it is apparent that the humble exterior is concealing all sorts of delightful surprises. A beautiful copper bar sits along the right hand wall with members of staff to run through the gins and give the all important tastings.

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We were lucky enough to have a tasting session with the man himself, Master Distiller, Jared Brown. We began with their sipping vodka, the 40% spirit used to make the gin. The taste is sublimely smooth and sets a good standard for the quality and flavour of the gin. ‘Sipping vodka’ is an extremely adequate name.

We slowly worked through the range. Beginning with the London Dry a classic soft pine, sweet citrus “dry meadow flower warm spice, lime grass with pepper in the long finish”. During distillation a narrow heart is collected and there are differing opinions on filtering, Jared putting forward the good point that filtering can remove qualities as well as impurities. When it comes to the recipe they had a mission: “In the absence of a bench mark we set out to create a bench mark, a dry gin made in London”.

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The tasting session was full of really delicious and interesting and information on the distillation process. or example during the production of the Lemon Drizzle, fresh fruit was used plus hand squeezed peel. That’s a lot of work and a lot of love in every bottle. I thought that it tasted good, and now I know why.

We also tried the VJOP (Very, Junipery Over proof), London Cup (a punch using the London Dry) and the Sloe, all fabulous gins indeed. The wall to the left of the bar is covered with large round bottles of experimental flavours. It’s quite clear that Sipsmith do strive to create spirits of quality with a specific, almost scientific approach but that creativity is still thriving. I’d definitely recommend a visit there. It’s a fantastic place and the people are lovely. Well done guys and girls!

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Feeling considerably light headed, we then moved on to ‘The Distillery’, the Portobello Road Distillery with Gintonica bar and hotel. What a beautiful place that is and a fantastic idea to boot. The decor is gorgeous with deep blues and greens on the walls with huge sash windows giving a beautiful sense of decadence to the building. There was something romantic about it, as if it had the capacity to transport us back in time to the days of the true gin palaces. It really is a lovely place.

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The Gintonica Bar is equally special. We were lucky enough to meet James, who is responsible for writing the cocktail menu, a fantastic twist on the growing popularity of Spanish serve gin and tonic in copa glasses, a halfway house between the gin and tonic and the cocktail. There were some fantastic options, my favourite being one including Nordes  Atlantic Galician Gin with hibiscus, orange and ginger.

Portobello Road have also been experimental with their flavours. I was lucky enough to try their ‘Butter Gin’, the sweetness was strong and very nice, making this a prime base to use with cocktails holding any sort of peanut butter or chocolate flavours. They also produce a ‘Director’s Cut’, utilising the unusual botanical of late season English Asparagus. The flavour is wonderful and very unusual.

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Finally getting to visit the Sipsmith Distillery was a fantastic experience and one I’ve been waiting patiently for, for so long now. It feels ever so good to finally tick it off my list! As for the Portobello Road Gin Hotel, what a beautiful building. Their Gintonica Bar is 100% worth a visit. Lots of interesting gins as well as there own variations and their cocktail menu is gorgeous. Thank you for having us!

Hernö Gin

I was lucky enough to stumble over Hernö Gin when a good friend gave me a box of various gins to look over and potentially write about. Hernö was there, both dry and sloe varieties. As I worked my way through tasting it was the sloe that caught my attention first and following that, the dry was also very impressive. I decided it was these I should write about and got in contact with Hernö to tell them so, to which they kindly sent me some information to get me started.

Now it seems I’ve been a little slow off the mark as Hernö are well up there, being the most awarded gin in Europe during the past 3 years running. They hold various awards for everything from the Master Distiller, to the distillery itself, let alone a collection of awards for all that glorious gin. In 2016 Hernö gin was awarded the World’s Best Gin for Tonic and Gin Producer of the year by the renowned IWCS.

There’s a lot of the gin too. The dry has several sister varieties, Old Tom and Juniper cask along with stronger Navy Strength, as well as flavoured gins such as the Sloe and the Blackcurrant. After trying the Sloe, I am super keen to try the Blackcurrant and perhaps try cooking with it as I can imagine it would add a gorgeous punch of flavour to fruit pies and desserts and perhaps reduction jus for dark meats.

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Hernö’s story began in 1999 when Jon Hillgren went to London to bar tend and quickly fell in love with gin (well, who wouldn’t). After a lot of research, he founded the Hernö distillery in 2011. It was not only Sweden’s first gin distillery, it was also the world’s most Northwestern gin distillery. That’s quite a title. Another impressive title is that of Gin Grand Master which Jon has won twice since releasing his first gin in 2012.

The distillery is quite beautiful. Housed in a traditional Swedish Manor in wood that’s painted red and white, it has been built in the North of Sweden in the village of Dala, which is just outside the City of Harnosand in Angermanland. The area is officially one of real natural beauty and Jon takes inspiration from this in order to create the gin; clean, fresh and natural.

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The process in which the gin is made is a careful one. Using the single shot method, the gin is made with only natural and organic botanicals and the wheat base spirit is distilled twice. Once it becomes vodka and the second time it becomes a gin by being macerated with juniper and coriander for 18 hours before the other botanicals are added and the batch distilled into that delightful London Dry.

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The botanicals:
Juniper Berries (Juniperus comminis) from Hungary
Coriander Seeds (Coriandrum sativum) from Bulgaria
Fresh Lemon Peel (Citrus limon)
Lingon Berries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) from Sweden
Meadowseeet (Filipendula ulmaria) from the UK
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) from India
Cassis (Cinnamomi cassia) from Indonesia
Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) from Madagascar

The dry gin has a wonderfully delicate and complex flavour, serving as an ode to the attention it receives during the entire distillation process. There’s a smoothness, with the lingon berries and meadowsweet pushing for a floral flavour, a flavour that works brilliantly with the citrus and follows through into a slightly spicy finish.

The Sloe Gin is made from the London Dry base and is bottled at 30%. I really enjoyed sipping it neat, the berries give it a lovely spice, reminiscent of a good port. I finished this bottle all to quickly and am pleased to report it is one of my favourites of the Sloe Gins, only challenged by Monkey 47s variety.

If you’d like to know any more about Hernö, or more importantly buy some of their lovely gin. You can visit their website here.

I just need to try the others now…and perhaps book a trip to Sweden to enjoy it in it’s natural habitat. Authenticity, right?

All pictures care of Hernö Distillery. Thanks ever so much for the information.

HMS Victory Navy Strength Cask Aged Gin Opening Ceremony – Drink a little history

Back in I wrote an article about IOW Distillery’s triumph, the Mighty HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin. Whilst the gin itself is something special, I was left extremely curious as to how the whole project would turn out. You see, as well as the gin there was also an ambitious endeavour to age the gin in casks made including staves of wood and copper from the ship itself. These casks would be aged briefly for 4 months, then 1 year, 3 years and 5 years, known as the first-forth release respectively. The concept is that the gin would take on the colour and flavours of the cask, recreating a taste something like what it would have tasted like in the days it was carried by barrel.

The ceremony of presentation of bottles from the first cask was on Tuesday 18th October, well timed during Trafalgar week, the day itself being the 21st. I was lucky enough to secure an invite into an intimate evening and went with keen interest to see how the gin was working out.

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Beautiful evening on the Victory

The attendees were a mixture of people at varying levels of involvement in the project. We began by taking a quick tour of the ship. Led by Max, we were led around key areas of the ship, the quarterdeck, captain’s cabin, galley, guns and shot. It was a beautiful evening and the colourful sunset of golden oranges and pinks lit up the wood with a wonderful glow. It felt serene, quiet and peaceful, far away from the chaos that would have been there.

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Gunpowder, the reason behind 57% or ‘Navy Strength’ gin

After the tour we were given a glass of the standard Victory gin, complete with Fever Tree tonic and pink grapefruit. As in my previous article, it’s a very good gin. Boadecian Hops, rock samphire and elderflower give a nice twist on standard gin recipes. The spirit is of a very high calibre with the hearts being cut off a little early to boost the quality.

Whilst sipping on the we listened to a talk from gin historian David Smith. David is a local man who himself had a relative on the Victory at Trafalgar, which is such a fantastic link. He explained that on hearing about the project he was keen to get involved and told us a little on the history of Navy Strength Gin. Gin was transported at 57%, it was only in the 1850’s that Plymouth gin used this as a commercial idea. He’s a very knowledgeable man and as a result I am taking a little expedition to visit him at his HQ and gin den to learn more on historical gins late December, write up to follow.

And with that, we were all presented with a glass of the freshly bottled, 4 month cask gin. No tonic needed, it was to be sipped and tasted bare, with nothing to change the favour. I was all aquiver as I took a deep breath and sipped. The taste was rounded, almost marmalade like in flavour. There was a slight mustiness to the smell and a yellow brown tinge to the colour. This was an interesting progression for the brief period of ageing and I’m more than curious as to what the next batch will be like. I savoured every sip, being well aware that I was consuming 250 years worth of history. It’s a pretty special feeling.

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Lovely presentation

After the tasting we moved into the Captains Cabin for the formal presentation. Everyone involved was presented with a bottle of Batch No 1, complete with wooden cask and a miniature, a keepsake worth keeping. I am sure that almost all of these will remain unopened on shelves, gaining value over the years. What an investment!

The remaining bottles are now on sale through the IOW Distillery shop and the National Museum of the Royal Navy shop with a price tag reflective of the rarity of this project. It’s difficult to know how it will all go but my gut instinct tells me that this is something worth paying for. Any gin collector will know that this is a very unique gin indeed and of great interest to both the discerning collector and any gin drinking historian.

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The first batch
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Xavier and Conrad of IOW Distillery

So all that follows now is to wait patiently until the 1, 3 and 5 year aged is open. It’s not that far away and I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed that I’ll be there to taste the difference that these extra years make to both the flavour and the colour. Although I guess we’ll never know exactly how alike to the original flavour it is, what a rare and fantastic opportunity to create something akin to it. Also, on a personal note, to taste and consume elements of a ship as incredible as the Victory has been very special to me indeed.

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Lit up at night

 

Gin Tasting Evening at the Wine Vaults

Sunday 2nd October marked the first of a new run of Gin Tasting Evenings to happen at the Wine Vaults, Portsmouth. Brainchild of Business woman Tracie Sharp, they are also to be joined by brandy and even whisky tasting evenings later on. Well worth keeping an eye on.

Tracie runs ‘Your Platinum Events’ and has already been putting on occasions such as Ascot and Goodwood trips. She’s a fantastically bubbly and honest character. Incredibly determined and hardworking, she has already won awards for her efforts, Business Woman of the Year 2015 and Social Enterprise Business Woman 2015. She doesn’t do things by halves.

Held upstairs in the wonderfully homely setting, the long table managed to accommodate 20 people. On arrival there were goody bags on the chairs waiting for us, each containing miniature Hendricks, Fever Tree Tonic and Juniper berries amongst other things. What with the Williams Chase Sloe and Prosecco cocktail on arrival, nibbles on the table and 6 gins on the menu it was already shaping up to be very good value for the £25 ticket.

wine-vaults

Once everybody was arrived and seated the festivities got under way. Helen Stevens, the General Manager of the Wine Vaults, led the evening with a talk about gin in general and then a guide through each one. We started with Sipsmith, with her telling us a little bit about Sipsmiths themselves, before our assistant put one down in front of each of us.

In front of us were trays with different botanical garnishes. Lot of options including the standard lemon and lime as well as more exotic ginger and rose petals. There were also different tonic options, standard, elderflower and rose lemonade.

The name of the game was to mix and match, initially trying the straight gin to talk amongst us and work out the base flavours. From that we then added ice and our choice of tonic and garnish. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but it was fun and all part of the learning process. In all fairness I’m pretty sure the only wastage was a nice lady next to me choosing to add wasabi peas to one of her creations. Helen was careful to confirm the base notes with us before we added the extras so we had something to go on.

We worked through Sipsmith, Ophir, Gin Mare, Monkey 47, William Chase Extra Dry and Tanquery Ten, with intervals after each two. As the night went on, everybody naturally limbered up and became more talkative. The group were very social and I believe are all planning to return. There were some nice twists and I learnt quite a lot. For example, Monkey 47 going with tarragon. That is a new and lovely thing for me.

Finally, things got serious with the surprise quiz. 10 Questions on what we had learnt that evening and a bottle of Hendricks was at stake. Not having one in my collection (shame on me, I know) gave me sweaty palms. Competition was tight though and it seemed that I wasn’t the only one. Four of us scored almost perfect and had to approach the front for the tie breaker question. I’m sad to say that I fell at the final hurdle but we all warmly congratulated the very happy winner.

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Tracie and Helen clearly put a lot of effort into the night. It was generous, informative and really good fun. I can highly recommend it and I’ll certainly be going again.

There is another night, a special ‘Gins of the World’ edition on 6th of November. Tracie and Helen explained that they wanted to try different gins as much as possible so people could come another time and experience a new thing. This attention to detail is one of the most exciting things about these nights as I can see them growing better and better each time.

Well done ladies, a complete success.