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.

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.

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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.

 

Tiger Gin – Purrfection

I love Twitter.

There I was, minding my own business when I get a message from a JJ Lawrence of Tiger Gin asking if I had tried the gin and would I like a sample.

Well, of course I would.

In a matter of days the ‘tiger cub’ 50cl sample bottle arrived. I was working on other articles at the time so promised myself I’d wai. until I could give it my full focus. Occasionally I’d look up from my laptop and my eyes would naturally fall to rest on the curious vessel. Enticing, intriguing, there was something reminiscent of the temptation of the Alice in Wonderland ‘drink me’ bottle. What magic would I unlock? I had to keep reminding myself that patience is a virtue.

CrhPsCKWYAALpcvJJ Lawrence is an intriguing character. From his initial contact I had a little root around online and couldn’t find too much about him. To talk to he seems friendly and buoyant, a true Shropshire lad. No pushover either. His love of all things stripy led to the name Tiger Gin. Tiger tattoos, tiger attitude and an intention to donate towards Save the Tiger/Born Free, meant the name was close to his heart and he trademarked it. To multi billion pound global company Heineken however, it was a little too close to one of their products, the infamous Tiger Beer. Heineken contacted him to drop the name and in true tiger spirit he fought the whole way through, from 2 years of an appointed top London Trademark Attorney, all the way to Court where he had to appoint a top London Trade Mark Barrister to make his defence. Despite the financial concerns and his wife’s pleas to call it ‘Big Cat’ instead he stood his ground and eventually and triumphantly he won. Beating such a large company in Court is quite the achievement. As he put it “No one likes a bully”.

Indeed no one does like a bully and in my mind it’s important for this modern day David to stand up to one of this worlds Goliath companies. This astonishing gin revival we are blessed to be experiencing in recent years is built solely on the change of law allowing small batch distilleries. This in turn led to the boom of independent business, men and women chasing gin flavoured dreams and by doing so delivering us, the humble consumer, a spectrum of taste and smell so colourful, Van Gogh could take them and paint a masterpiece. As beautiful as trees are in a forest, they still need to let a little light into the undergrowth to allow rare and individual flowers to grow. What a beautiful forest that is. I personally think he has every right to feel proud of his victory.

A long love of gin, it’s history and the eastern spices that give Tiger Gin it’s personality have led to him thinking he could contribute a valuable product and he’s jumped head first into a new endeavour in an unfamiliar industry. “The process” he says, “has been very challenging indeed”.

As recommended I try some over ice. I’m immediately hit by the sweetness. The quality of a gin is immediately notable from it’s taste. There’s a strength in flavour but no harshness. The ingredients come from the far reaches of the world including juniper from the Balkans, coriander seeds from Eastern Europe, cut and dried angelica root from France and Belgium, dried sweet lemon and orange peel from Spain, cassia bark from China, liquorice root powder from the Mediterarranean, ground nutmeg from the West Indies, cinnamon bark from Madagascar, orris root powder from Italy and two secret ingredients that I just can’t put my finger on. It’s an impressive set of credentials.

img_1605Sipping a glass of perfect serve Tiger Gin, marbling in Fever-Tree tonic and orange garnish is the drinking equivalent of laying in the heady glow of an Indian summer, basking in nature’s warmth, absorbing and recharging by the power of the glorious sunshine. That’s what Tiger Gin feels like to drink.

Now it should be apparent to readers of my previous articles that I’ve a soft spot for the sweetness of orange with gin. Be it in botanical make up or garnish, it compliments the flavour so well on my palette. Refreshing as well as indulging, the delicacy of that gentle sweetness is difficult to match. Bathtub Gin was once my gin of choice…I also have a particular soft spot for COLD’s Christopher Wren, but now, I have also discovered Tiger Gin. How would I describe the difference? Tiger Gin is bold. The strength of flavour is only matched by the strength of attitude in JJ Lawrence himself. The future will hopefully see his intention of sharing his lovely gin with the world (he’s currently exceeding 60,000 followers) and things are going up with him being rewarded with silver in the Gin Masters 2016.

Although his sights are aimed on being recognised as one of the best gins in the world, one of my favourite things abut JJ Lawrence is his recognition of others. When I asked what advice he could give others getting into gin making he replied ‘I would wish them well. I don’t concentrate on what other people are doing. I don’t compete, I create”.

 

 

 

Festivities in our fair city – The Gin Festival comes to Portsmouth

One of the things that baffles me about our hometown of Portsmouth, is that despite our Victorian and nautical heritage, there is a distinct lack of gin in our history.

Am I missing a trick here?

I’m wondering if it simply wasn’t documented. It’s a subject I am highly interested in and dedicated to uncovering. If anyone out there has any stories or information, please do get in contact. It would satisfy my restless heart and I’d love to write about it.

Nonetheless, every day is history in the making and look at us now, in the midst of this gin revolution. The number of distilleries in Britain has doubled in only 6 years according to a recent article in the Telegraph and let’s be honest, with the huge array of flavours achievable through natures glorious palette of botanicals, there is room for everyone. Along with distilleries, gin bars and gin evenings have been popping up like straws out of fizz since the law was changed in 2009 and there’s a world of gin out there for the discerning drinker. Even JD Wetherspoons have managed to bag some very good brands for their ‘gin palace’ selection, including craft gin revolution forefathers, Sipsmiths themselves.

So, what to do as a beginner. Well, we can research online. Or more fun we could venture into a local gin bar for recommendations and explanations of flavour. We now have another option. The Gin Festival, an opportunity to learn together, stopping on its national tour in the Guildhall of our beautiful city.

Lock your doors. The gin fiends are out in force and tonight I walk amongst them.

The queue was full anticipation and the well dressed and it moved quickly. Once inside we had an introduction from Laura, and provided with very own copa glass, gin book, pen and order form, we were ready to be let loose. There were four areas as such, the main arena with live music and the gin stalls: A&B: British, C: International and D: fruit/sloes/liquors, the cocktail bar with vendor sample stalls, the masterclasses and an outside space with food and a punch bar.

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Tooled up

The people were plentiful and our immersion into this collection of chic, geeky and fun loving drinkers was quick and natural. The gin books with introduction, recommended Fever-Tree tonic and garnish for each and every gin proved incredibly effective for those still learning and took the weight off the staff if they didn’t know an answer about a particular one of the good 100 gins on offer. It was however, very impressive what they did know and there was a definite passion, pride and patience in explanation that made learning a more fun and comfortable experience. It was also obvious that they were enjoying themselves too and the bubbling correspondence between them and the drinkers made for a tantalising and somewhat boisterous atmosphere.

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My advice is, that it’s imperative to try a sip before the adding tonic. By adding tonic you are creating a completely different drink, garnish an additional element entirely. Some gins are made to be sipped on their own, some are made to be opened up by the right tonic pairing. To get a true understanding of the complexity of flavours in a gin it’s important to try it both ways. Terribly hard work, that.

With so many to choose from it made it difficult to choose at all. We started with Bluebottle, a gin that made an appearance as part of the Craft Gin Club on Dragons Den and has also won both a gold award in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the Gin Masters 2016. Not a bad set of credentials and with such a beautiful and powerful taste including notes of floral and spice it delivers what it promises.

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As we enjoyed our first of many, we took time to contemplate the offerings in the Gin Book and our next selection was a no brainer for me. Dictador Columbian Ortodoxy Premium Aged Gin, a Columbian twist on our favourite tipple. The sugar cane spirit base and ageing in rum barrels gave a deliciously sweet underbelly to its more tart juniper and citrus elements.

It was shortly after this, and still with two gins left, I started to contemplate the possibility of buying more tokens. I then started considering how much I would have to spend to try every gin I wanted, finally reassuring myself that although that wasn’t possible, the Dictador had already been a brilliant discovery and had made my night worthwhile. This voyage of discovery is the very magic at the heart of the Gin Festival.

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It was about time to check out the cocktail bar. With a lovely little collection of gin themed cocktails such as the Rhubarb Rumble with proceeds going to charity, there was something for everyone. I spoke to a seasoned chap who had clearly found his place and had decided the Rumble was his favourite thing ever. His joy was infectious and he wasn’t the only one. Two hours in everyone was beaming brightly in their gin tinted glasses.

The vendor stalls were fantastic. I just love the opportunity to meet distillers and representatives to talk to them about their gin in detail. I firmly believe that understanding the story behind the gin gives the flavour an extra depth that’s simply unachievable by taste alone. I counted Locksley, Masons, Whitley Neil, Copper House, Conker, Pinkster and Brockmans, who together were a brilliant collection with lots of variety between them.

Sir Robin of Locksley Gin was a delight. Elderflower and Dandelion with pink grapefruit that gives it a wonderful sweetness. In addition, elderflower tonic lights it up into a fresh and dewy spring day of a drink. This was one of my favourites and recommendations of the evening.

Brockmans have been on my list for a while and they didn’t disappoint. The blueberry and blackberry tones came alive and fizzled like sparklers with ginger ale. Absolutely made for the Autumn months to warm our hearts when creeping chills hint of the coming winter and the crackles and smoke of bonfires fill the air.

It was lovely to meet a couple of the guys from Conker. Living in Bournemouth for a while, I’d heard of them bringing out the first Dorset gin for over 100 years and I’d been, as once a local, rooting for them to do well. They certainly have with a combination of earthy compounds including elderberries, samphire and gorse which they forage regularly in their local area, a delightful pastime if it weren’t for the prickliness of the bushes.

It was good to see Masons there too. I’m already a fan of their tea gin (marvellous in a marmalade Martini) and was lucky enough to try their lavender gin which was stunning. Not the heavy floral taste we’d expect, but soft, gentle and sweet. It’s on my Christmas list, which was by that point, growing longer by the minute.

The food smelt incredible and on venturing outside we found two stalls and the punch bar. A nice chat with host Peter revealed we had just missed the last of his special punch, an unusual milk and citrus marvel that he based upon a recipe that was over a century old. I would love to go into more detail on this, and fingers crossed that may happen down the line, so watch this space.

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Back to the main arena and the music was flowing. Speakeasy style fiddle and guitar from two very talented musicians really got the mood going. I went in for a Strathearn Oaked Highland Gin, on the rocks as recommended by the rather knowledgeable barman. The website recommends serving with an equal measure of orange juice for a brunch drink, the Gin Harvey Wallbanger. I’m doing that as soon as possible. Life has many heavens to me and one of them is sipping on a whisky gin.

And another would be Tarquin’s Single Estate Cornish Tea Gin Ltd Edition. This absolutely outstanding gin has been made exclusively for the festival. With Tregothan tea Camellia sinensis, kaffir lime, ginger and bee pollen it is both a delicacy and a triumph. Floral notes, warmth and the most wonderful sweetness that lingers on the tongue. I am heartbroken at its passing and live in hope they release a public batch. If you like the sound of this, it’s worth checking out South Western Distillery, they are creating some wonderful things at the moment.

I confess, through the fun I was having what with talking to all the lovely people about gin, drinking said gin, furiously writing notes and having the occasional dance time just raced past and I missed the masterclasses. I did however catch up with the lovely gentleman from Locksley Distilleries who explained that during his masterclass (120-140 people in attendance), he had spoken a little about EU regulation and explained that they were about lots of different aspects of gin and between them they’d tried to cover lots of these.

I wish I could have stayed longer, the time ran out far too quickly but that’s always a good sign. All the extras like Hobo Tom Photography really kept the party moving. Tom is the official photographer for the Gin Festival and you can see his work in much of their marketing. He took some amazing photos taken there, and some a bit of fun, one of my good friend Dave and me is posted below. Before we knew it, we were spilling out into the streets of Portsmouth, clinging defensively to our copa glasses and chattering excitedly about all our favourite findings. It seems that everyone was in agreement that it was a big step up from last year. The Gin Festival began in 2012 when Jym and Marie Harris wanted to up the ante on the gin bars they’d visited and that idea has grown and grown. Four years down the line and business is booming. This year there are 28 locations around the UK. Next year it’s looking to be 40.

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Dave and I doing what we do best.

Since I first discovered the gin revolution it has blossomed into a renaissance, with Artisan distillers putting love, money and pride into creating truly beautiful gins. It’s an interest for adults to indulge and socialise in, sharing knowledge, enthusiasm and a bit of good old fashioned fun. Despite Portsmouth’s lacking history in gin, we are gaining momentum for the future. What with establishments such as Gin and Olive offering very good selections, local distilleries like the Isle Of Wight offering mighty gins such as Mermaids and the Might HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin and now the Gin Festival, maybe it’s Portsmouth’s time to shine and to take on the gin torch that it’s deserved for so many years. Who’s with me? Raise your glasses! Chin chin!

Many thanks to Laura at the Gin Festival for the press passes.

Also huge thanks to my good friend David Scotland for the photography. If you like his style you can find out more about him here and look at and purchase his work from here.

IOW Distillery – Mermaids and the mighty – HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin

Being lucky enough to work at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, I have developed an enormous appreciation for all things nautical. This concept goes exceedingly well with gin, which has a place in naval history, including cocktails originating from naval roots. What we see today as created for taste was once created for functionality. Even the humble gin and tonic was suggested to be born during the navies voyages to colonial India, with quinine being recognised for anti-malarial qualities and the addition of lime a necessary shot of Vitamin C goodness to fight scurvy.

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Ryde Pier

Bearing this is in mind, you can imagine my excitement at the opportunity to meet Xavier Baker of the Isle of Wight Distillery, creator of the mighty HMS Victory Gin. So, I hopped on the catamaran and made my way to Ryde on the beautiful Isle of Wight just over the water and a world away.

Xavier has many years of brewing experience under his belt and it shows. Years of brewing on the island plus a three-year stint setting up a brewery on the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland. With such a rich background, distilling felt like the next natural step. His 20 yearlong friend Conrad Gauntlett of Rosemary Vineyard provided the perfect opportunity and over an idea and a handshake one day they decided to set up the IOW Distillery.

The premises is a kid in a candy store situation of all things farm shop. Shelves of indulgent chutneys, chocolates, liquors and wines gleam the rich colours of temptation. Xavier admits he has been very lucky, despite the intensive two-year experience to obtain a full distillery license; he got there eventually. Not one to do things by halves, he went for a full license so he could create whatever he wanted. “It was like being on the apprentice” he smiled, “They were sat at a desk facing us and they asked what we wanted to make and our response was whisky, vodka, gin…oh and moonshine”.

It is absolutely worth mentioning the moonshine at this point. Before we even got into the gin I was lucky enough to sample the 30% Apple Pie Moonshine, grain spirit mixed with fresh apple juice from the Island, brown sugar and vanilla. It’s honest, natural goodness and it tastes incredible. Meant to be mixed with hot chocolate or lemonade, I confess that I’d be quite happy sitting next to a fire sipping it straight from the jam jar. This along with an Isle of Wight Whisky currently ageing in the cask (6 months in and tasting fabulous), Rock Sea Salt Vodka and let’s not forget the gin; shows the ambition and creativity of their distillery. Still, it’s all taken in stride and he seems quite comfortable with the new pace of life. There are more ideas on the boil…but unfortunately, he’s not able to tell me about them just yet.

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Still in action

It was a wonderful moment when I arrived to find a distillation in progress. Watching the gin flowing down the insides of the column still evokes the peace of watching a water feature in a nice garden. Oh? Would I care to try some freshly distilled at 90%? Don’t mind if I do! When it comes to distillation, Xavier cuts the hearts off early, leaving longer tails which admittedly is an extra cost implication but it really does boost the quality of the drink. Even at 90% it’s still incredibly smooth. Botanicals are maturated in the gin for 24 hours, distillation takes equal time and the resulting gin is left to rest for 7 days before being bottled.

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Inspiration

So let’s get onto that all important gin. We’ll start with the Mermaids (named after the boats out near Seaview). It’s light, bright and airy. It reminds me of an old, white walled, high ceiled room near the sea, with the big sash window open and a breeze gently twiddling long net curtains between its delicate fingers. As well as freshly peeled lemon zest, botanicals include Grains of Paradise for extra peppery hues, rock samphire to give that sweet and salty almost carrot like quality and a hint of elderflower. Bodecian hops grown in Ventnor botanical gardens seem to be a nod to Xavier himself, with him living in Ventnor and with his brewing history. It’s an eclectic collection of botanicals that politely sidestep the idea of forefront flavour and dance together harmoniously. Woken with an eager prod of tonic and cucumber garnish, it’s a refreshing twist on the popularity of Hendricks style sweeter gins.

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Botanical Mix

And what’s the story with the infamous HMS Victory Gin? It’s the same botanical make up as Mermaid’s only stronger and it makes such a change to the flavour. The peppery citrus is pushed to the back of the queue and the rock samphire comes roaring forward like high tide. Xavier had been wanting to create a navy strength gin and had been wondering what historical approach to go for. Living so close to Victory, it became obvious that a homage to her was a brilliant idea. Built in 1765 and designed by Sir Thomas Slade, she is a Georgian first rate ship of the line (or ‘battle line’, a name that birthed the more modern day term ‘battleship’). 850 crew manning 104 gins made her a formidable opponent and her fight at Trafalgar led by Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson has made her one of the most famous ships in the world. Xavier has been working very closely with Giles Gould, Head of Commercial Services at NMRN’s Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. I for one can testify as to the passion and dedication all those within the Dockyard put into bringing these ships and histories to life, not merely for us to observe them, but to feel and truly experience them. With this in mind we are always looking for new ways to engage the pubic and spread the word of history, endeavouring to ignite a spark that could develop into a roaring interest. This was a brilliant opportunity to remarry gin with our local nautical heritage.

So work began in earnest. The gin itself was a relatively simple move, alcohol content was increased from 42-57%. For those unaware, 57% navy strength spirits were born from the fact that if they were spilt on gunpowder at 57% or above the gunpowder would still ignite. She needed something further, but what else could be done? Victory was a ship that had engaged in numerous battles and skirmishes over a period of approximately 40 years. At Trafalgar no British ships were lost to the combined French and Spanish fleet who lost 22 ships between them in a resounding win. Lord Admiral Nelson passed away on the Orlop Deck on hearing the result, over 3 hours after being shot on the quarter deck by a French gunman. She is the oldest commissioned warship in the world. Something this special deserved something special in this gin.

Four barrels were created by the Country’s only Master Cooper, Alistair Simms, using staves of oak from Victory herself. There will also be some original copper. The barrels were charred to allow the grain to open to increase the surface area and potency of the aging. The idea behind this is that over the various time periods (5 months, 1 year, 3 years and 5 years), the flavours and colour will be drawn out recreating an experience similar to what Officers drinking gin could have had all those years ago. In essence the gin will not only be based upon history, it will be made from history itself. A percentage of sales will go to support the ongoing restoration project of Victory which is incredibly important work required on one of our own National Treasures.

The first of these special casks is due to be opened during a ceremonial evening on Victory in October, along with a talk with Gin Historian David T Smith, who himself had a relative at the Battle of Trafalgar which is a fantastic link. I am just desperate to get on board for that evening. I’m sure there will be plenty I could share with you. Let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed for that one.

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Nautical by Nature

From the rolling hills of Rosemary’s vineyard, we took a short journey to the Seaview Hotel, right by the beach in Seaview. The link here was this hotel was one of the earliest to stock Mermaid’s gin. Tracy Mikich, the warm, friendly and very witty Executive Assistant, has been incredibly supportive of Xavier and his projects. As soon as she heard there was a locally made gin she called to order some and they’ve never looked back. They provide gin as it should be, with copa glass, Fever Tree mixer and complementing garnish, cucumber for Mermaids and blood orange being a favourite in discussions of what would best suit Victory. Mermaid’s gin is popular with the locals and is a big seller. This sort of support is exactly what independent businesses should give their local gins. Wholesalers including clauses restricting customers to purchase all gins through them have a bit to answer for. The beauty of a gin is its locality and it’s something that locals should be proud of and should support. I’m a firm believer that in this world dominated by big brands, any decent local pubs/bars should sell some local gins.

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The Seaview Hotel

The Seaview Hotel is absolutely magnificent. In times of bland, tick certain boxes hotels it is simply fantastic to find somewhere so very true to itself and its heritage. Originally built by sea faring family the Caws who founded the village, it’s just soaked in history. (There’s even family legend amongst the Caws that Nelson used to row to the Hotel for a beer, although the only remaining Caws, William Gerald, thinks that may be an exaggeration). The museum worthy collection of nautical memorabilia that adorns a huge part of the interior walls keeps growing with additional contributions from guests and the staff there are starting to catalogue which is proving a timely but rewarding exercise.

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Fever-Tree’s new Aromatic Tonic Water is just made for HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin

We sat in the quiet Naval Mess Bar and Tracy brought over some glasses and cucumber for us to set up a session. With Mermaid’s gin and standard Fever-Tree it make’s for the perfect serve and I sip politely with eyes upon me and gulp when heads are turned. It’s a wonderfully refreshing drink. All the flavours play in their gentle harmony to give a beautiful all round taste. I try some Victory on it’s own and again I can really appreciate the quality. For the tonic I am incredibly lucky to try some over Fever-Tree’s new offering, the aromatic tonic with extracts of angostura. Due for release in August it is slightly pink in colour and created specifically to compliment navy strength gins in ode to the traditional pink gin drunk in the Navy. I have to say, I’m so pleased to see a new offering from Fever-Tree and it tastes wonderful, especially with the gin. For further info on Fever-Tree do check out my previous write up on them.

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The food at the Seaview is divine. It should be, being the only venue on the island to be awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand, but even lunch is special. I passed up the opportunity of the hotels speciality dish, the crab ramekin (I promise I’ll be back for that) and went for traditional fish and chips, which had a beautiful crunchy batter. Tracy takes a great interest in history. She tells me that the neighbouring village of St Helens may have been one of the last views Nelson had when leaving Portsmouth to head to Trafalgar and it is also thought that Victory was moored at St Helens with his body on board whilst they made the funeral arrangements. There is a painting that hangs in the Nelson Gallery at the Historic Dockyard that portrays this, ‘HMS ‘Victory’ Anchored off the Isle of Wight’ by John Wilson Carmichael.

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HMS Victory Anchored off the Isle of Wight – John Wilson Carmichael

After some heartfelt goodbyes and promises of returning visits, I waited for my boat back across the water. I took deep breaths of the salty air and a moment to really appreciate the setting of the sea washing out under the pier. The history behind gin is fast becoming a deep and dedicated interest of mine. I felt truly privileged to have met both Xavier and Tracy and to have had an insight into a really lovely world where history is cherished like the memories of lost loved ones. Mermaids gin is beautiful and the Victory gin is truly mighty. However, for now we play the waiting game, to see just how wonderful the cask aged gin will be. To love history so much and be able to actually consume it, to feel at one with the seafarers that gave us both our future and our heritage, well that surely is that special gesture that HMS Victory so deserves.

Special thanks to Xavier and Tracy for being so kind and hosting me in wonderful fashion and to all my friends and colleagues at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard for the support and your continued care and commitment to our precious history.

Half Hitch – A double exposure of past and present

I’ve had a soft spot for Camden since I was young. It reminded me of Brighton, where people were colourful and inventive and most importantly didn’t judge each other. It’s been my favourite pocket of London for as long as I can remember. As it transpires, under that bright and bubbly surface lay a deep history of distillation of one of my favourite spirits. At the age of 15 I can remember looking down the canal. Little did I know that buildings I saw and the surrounding landscape once housed a 20 acre goods station complete with gin distillery, set in motion by illustrious Brothers Walter and Alfred Gilbey. The site handled everything from distilling to bottling to shipping all over the world. Almost lost to the sepia pages of an old history book, the story is being continued and brought back to life in the form of a small batch gin, handcrafted in a micro distillery in a humble but prominent premises in West Yard, Camden Lock. The premises was once the blacksmiths, where the shoes were made for the horses that pulled those gin bearing barges some 150 years ago.

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The view from the canal. Gilbey House, the white building on the left was once the distillery. Dead Dog Hole is under the Interchange Building on the right.

Founder Mark Holdsworth’s love and pride of his work is difficult to describe. Despite his 16 years previous experience, including with brand giant Barcardi, it’s still a brave thing stepping foot into the world of gin, setting up a small business and swimming with the big fishes. Even with this, he’s not the only one, but he’s got a very good idea. Being a local man (he worked at Camden market when he was a teenager), his knowledge of the area is comprehensive and driven by a genuine interest that most historians will understand. On arrival we go for a walk around the market, gin in hand, to the bridge over the canal, where he points out the old W & A Gilby distillery building and the Interchange Building complete with Interchange Basin known as ‘Dead Dog Hole’, created to take six horse drawn barges a time for loading (the half hitch knot being used to moor them). There was even the Gilbey Express railway that used to export gin to the dockyards and all over the world. Mark must also take credit for the introduction to the website which explains with a kind of magic how ‘those who walk the surrounding cobble stones are blissfully unaware of its history”.
(View from the canal photo credit geograph.org.uk)

The botanicals used continue to allude to the old photographic scene developing in my mind, the smell of key botantical single estate Malawian black tea, with pepper and Calabrian bergamot, the smoky air smelling faintly of English wood and hay fed to the working horses. The shouts of people hard at work, in an era that slowly drifts away from our current day, leaving the staunch remnants of architectural wonder, museums and period drama. Still, the distillery is a beautiful homage to those times as well as now; fusing modern distillation techniques with the old. Half Hitch use a combination of tinctures, a traditional column still and a vacuum still (the sight of it really took me aback when I arrived), a wonderfully new and scientific approach as overseen by Mark’s resident distiller Chris Taylor, formally of COLD who holds a brilliant scientific knowledge. A chemistry graduate from Warwick, he also has a professional qualification from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

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Mark with vacuum still to the left and traditional copper still to the right

The vacuum still is a fantastically futuristic piece of kit. Reminiscent of school days in science labs, the ability to lower the boiling points of botanicals allow more fragile flavours to be released. It’s only able to process a small amount at any one time, but by doing this to add to the traditional distillation and blending with tinctures gives a whole extra level to the flavour spectrum to play with. Tinctures are a lovely homage to old (a traditional process for medical purposes of using alcohol to extract the flavour of more delicate botanicals such as the tea). Half Hitch are indeed, incredibly experimental and have the set up to facilitate it. I was lucky enough to try a little of the ‘pickled onion monster munch’ variety. The preservation and balance of the flavour was mindblowing from what was in essence a packet of crisps and it had me immediately thinking of all the other flavours there were in the world to play with. Mark explains their ‘ethos is using the right production technique to get the best out of each botanical’ and they are very proud to use high end botanicals too.
(Mark with vacuum still to the left photo credit Boutique Barbar Show).

The gin itself is just wonderful. I love the colouration taken from the tea as this further alludes to the sense of days of dirty faces, smoky clothes and old letters blowing in the streets. There is fantastic complexity to the earl grey type flavour that I can’t help but imagine the Gilbey’s celebrating. Orange is a key garnish to both cocktails and G&T’s as it naturally coaxes out the woody notes and bergamont citrus. If you need some more ideas for drinking then check the cocktails page on their website which has a few twists on old favourites. Bottles can be ordered online direct from the Half Hitch site or from a number of stockists and are even available in prestigious stores such as Selfridges.

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Mark first stumbled across the history through his daughter who is educated locally. Further to this he discovered further information from local heritage campaigner Peter Darley, founder of Camden Railway Heritage Trust. Walter and Alfred Gilbey began their enterprise after being discharged from the Crimean War and returning to London. They started with wine, moving to the Camden premises in 1869. Camden was a particularly good location due to the London Birmingham Trunk Railway (built by Robert Stephenson and the first of it’s kind in the world to enter a capital city) and setting up their gin distillery in 1871. During this time the landscaped changed with basins being enlarged and buildings being changed however was fit for purpose. A lot of this can still be seen today and it’s an important part of the local history that is too often missed. (I’ve linked most pages in this article, but further information on the history of W & A Gilbey can be found at various sources, most notably the Gilbey page on Peter’s website, with additional information on  the Gilbeys on a local history page and Camden’s Railway Heritage from the Friends of the National Railway Museum). It’s this history that Mark appreciates and it occurred to him that it had been 50 years since 1964, when the Gilbey industry had moved to Harlow and with that he decided it would be a nice idea to start making gin there again as an ode to its monumental past.

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This mix of old and new is to me, the heart of Half Hitch. Many gins allude to their history, but it’s nice to see one where history and its inevitable future wrap around each other and start to grow into something else. The foundations of idea lay as they’ve done since 1869, and history is revived through that mix of old and new, creating the giddy glory of taste and smell achieved through knowledge and techniques that would have had our gin making ancestors as fascinated as we are when something allows us to see back in time. As the years go on connections to our past are lost. But with people like Mark creating quality gins based on an lost history, he is inadvertently bringing those eras together and tying them tight with a round turn and two half hitches of a rope knot.

 

 

City Of London Distillery

Amidst the hustle and bustle of London City, nestled quietly down Bride Lane and just out of reach of the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral; sits the humble entrance to COLD or to those in the know, the City of London Distillery.

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The distillery opened in late 2012 and was the first within the City of London Square Mile for 200 years, (the Victorian gin craze has a lot to answer for). The Square Mile, or ‘City of London’ is a city inside a city, with their own Mayor and police force…so it makes perfect sense that they should have their own distillery.

So how did COLD come about? In 1967 a gentleman called Jonathon Clarke was a 16 year old dishwasher in the golf club/bar that previously occupied the premises, living on £32.50 a week. He would go on to purchase the freehold in 1997 and at 50 years old would get into gin and tonic, eventually becoming Master Distiller of COLD.

Descending down the stairs away from the close heat of outside, the understated and subtle entrance hides a beautiful speakeasy style underground bar that opens up into a blissfully relaxing space that feels a world away from the busy streets just above. Today I’m meeting Alfie Amayo, Brand Ambassador and COLD know-it-all for a distillery tour and tasting and boy, does he know a trick or two! Despite being not long back from a business trip to Switzerland, he’s excitable and engaging, with his torrent of knowledge being broken down into sizeable chunks by pausing to ask questions, keeping me well on my toes. He’s full of fantastic gin related tit bits such as the ancient medicinal uses for juniper, including its use during the bubonic plague and as a contraception (not to be tried at home ladies and gentlemen, there is little proof it worked).

The distillery

The distillery is a beautiful set up and it spotless. Approximately 9ft x 14ft in size, it’s made up of Jennifer and Clarissa, 2 x 140L copper pot stills and named after the 2 fat ladies. Also a fabulous 7 level column still, which really is very clever indeed. The first step is cleaning the spirit. White spirit, which can be made from starchy materials such as grain or potato is brought in, (it’s actually quite rare for a distillery to make their own). In this case it’s wheat based and through Jennifer it’s cleaned to remove as much of the methonal as possible.

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The spirit is mixed with water then heated by an electric coil (as we know alcohol is incredibly flammable and despite the bomb proof glass surrounding the equipment, we certainly don’t want a explosion). It’s made up of methanol (the bad stuff) which evaporates at 67.4deg, ethanol (the good stuff) which evaporates at 74deg and water, which as we know evaporates at 100deg (all Celsius). During this process the sulphites react with the copper, making copper sulphite (surprise) which needs to be cleaned from the walls of the still regularly. This over time thins the metal, meaning a full replacement is required very 10 years or so. Not a cheap endeavour when we’re talking highly sought after German Carl equipment. In fact, in just 3 years, public demand means the waiting list has soared from 4 months to 18, which is perfect testament to the fabulous gin revival that we’re lucky to be living in, well I feel blessed for certain.

The 7 plate column still then filters, as the vapour rises it hitting the metal sheets, cooling it down and separating the methanol and ethanol by condensation. Ethanol comes out at 95% and Alfie explains the finer details that it will always react with the environment to be at 95%, higher levels are only achievable in a controlled environment.

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Once the spirit is clean, the single shot distillation can begin with Clarissa. Micro distilleries such as this, producing 200 bottles per batch can use the single-shot process; the botanicals, alcohol and water being distilled into a liquid where only water is added. Companies making larger batches need to use the multi-shot method, where are the gin ‘concentrate’ is created through distillation and then watered and sugared down into it’s final form.

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It’s this single shot method, that requires full attention and care from the distiller. A distillation has to be watched at all times as the changing pressure can alter the times and volumes and each batch must come out perfectly. There is just no room for error when there’s no way of altering the final taste. The botanicals are put in the still with half alcohol and half water. This is to prevent them from getting closer to the coil and burning as the alcohol evaporates as this would impair the final flavour. He admits after playing with different waters to see how it would affect the final taste, they prefer to use water that’s been purified through a reverse osmosis machine. It’s interesting to note that pure water is actually quite dangerous for us, but when it’s mixed with alcohol it’s ok, thank goodness.

Of every 80L, the first 500ml distilled will be the methanol, or the ‘heads’, this is collected in a jug and discarded by a company in an environmentally friendly manner (there are different methods such as it being sold on to make nail varnish remover), the next 63L is the ethanol or the ‘heart’ and is collected in large, metal churns. The ‘tails’ left over from the process consist of broken down compounds and are not used in the gin.

The gin

Alfie takes me through a room full of mini stills (for gin making classes), to the tasting room which is stacked with different gins and small jars full of different dry botanicals. Here we get to grips with the individual smells and tastes of piney juniper, coriander to add spicey and citrus notes, liquorice to sweeten and angelica to give the flavour a good earthy base. These are the base flavours for City of London gins and there are different varieties that have their own twist. All are made by forefather, Jonathon Clarke, bar the Christopher Wren gin, which I have read good things about and incredibly eager to try. The bottles are new, designed especially for COLD and take inspiration from their neighbour, St Paul’s Cathedral.

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No1. City of London Dry – 41.3% – Amongst the base 4 botanicals, there is a wonderful combination of orange, lemon and pink grapefruit which gives a lovely zesty finish. It’s a delicate dry gin with a superb flavour and winner of the Silver Award for the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2015.

No2. Christopher Wren – 45.3% – Created by Tanqueray distiller Tom Nichol, this was the one I’d been eager to try, with the addition of sweet orange, the flavour is divine. Named after the architect responsible for rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral after the great fire of 1666, this gin proves itself as an architect of flavour by winning Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2016.

No3. Old Tom – 43.3% – I’m a fan of Old Tom gins. As well as a bit of history (you can read more on this in my A fantastical history of gin), my palette likes a sweetened gin if it’s done right. Distillers have to be careful. Sometimes they can be too thick, almost syrupy in flavour and consistency. I have to say, this Old Tom is brilliant. Really delicately flavoured and on the nose with balance of cassia and cardamom spice and a slight hint of sour from zesty orange and lemon.

No4. Sloe gin – 28% – Made with Blackthorn berries, this is an excellent example of a sloe gin. A slow gin has to be sweetened as it’s just to sour on its own. Again, COLD have delicately sidestepped over sweetening with a well balanced sloe gin that leaves a tingle of tartness on the tongue. This is not surprisingly, the winner of Silver-Outstanding Award in the International Wine and Spirit Competition 2015.

No5. Square Mile – 47.3% – Similar base to the dry gin, but with a little tweak and some extra strength. Coriander is used to give additional citrusy flavours as too much citrus would make the drink to oily and cause it to turn milky when added to tonic. This gin is a well deserved tribute to the home of COLD. Winner of the Gold San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2016.

After a few drinks I was comfortable and heady so I stayed talking all things gin with Alfie for quite some time and to be honest, I could have stayed longer. COLD is a beautiful place, steeped in history and passion from the people that work there. Everything alludes to their love of gin, from the delicacy and complexity of flavour to the constant homage to their history. Through Alfie’s time and patience I probably learnt more of the technicalities of craftsmanship than any of my meetings to date. I can’t recommend it here enough, at minimum for a drink or ideally for a distillery tour/gin tasting because it’s a brilliant experience that’s fun and oh so interesting. And please, please do yourself a favour and seek out the Christopher Wren. It’s gorgeous.

 

 

Wheadon’s gin

So, two weeks ago  on a beautifully sunny Sunday, I took a trip to Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival to meet with Luke Wheadon, proprietor of the stunning Bella Luce Hotel on Guernsey. 4 red stars with the AA and a member of luxury hotels of the world means this family run, independent boutique hotel is pretty special. However this isn’t why I’ve come to see him. He’s also the creator of a fabulous new gin, due for launch in June and I’ve been lucky enough to get to try it.

Wheadon’s gin takes the family name and for good reason. His family have a long history of distilling and brewing on the island, dating back to 1890, (even the Bella Luce property has links back to his grandmother). With this in mind, he is proud to fly the family flag with a gin that really is rather special. Awaiting the final label design, it was fantastic to meet a distiller on the cusp of launching a new product, the reality of his intentions almost realised and his excitement is contagious.

To me, a good, well made gin is bettered by locally sourced botanicals, alluding to it’s local history. Luke took 18 months trying different flavours before settling on building 14 different botanicals around the combination of zingy pink grapefruit and it’s trademark rock samphire (crithmum martimum), a member of the carrot/parsley family that grows wild on the island. It prefers granite at the high water mark and the 2,000 million year old Icart Gneiss has one of the largest tidal changes anywhere on the planet. Interestingly, rock samphire comes complete with it’s own history. Shakespeare referred to the difficult task of collecting samphire in King Lear and there is a long history of foraging, predominantly on the cliff faces. Children were regularly let over the side with rope tied around their ankles, a “dreadful trade” indeed! It became so overforaged that it was made illegal to do so under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, luckily these laws do not apply to Guernsey and with it growing so well that the team have plenty to work with.

After a revival in popularity in recent years, rock samphire has now become quite the delicacy in restaurants and is a highly desirable ingredient. Therefore, its involvement with this gin automatically elevates it’s status. It is a tricky ingredient to manage as the intensity of the flavour can change through different seasons, let alone years; but Luke’s already well aware of this and is on constant taste testing to tweak the recipe accordingly to deliver consistency to the drink.

From its initial launch in June, it will be available mostly on Guernsey. Locality is important, with botanicals being foraged locally and Luke hosting regular gin evenings at the Bella Luce, with customers enjoying an in depth talk and sampling gins and cocktails to gain a good knowledge in flavours, culminating in them picking a combination of botanicals to design their own gin, which is distilled during dinner and supplied in a wax sealed bottle. I’m sure my invitation is already in the post, hey Luke?

Luke’s a friendly chap. He admits that there was a time he didn’t like gin but now he can’t get enough of the stuff. His passion for his craft is obvious and there really is something about the confidence he has in this recipe. After trying it, I’m inclined to agree with him. He’s inquisitive and eager to ask questions to improve on an already pretty sound knowledge. He’s also very ambitious and interested in getting involved with competitions so it will be interesting to see what the future holds for him and this wonderfully bold gin.

Luke believes a good gin should do all the work and I believe his gin is more than capable. At a good, round 40%abv, the samphire gives a boom of flavour that’s just solid through and through and it really is delicious. There’s hints of earthiness, lifted by a lovely citrus tang with a delicate sweetness of cucumber. It’s a slice of grapefruit and cucumber that he recommends to garnish. Nothing complicated, keep it simple; let the gin do the talking. Are you surprised that he’s a big fan of Martinis?

Luke Benson – Fever Tree

The wonderful Luke Benson of  Fever-Tree came in to visit us at Gin and Olive back in May. Unfortunately I was unable to attend but he kindly left some literature on one of the worlds favourite mixers.

Fever-Tree took its name from the colloquial name for the cinchona tree where  they source their quinine from in the Congo. They pride themselves on high quality ingredients, no artificial sweeteners, preservatives or flavourings and a dedication to producing flavours that work in tune with gin. This gives each gin a whole spectrum for possibilities and flavours.

Quinine has natural anti malaria qualities (it’s health benefits are also discussed in this interesting article in The Guardian). Allegedly it was used for this purpose in Peru in the early 1630s and it was originally added to sugared water to make Indian tonic back in the 19th century. This was drunk with gin when travelling warmer countries and with this, the most basic of gin and tonic was born. This original drink could also include lime to improve taste and help prevent scurvy. (If you’d like to find out more on gin history, I’ve also written a brief Fantastical History of Gin). Nowadays we have plenty of choice, including Fever-Tree Elderflower (that works beautifully with cucumber based gins such as Hendricks, Martin Miller and also more fruity gins) and Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic (made for savoury and orange/spicy gins).

I caught up with Luke to find out a little more about his role in Fever-Tree, some of his favourites and things we have to look forward to:

When did you join Fever Tree and what is your role there?

I joined nearly 3 years ago now and I am the UK On-Trade Marketing Manager. I am responsible for communicating the key brand messages and marketing Fever-Tree within bars, restaurants and pubs across the UK.

The Sicilian lemonade is by far my favourite. What’s yours?

I love them all and each one has a time and a place and a perfect spirit partner of course but I would say the Mediterranean Tonic is the one that stands out. It is completely unique and it’s carefully pairing of lemon thyme and rosemary means it can completely transform a G&T.

What’s your favourite gin?

There are so many out there and I go through phases of liking different combinations. Martin Miller’s, Whitley Neil, Sipsmith, Chase GB extra dry and Bathtub are all favourites but I am currently loving Bobby’s Gin. It’s a dutch gin and it’s made with lemongrass and fennel and really stands out.

What’s your favourite gin and tonic?

I am always trying different gin and tonic combinations so couldn’t pick one. Whitely Neill and Bathtube gin go so well with our Mediterranean Tonic, Martin Miller’s with our Elderflower tonic or I am after a quintessential G&T then I turn to Sipsmith and Indian Tonic usually.

Any new creations on the cards?

We are always exploring new ideas but unlike a number of brands we don’t just launch flavours for novelty value. Each one has to be perfect and designed with a spirit in mind. We have just launched our Indian and Naturally Light Tonic in 150ml cans which we hope will make them ideal for travel use and accessibility.

Do you get to travel much in your job?

I have spent 5 months in New York City working on creating awareness of Fever-Tree over there. NYC is has one of the most influential bar scenes in the world and so it’s hugely important we are recognised over there as the world’s leading premium mixer. Otherwise I am lucky enough to work with so many amazing gin brands across the UK and often that means the occasional distillery visit or two to learn about how they are made and what makes each gin different.

What’s the most interesting place you’ve visited?

New York City! The cocktail scene there is something else.

Any extra titbits you’d like to share?

Always make sure you are pairing your gin with a top quality tonic, obviously. Distillers go to great lengths to create some amazing gins and carefully select the botanicals for a reason. The last thing they then want is for people to ruin their gin with artificial sweeteners and poorly balanced tonic waters that mask the taste!

Fever tree produced their first bottle of mixer in 2005. Their attention to detail now sees them being used in 7 of the top 10 bars in the world. Last year they won the Cool Brand Status for the 4th consecutive year. The Mediterranean Tonic and Ginger Beer have won Gold Awards in the Soft Awards in the USA, and the Ginger Beer has won Best New Product at Tales of the Cocktail. I personally insist on fever tree in my gin and tonics and my bar only serve Fever-Tree. Over the last 10 years they’ve really established themselves and are now sat comfortably in the top levels of a big industry, and a very delicious one too.