Quaker Gin – Quintessentially Craft

I recently discovered, shock horror, that I was running particularly low on gins to write about do I did a shout out on Twitter. One of the first ones to get in touch were Little Quaker Distillery. I must confess, they had not be on my radar previously. And, with the humble bottle design for Quaker Gin showing an old fashioned photo of Darlington being all I had to go on, I said yes, but didn’t really know what to expect.

The bottle arrived within a few days. There was a printed cover letter addressed to me, and the transcript of a recent interview which gave lots of extra information. It’s a really helpful thing for bloggers like me, who love to tell the story of a distillery, as well as the drink.

img_20190226_201022_2972123095053193226918.jpg

And, their story is an endearing one. On a first flick through the interview, there were a couple of details that initially caught my attention. Most notably that the distillery is one of the smallest in the country at 2.1m x 1.6m sq and also that amongst some local botanicals are petals from a rose bush once owned by Paul’s dearly departed Grandma. It’s a lovely notion. And, these small details were just the beginning.

Paul and and Leanne Colman, the husband and wife team, do everything from distilling to bottling to marketing and selling; the whole kit and caboodle. The project is quite simply the quintessence of craft distilling, which has been a hot topic of recent. What exactly is ‘craft’? There are varying definitions and rather blurred lines. I would suggest, humbly, that operations like this are about as close as you can get. 70 bottles a batch, though it’s not always the size that matters, but the process, which in this case is transparent and genuine. There is a very personal and eclectic mix of ideas forming this gins identity. It’s very different to the well planned cohesion of a gin created by companies that focus on a brand. Admittedly, this confused me a little at first. Nowadays we are so used to gins that deliver exactly what they suggest from the name, the bottle design and the sales pitch. However, what they have created here is quite the triumph, and it has an extra element. Because, no one else was ever going to think this up, this haphazard collection of name, of style and idea. It’s absolutely original, it’s a little bit of them in a bottle.

Factory Manager Paul and Account Manager Leanne were inspired after being members of the Craft Gin Club. They decide they wanted to make a gin. After various courses, research and product development, they had a product that they were happy with and found that they had reached a point of no return. After some discussion, they decided to “take a step into the unknown”, registering the business.

They needed a name. Proud of their Darlington heritage, of “a market town that was vibrant on on the front of the industrial revolution”, they wanted something close to home. “Darlington”, Paul explains, “is the birthplace of the railways and its forefathers were pioneers and entrepreneurs. That said, the townsfolk of Darlington are typical of a North East town, warm and friendly.” To represent this, Paul used the nickname of the local football team, to create Quaker Gin. Leanne added the ‘Little’ to the Distillery name to represent the size of the operation. And there’s a notable element of community spirit in it’s reception too, with kt being stocked in many bars and restaurants in the local area, including 5 star Rockliffe Hall. “We could not have had any more support  from the local council, the police, the businesses and the general public”.

We started out raising funds through crowdfunding so people are on the journey with us and we keep our overheads low whilst maintaining out full time jobs with the hope that over the next year at least one of us can run the business full time as we set out to show people that dreams can come true if you work at it.

On the nose the gin is sweet, almost buttery. Folded into this biscuit sweetness is a tang of citrus and subtle hints of floral notes, lavender and rose.

The palette is truly spectacular. first thing that hits is it’s creaminess. For the last few years, creamy is an adjective that’s been creeping in to describe gin that’s smooth, with little harshness to the flavour and a generous mouthfeel. I think those who try this gin are going to rethink that use. This gin is thick with a silky, smooth creaminess that far outweighs most other gins I’ve tried. It’s become a solid characteristic, rather than an adjective. The smoothness dissipates into the a zing of fresh fruit and the juniper keeps rolling along, the vast wave carrying this incredibly generous offering of botanical complexity. The finish leaves notes of spice mingle with the florals.

20190319_1534221229338124247217768.jpg

Despite having a very definite flavour, the gin works with many serves. In a G&T, it’s natural sweetness makes it incredibly palatable. It works with tonic, although Paul suggests Mediterranean. Garnish wise there is a wide variety, although grapefruit works and strawberries and raspberries are the recommended serve and they work so beautifully with the floral and creamy elements. Another suggestion is an elderflower tonic to pull out the fruits and tone down the citrus. But, as Paul suggests “It’s personal choice and we wanted a gin that would allow people to be able to experiment.”

The gin itself is something really special. And I could leave this here, but I really do have to touch upon Paul and Leanne. They exude a genuine love of what they do. They also have a good knowledge of what gin needs to be,

“We have lots of people asking us about flavoured gins and that’s another conversation for another day on when a gin is nothing more than a flavoured vodka. For The Little Quaker Distillery our gin should be heavy on juniper which is important.”

This is such an important thing in today’s times and it makes a very important point. There are some people out there that believe there’s not much room left for new gins. It’s a saturated market and that aside, the surge of gin liqueurs have really made their mark. Quaker Gin, is a solid beacon to new gins and anyone who has the fire in them to start up and make a new spirit in the current climate. It is completely it’s own, born by the love of it’s creators. The industry has been calling for transparency in process and integrity in idea, respecting the nature of true gin. All of these elements are fast becoming essential to the discerning drinker. And, Little Quaker Distillery, a tiny operation run by a couple in Darlington, has it all.

For information on events and to buy, visit their website. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook

 

 

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.

img_20170315_121512_934.jpg

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”.

img_20170315_172134_582.jpg

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!

img_20170315_121855_511.jpg

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.

img_20170315_122719_488.jpg

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.

img_20170224_165423.jpg

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.

jon

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.

barn

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.

still

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.

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”.