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.

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”.