Previously, as far as I was aware, Strane had one of the strongest gins. They have 4 in the range and the uncut edition was pretty renowned at a whopping 75.3%, 76% in the second batch. I did wonder at the time what they made of the announcement and to my surprise, my wondering has been answered, with an email I received this morning from Robert Ransom of Highfern Ltd, UK Importers of Strane gin. He wanted to issue a statement congratulating Twin Rivers on their new gin and I said I’d be happy to put it up in my new ‘News’ section:
“News has reached us over the weekend of the release Twin Rivers Naked Uncut Gin, bottled at 77%. Whilst I am yet to try this new gin, I congratulate Twin Rivers on the launch, and concede that Strane Uncut London Dry Gin 76% is no longer the strongest gin on the UK market.
Strane Uncut London Dry Gin was first bottled back in 2014, and came about as a consequence of the unusual way Strane is produced, not a deliberate attempt to produce the strongest gin. Looking to preserve the intensity of the flavours in gin distillation, Pär Caldenby, distiller/ proprietor of the Smögen Distillery, developed a methodology in which three base gins; citrus, herbal, and juniper are distilled with the same 12 botanicals but in different ratios. The bases are then blended before the addition of water to create Strane Merchant Strength London Dry Gin 47.4% and Strane Navy Strength London Dry Gin 57.1%. As Pär Caldenby blends the base gins straight from the still, he became accustomed to sampling Strane ‘uncut’, and decided to create an ‘Uncut’ addition to the Strane family. For Pär, ‘Uncut’ refers not just to the consequential high strength, but also to the intensity of flavour.
We first imported Strane Uncut London Dry Gin, at that time 75.3%, to the UK in the spring of 2015. Initially we were careful not to claim that it was the strongest gin, but as we received feedback from gin journalists and gin bars, it became clear that the next strongest gin in the UK market at the time was less than 70% vol..
It was always inevitable that at some point Strane Uncut would be knocked off the ‘strongest gin’ podium. We are simultaneously flattered that Strane Uncut has been copied, and surprised that with the current interest in gin, that Strane Uncut was the strongest gin available in the UK for so long, for three years from 2015 to 2018.
Strongest gin or not, Strane Uncut London Dry Gin 76% remains the original Uncut gin, and delivers a wonderfully powerful juniper burst, which we believe gin enthusiasts will continue to enjoy.’
Robert Ransom, UK importer of Strane Gin”
Interesting stuff. Everything moves so quickly in the world of gin! I am planning to write on Strane soon. I’d also really love to compare the two gins to see what the differences are in flavour. Fingers crossed that’s an option down the line.
Personally, I’ve always found the gin industry to be a very friendly one. When I work at Gin Festivals and give masterclasses on gin history, I like to dispel the myth that it’s cut throat and competitive, despite being such a saturated market. The way I see it, there are so many variations of flavour, locality and story. Good gin drinkers want several different bottles of gin at home and certainly with myself, there’s a sense of collecting and trying different ones so there’s room for good products. However, its inevitable that sometimes products will clash and it’s good to see such clashes being handled diplomatically. Thanks for taking the time to get in touch Robert.
So whichever gin you drink next, do raise a glass to yourself, all of us gin drinkers and everyone involved in the industry. After all, we’re all in this together.
Last week, to my joy, the fella arrived with a beautiful bunch of red roses. About ten minutes later he divulged that he’d got them in advance to save the impending Valentines Day red rose price hike. Clever lad.
Red roses are always a nice touch, but what if there was something a little different you could get for your lover? Something a little more, ginny?
Flavourly.com has a huge variety of drinks available and a Craft Gin Discovery club. Members receive a monthly delivery of 2 x 200ml bottles, mixer and snacks for £34.99. If any of you are interested in finding out more then you can check out their page.
So what’s that got to do with Valentines Day? Well, not much, but Flavourly.com have also launched a new gin. Part of their ‘Gin Project’, their Honey and Raspberry liqueur is a beautiful thing. Available to order through their site, the gin comes in 2 x 50ml pouches and a card that you can personalise with a romantic message, all contained in a small box that fits through the letter box. For only £9.99 it’s a bit of a bargain and would be an excellent little surprise for a loved one.
Looks pretty good, right? It tastes pretty good too. The sweetness of the honey taking that tart edge off the raspberry. Distilled at Strathearn Distillery on Perthshire, it’s signature serve is with prosecco (a massive crowd pleaser with the ladies.) I tried this last night and it was luscious, the sweetness of the liqueur melting wonderfully into the dry bubbles to give an almost too easily drinkable flavour. I tried to savour it, but it was gone all too quickly and now I’m too scared to open the other pouch.
So, if you do have a loved one you want to surprise, or you just want to treat yourself, you can order it here. If you are kind enough to treat someone then do remind them that with two pouches, it would be rude not to share.
Hidden Curiosities Gin was created by gin lover Jenny Meguro. Jenny loves gin. In fact, she loves it so much that she dedicated herself to trying 100 different samples over the course of a year for ‘research’, a line I use regularly myself. Her aim was to develop a gin with “a unique recipe with a very distinct character.” 20 botanicals later, and with the help of a distillery located in the Surrey hills, she was able to find what she was looking for.
It seems Hidden Curiosities is a name with purpose, as the gin has been designed to vary in flavour, with subtle botanicals that come forward with tonic. The flavour elements lean into citrus and spicy, with 5 different peppercorns and green cardamom. A short zesty burst of lime and more unusual citrus influences of pink grapefruit, bergamont and Japanese yuzu fades into a long, drawn out sweet spice. It gives a wonderful warming sensation when sipped neat. Described as a “self assured gin”, it really does hold its weight and it’s balanced and complex. It served me well when I started this article. It’s cold at the moment and despite many layers, a few drops of this was the only thing that made me feel warm all day.
Add tonic and the gin twists into something longer, more in depth, more complicated. Add the recommended garnish of pink peppercorns and green caradmom and we’re in business! The warm spice swimming in a sea of cool G&T goodness, the two balance very well indeed. There’s been a definite increase in popularity of spicy gin in the last few years, with distillers get more creative all the time. As far as I’m concerned, this gin is a wonderful blend of the traditional along with the growing trend. For the record, the gin also lends itself very well to it’s citrus notes if using yuzu or pink grapefruit garnish.
The bottle is gorgeous and I love the look of the label with its bold metallic copper stamped on black and white. This with the square corked bottle gives a polite nod to days gone by, Victorian times with a fascination with curios and mysterious things. Drinking this evokes the sensation of hiding out in a secret side alley bar, full of taxidermy, with a lone magician working the bar for gin money. “Step right up, have I got a treat for you!”
Hidden Curiosities is available through many local stockists, their site and Master of Malt. A full list is available, here.
Last week I received an email from Rivers Distillery announcing the launch of Dee Gin. As I mentioned, I normally focus on writing in depth distillery stories with gin reviews, gin history etc, but its occurred to me to add a news section. You heard it here first! Any other gins out there, do feel free to send me any announcements and I can copy them into my news section. Nothing like a bit of tongue wagging.
Anyway, today I’ve received another announcement from Twin Rivers, a claim to have made the world’s strongest gin! Full announcement copied and pasted below:
“A distillery in Royal Deeside has created the world’s strongest gin, with an ABV of 77%. Twin River Distillery’s new Naked Gin ‘Uncut’ edition has an initial run of 101 bottles and will launch at Gin Festival: North East at Thainstone House, Inverurie this week.
As one of just four Scottish distilleries to produce the base spirit for its gin entirely onsite, the Twin River team is passionate about the provenance of its products and developing an innovative range of spirits and flavours. Its core product line includes Rhubarb Old Tom, a Naked Gin and some seasonal expressions which are available online and in drinks outlets across the north east.
Ryan Rhodes, brand ambassador for Twin River, said: “When our Head Distiller, Liam Pennycook tasted the uncut spirit straight from the still, he decided it was too good not to share.
“By developing Uncut, we really wanted to push the boundaries – but obviously ask people to enjoy it sensibly. You have to appreciate that most gins are 40-50% ABV so care must be taken when drinking this spirit and a small amount definitely goes a long way. To enjoy the punchy flavour profile, it’s best to sip it over ice with a twist of lemon.
“Our first edition Naked Gin has a strong undertone of juniper which many of our customers love; the fact we make it from scratch in our distillery gives it that extra feeling of provenance that a craft gin should have.”
Commenting on the first taste of Uncut, Peter Sim, founder of Aberdeen and Inverurie Gin Club, said: “On the nose there is a creamy nutty scent, almost buttery from their in-house neutral spirit made from barley. The alcohol has power, but I still get heavy juniper and a sweet spiciness.”
Last year a 76% gin was created from a small Swedish distillery which was thought to be the world’s strongest gin.”
Exciting times! Second email in two weeks, they’re clearly on the case. Anyone else claiming to have the world’s strongest gin?
Ok, so in the spirit of honesty, the following is not written by me! Just a simple cut and paste job, but the kind people at Twin River Distillery sent me this News release today and I’d like to share it for them:
News release: Twin River Distillery Launched Exclusive River Dee Gin 1st February 2018
Twin River Distillery will officially launch its exclusive ‘Dee Gin’ at the opening ceremony of the 2018 fishing season on the River Dee today, February 1st 2018. Dee Gin was developed as part of the River Dee Trust’s fundraising drive, the result of which will enable the Trust to continue to invest in work to restore the river for future generations – including community engagement and awareness programmes.
Based in Banchory, Royal Deeside, Twin River Distillery produced Dee Gin for the Trust and proceeds of each bottle sold will be donated to the fundraising campaign. A limited run of 1,000 bottles are available and it’s hoped that the gin will raise over £6,500.
River Director, Mark Bilsby said: “There’s an increasing awareness about the importance of the river and the many ways it significantly contributes to the local and national economy. For example, angling in the River Dee generates £15 million of revenue and supports an estimated 500 rural jobs. “We have been delighted with the support received from both local businesses and individuals and to have our own Dee Gin is fantastic.”
Twin River brand director, Ryan Rhodes, said: “Our distillery is actually named after the River Dee – we use water from the river in our spirits, which makes it an integral part of our products and the development – and it’s a twin of the River Don, hence Twin River.
“Operating and distilling in Royal Deeside we know and appreciate at first-hand the value of the river from a local perspective and when we learned about the Trust’s aims and initiatives, we felt compelled to support by offering a unique product.”
The gin is available to buy online from Inverurie Whisky Shop and is also stocked in Raemoir Garden Centre, Kincardine O’Neil Post Office and Aberdeen Whisky Shop.
Sounds pretty interesting, right? Wonderful to see gin being used to benefit the environment too. If you’re looking for someone to review the gin for you guys, feel free to give me a shout!
And here we are this week with the other 5, including my favourite of the newbies, the Rhubarb Triangle (have you tried it yet? If not, where have you been?!) I guess it should go without saying that Rhubarb was a top player last year and was incredibly popular, especially over the summer. The plant may need sunshine, but the flavour certainly doesn’t and I’ve had great fun experimenting with hot gins using it.
So, without further delay, lets move onto the next 5. Take a seat, make sure you’ve got a good full drink in front of you and let’s get this party started.
Double-Sloe Gin, Whittaker’s, 44%: This is a delightful offering from Whittakers, based in Harrogate. A mix of sloe gins, sweetened with lovely liqourice. On the nose this gin is sweet with a hint of cherry and underbelly of mossy glade, the sort of smell that evokes a wander through a freshly rained on orchard. The palate is hit with a deeply sweet spice that warms and lingers at the end. This is a surprising and lovely gin, and very versatile. definitely one to be used in cooking and hot gins as well as a cooler, longer drink.
Hot Sauce Gin, FEW, 46.2%: Well, this is rather special! Anyone I know who loves their spice needs to hop on board this asap! Made as a limited addition with American heavyweight FEW, bourbon is held in barrels that have held bourbon and then hot sauce. The bourbon is then re-distilled with juniper, Guajillo peppers and Ancho chillies. This a truly inventive and magical gin. The boom of heat on the palate is delicious and has me immediately thinking about trying it in marinades, or having it to sip on whilst eating spicy food. This is a real piece of work, this one.
Finger Lime Gin, 46%: Ever heard of finger limes? Me neither. From checking the description I became curious and did some research. They are such a brilliantly interesting fruit. Partly citrus and partly not, break open the skin to release a plethora of small juicy balls, commonly compared to caviar. Needless to say, the gin is delightful. Fresh with a zingy tartness on the nose moving through to a sweeter palate and a short, floral vanilla finish. This is a fab gin, would be good in citrus cocktails or long, summer coolers.
Rhubarb Triangle Gin, 46%: Made using rhubarb from the Rhubarb Triangle located between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield, this is an incredible gin. Achieving a huge fruity flavour in gin generally comes at the sacrifice of the ABV and the gin becomes a liqueur. Not that there’s anything wrong with liqueurs, I just personally prefer gins. Rhubarb has been a popular botanical over the summer months, both in liqueur and gin form that has a more subtle fruit. This gin has it all. It’s an overwhelmingly juicy, spicy hit of rhubarb. Amazing for cooking and cocktails, I’d say. Absolutely bursting with flavours, I’m a little in love with this one.
Strawberry and Balsamic Gin, 40.1%: Not one for the faint hearted, this is a peculiar gin. Even more peculiar that there is little online about it as yet (and no picture either, sorry!) But its amazing and definitely deserves a mention. Now I’m aware of strawberries with balsamic glaze, and despite being one of those flavours some people don’t like, I think the flavours compliment each other well. I was unsure what to expect with it in gin form. Balance is key in this recipe and TBGC have done very well. Classified as a fruit gin, the strawberry flavour is rich, decadent and seductive. The balsamic comes through just at the right level and rumbles on into the finish, not to override the thick juicy strawberry, but to bring another element that almost likens it to a wine or port in flavour.
But where oh where do we get our delicious gins! I hear you cry! The usual suspects Master of Malt, Amazon, That Boutique-y Gin Company, plus various other shops and retailers. Not so sure on the Strawberry and Balsamic yet, but I’ll find out and let you know.
So, there we have it. 5 gins into my day and it’s only 4pm. What a fabulously productive start. Thank you so much for taking the time to send the gins to me Boutique-y. I’m super impressed and as always, I’m keen to try out any more you want to throw my way.
With so many gin blogs out there and so much information to be found online, do you ever get the craving to hold the information in your hand? That traditional desire to sit and read a magazine rather than trawl through a lit screen? If so, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Paragraph Publishing have launched a magazine dedicated to our favourite tipple.
With the continuing rise in gin’s popularity, Paragraph Publishing decided it was time the drink had it’s own dedicated magazine. Responsible for publications such as Whisky Magazine which launched in 1998, they clearly know their stuff when it comes to readers with a dedication to distillation.
The first issue of Gin Magazine was launched on 17th November 2017 with a fabulous launch party in London’s Merchant House. It was wonderful to meet and greet some of gins finest and make some new friends, as well as catch up with some familiar faces in what is in my experience, one of the most friendly industries out there. The evening saw us tasting the 22 featured gins of the first issue, including spectacular gins such as Isle of Harris, Elephant and Swedish lovely Hernö, who I covered last year. They aim to continue this generous amount of reviews, with the magazine keeping to 22 gins every quarterly issue.
As well as reviews, there will also be interviews and articles on producers as well as botanicals, production itself and naturally cocktails that you can make at home. (I do so love a home project!) Plus, it’s aimed at gin enthusiasts at all levels so it’s sure to be a brilliant way of keeping up with the gin world with something in there for everyone.
Where can you get your hands on a copy? Well it’s available from Waitrose as well as W.H. Smith. It’s not just limited to the UK though and is also available in the US from Barnes and Noble. It’s also available online through https://gin-mag.com/ and there are print and digital subscriptions though https://ginmag.imbmsubscriptions.com/. If you’re looking to subscribe, good news! Right now, if you subscribe then the first issue is free. If there’s any of you out there thinking you’d like to advertise then you can contact them through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gin Magazine is a quarterly publication with issues to be released in February, May, August and November. The next issue is due on the 16th February and I’m pleased to say that I’m contributing a little something so keep your eyes peeled. It will also contain details of the winners of the World Gin Awards 2018, an award which I’m lucky enough to be judging with some amazing people tomorrow. Needless to say I’m ecstatic to be getting involved with such a fantastic publication and wish it all the best for the future.
Well, almost. But that’s close enough, right? With all this dashing around, find the perfect gifts for everyone, it’s important to take a minute to yourself to well, have a little indulgence too.
At That Boutique-y Gin Company, they claim to have ‘distilled Christmas’, in their new Yuletide gin. And, with the incredible list of botanicals, I’m inclined to agree with them. Are you sitting comfortably?
Juniper, cassia, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, medjool dates, cloves, allspice, clementine, cardamom, ginger, whole pomanders (oranges studded with cloves), Basam and Douglas Fir Christmas tree needles, Christmas cake, charred oak, chestnuts, Christmas puddings, lebkuchen, mince pies, panettone, a whole gingerbread house and finally, to give it that final finish of Christmas, frankincense, myrrh and 24ct gold flakes which give it a beautiful snowglobe effect. Believe me when I say that I have shaken the bottle several times since getting my hands on it.
An absolutely amazing list, but how does it taste? As good as you’d hope, seeing as its packed with more goodies that a Christmas stocking. The nose is beautiful, smelling sweetly of juicy Christmas pudding warm spice and with a hint of the pine needles on the finish, giving a foreshadowing of the excellent balance between so much rich flavour and the juniper. As we move into the palette we have the exquisite balance of clementine, pudding and confectionery, all those sweet and spicy flavours we associate with picking at by an open fire. The finish leaves us with the appropriate lingering of glace cherry, the cherry on top of what is a wonderful, wonderful gin.
There’s a lot you can do with this. As a basic G&T it works fantastic with Aromatic tonic and orange twist, a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds to give it some extra panache.
There are alternative recipes on That Boutique-y Gin’s website here, including a White Christmas Negroni and a Fireside Punch. I’ll also be taking the festive period to experiment with some hot gin recipes.
Another successful offering from Boutique-y. Well done!
Mary Rose gin was launched mid August, and it’s got some big boots to fill. With the motto ‘Chart your own course’, it’s the flagship gin of the new HMS Spirits. It’s a bold and brave name, but creator Ben Maguire was pleased to confirm that he went through all the right channels to confirm he could use it and as well as online the gin is for sale at the local Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. There are also hints that there could be further projects with them which is wonderful. Good luck with that, Ben, it’s a fantastic connection to have.
If you’ve read my previous article on IOW Distillery – Mermaids and the mighty – HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin, you would already be aware of my connections to the Dockyard, being a local resident in Portsmouth and for a period of time working at the Dockyard itself on ships like HMS Victory and HMS M33. So, it could be said that I take a great personal interest in nautical gins coming out of the south coast and it felt only right to write a little something on it.
On speaking to Ben, it’s apparent that this gin has come from a particular labour of love. He has travelling in his blood and wanted to create a gin that caught that sense of adventure and his own fondness of the south coasts nautical connections. Creating a gin that boasts the bold flavours of grapefruit and rosemary, he found it a nice play on words to name the gin Mary Rose (rosemary, get it?) Silly me hadn’t immediately picked up on the connection, but once I did, I found it rather clever.
The gin tastes strong at 42% and the rosemary does give it a rather lovely kick. Using a higher level of oils than some gins, it’s smooth to taste, whilst holding a characteristically strong flavour.
HMS Spirits began life in a garage, with Ben pottering with a 35L still he brought during a trip to Hungary. The idea was to create a gin that respected the full art of a traditional London Dry, whilst giving it a modern twist. Four years were spent playing with different recipes before arriving at Mary Rose gin in 2016. This labour of love was soon to turn to business as after friends commenting that they thought it was a good gin and could hold it’s own in the market. With this boost to confidence, Ben felt that it was worth looking into further and started down the road to make it an official company.
It would be another year before HMS Spirits got their name. “The name needed to encompass all of our core beliefs and interests, we felt like the HMS Fleet did exactly this, pulling together a love of the sea, travel, taking risks, discipline and supporting others.” He’s ambitious and believes that Mary Rose gin is just the start, wanting “to create the finest spirits, using the highest quality organic botanicals from across the globe as well as locally, learning from other cultures as well as out own and in turn spread the word of ‘Modern Britishness’. With our changing times, this idea of Modern Britishness is certainly an idea I can get behind and I’m really looking forward to seeing what other spirits they come up with. HMS are keenly looking into export and are arranging meetings so I think it’s only so long before they’ll be off on a voyage of their own.
It’s recommended to go with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of grapefruit, although HMS actively encourage people to ‘chart their own course’ to try it with different mixers and garnishes and share how they like to serve it. Ben has hinted at a fantastic idea for marketing which will see social media participation with drinkers hashtagging the HMS Spirits cork at different places around the world.
And there’s more in the pipeline. Ben tells me there’s a Navy Strength due in the new year, and a summer styled blend that will be available in the spring. He’s keeping his cards close to his chest with botanicals but has said it is another London Dry style with no flavours being added after distillation.
If you fancy meeting the guys, good news! They’re partnering Suzuki at the London Boat Show in January and Ben would love people to pop along and say hello.
The gin is lovely, Ben is friendly and excitable and there are some good creative ideas here. I’m certainly wishing HMS Spirits all the best and I hope to catch them on the high seas soon.
Mary Rose gin is for sale on all good websites like Amazon and Master of Malt, as well as local stockists and of course the Mary Rose Museum at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Pictures courtesy of HMS Spirits.
Nestled in the countryside of Shipton-on-Stour is a tiny and unassuming property, the Cotswolds Distillery. It was so sweetly hidden in the rolling hills and golden fields that only those with intention could find it. And what a reward for those who do, as these quiet buildings are hiding something truly magical.
I first met Jack Barnard of Cotswolds Distillery at one of Gin Festival.com‘s Festivals in Bristol. Now, one of the perks of my job as a Brand Representative for Tinker is that I get to work these festivals and rub shoulders with other gins, terrible stuff, I tell you…with a wink and a smile. I spent a little time talking to Jack and fell in love with their 1616, (more on that later), which had me quickly asking to visit and write up on them. It’s a fantastic drink, but I didn’t realise quite how much they had going on there.
We begin our story with Dan Szor, a New Yorker that had moved to London. The Cotswolds were a regular holiday away from the city. He decided to make the move and being a whisky fan, he looked into setting up a distillery. I have to say, I made one trip to that place and I can see how he fell for it. It is utterly stunning, and this beauty has become the ideology behind their range of spirits in everything between the initial concept to the final product.
Dan brought the two barn buildings and warehouse and set about renovating them. The first now houses the visitors centre and shop, the second is where every part of the production process happens and there’s also a warehouse housing one cask from each batch of malt spirit for them to check regularly. The rest lie in a specialist warehouse built next to the river Mersey. The whisky is ready soon, the 7th October, however the first batch is already sold out. Having tried the malt spirit, I’d say its a sound investment as it’s looking very promising that they’ll have created something very special. And, we need to thank this aging process, as the spirits they’ve created in the meantime are very special too. Unintentional and incredible, humble yet wildly spectacular.
To begin the tour we were sat in a room to watch a brief video giving an introduction to the distillery. The video opens with the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar and panning shots of the hedgerows and wildlife. The video covers the contributing companies including Warminster Maltings who supply the barley to make the Cotswolds malt spirit, and are local to the Cotswolds. There is a focus on the whisky as this was Dan’s primary intention however, it was the beginning of a path into lots of different spirits, included of course, the glorious gin.
As we find with some distillers, they distill a malt spirit but then start looking into other spirits while waiting for the aging process to make it whisky. Being that gin doesn’t require this aging process, many distilleries then turn to gin to keep “the lights on” until the whisky is ready. I am truly thankful that this is the case, as this has led to the production of some fantastic gins and other spirits to boot.
With Cotswolds, they wanted to create a classic London Dry “a gin that could stand up to tonic”. They began by distilling some 150 botanicals to create what they call ‘The Library’. Three distillers then set about creating a gin and they were blind tasted to chose a winner. The idea with the gin, as with the whole range of spirits, is that they are a taste of the Cotswolds, they evoke the peaceful countryside and the rich nature surrounding the distillery. Quality of process was paramount to evoke the status of the renowned landscape.
The botanicals in the Cotswold Dry are a heady mix with key botanicals lavender, bay leaves and pepper. Fresh zest of grapefruit and lime are used, requiring regular hand peeling as mechanical peeling includes the piff which gives the gin a bitter taste. When they originally thought up this plan they were making one batch every six weeks. Now however, they make two a day, every day. Has this changed their process? Of course not. This is a major part of the gins flavour and mouthfeel, so as Distiller Zoe Rutherford puts it “We’ve got to deal with it now”. This is a prime example of their attention to detail and their ‘roll the gloves’ up attitude to hard work.
The process of distillation is precise. The base botanicals juniper, coriander and angelica go in to the 96.3% NGS (Neutral Grain Spirit) overnight for 12 hours before the final 6 are added the next day before distillation. The still is steam powered and heats the mixture to temperatures under 100 degrees but above 78.5 as this is point in which alcohol evaporates leaving the water. They heat it slowly meaning a longer and more gentle distillation with 6-7 hours of heat. For each distillation they get 150L of hearts at 83% and they the leave this to rest for 5 days before watering down to the required ABV and bottling. As Zoe explains, its important to let all the flavours bind. “When we cook a stew or a curry it always tastes better the day after”. They’re quite happy to give the patience required to make a higher quality product. Even so, including the rest period the whole process of making a batch, from start to finish is still just a week, which in relation to the whisky, makes the gin a very practical staple.
And, the gin is doing very well. Since it’s launch in 2014 it’s won various awards, including the IWSC Silver in 2015 and the World Gins for Best London Dry in 2016. It’s now being stocked in Selfridges, and now in Waitrose’s around the local area. It’s also being exported to 23 countries around the world, which is impressive stuff for such a short amount of time. However, despite how far the gin is reaching, Zoe admits they “couldn’t have done” it without local support and that their core focus is still their backyard. The distillery prides itself on keeping business as local as possible and for operating in the most eco-friendly way. For example, all the waste, the heads and tails that come off each distillation get put into an effluent tank and taken to a local anaerobic digestion plant that turns it into bio gas.
After a look at the whisky process we are taken through to the warehouse by Ellie. We learnt some very interesting facts here. For example, the hotter the whisky is in the barrel, the quicker it ages (which makes sense) however more is lost to the normal 2% angels share, hence they are aged slowly at a lower temperature. The barrels are a mixture of American oak bourbon barrels from companies like Woodford Reserve and Jim Beam, giving warm vanilla tones and wine casks. For other projects a collection of wine casks, sherry butts and port barrels amongst other interesting casks.
Then, the exciting part. The tasting room. The tasting room is welcoming, a cosy front room, complete with log fire, sofas, tables and chairs and its own corner barn. There wasn’t one thing even slightly ‘business’ about this space. It was so comfortable and homely and had me immediately wondering how amazing it must be around Christmas. This for me, and most likely the others on the tour, was the grand finale. Because one of my favourite things about this distillery is the diversity of the other spirits that they produce. All of the other valuables that have come from their natural creativity and restless attention to detail.
First up the Dry. Dry on the nose with lavender, peppercorn and lime, there is a high quantity of a high quality botanicals, around 10 times more than some distillers. In tasting I found the lavender so well balanced with the lime and peppercorn dancing at the end. With ice it becomes creamy, the citrus oils giving a thicker feel and a louche, an effect where the gin becomes slightly cloudy and iridescent in colour. This generally happens when there’s a lot of citrus oil in the gin and it reacts with water. Louching has has mixed reviews in the past and rather than shy from this, Cotswolds are very proud of their ‘cloudy gin’. I’m really behind them looking to change this opinion to be more positive. I love the citrus flavour, you can taste the freshness and hard work put into hand peeling all of the fruit. If this comes as a slightly cloudy gin then I’ll take my gin cloudy. More information on the technicalities of louching can be found on their website here. Recommended serve of this is with grapefruit and a bay leaf.
Secondly the 1616. The 1616 is what made me fall in love with them from the start. It’s essentially a Genever, a malt based spirit with juniper, but being a locally protected term they still refer to it as gin. Cask aged in specially toasted and recharred wine casks, it’s a truly fabulous drink and with the addition of ginger beer it sets ablaze, a glorious taste alluding to hot cross buns. As far as I’m concerned, this drink is a triumph. A tribute to William Shakespeare on the 400th Anniversary of his death, their malt spirit is re-distilled with juniper, coriander, cassia, nutmeg and orange peel amongst other secret ingredients before going into the casks to mellow. This is one exquisite libation. As Shakespeare wrote in the Merry Wives of Windsor “Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness”.
They’ve made a summer cup. I tried this with ginger and it was a beautiful ode to the old English tradition. Made using their dry, homemade Vermouth a splash or Triple Sec and their Spirited Sherry, it’s just gorgeous. They’ve made some experimental gins, the Countess Grey Gin and Bahorat with cardomen chili, cuman and black pepper, a gin that starts with sweet fruits moving on a gentle spice.
Then we have the other drinks. There’s a cream liqueur, which I shall be using to make the most delicious cheesecake. There’s an absinthe, modelled on a 19th century recipe. Absinthe is an interesting drink, botanicals like wormwood are believed to hold the power to give the drinker hallucinations. Don’t panic, they’ve tried and tested this and have concluded that you would need to consume 20-30 glasses of absinthe to feel this effect and at 60% it’s highly likely that would hit you first. There’s a gorgeous and warming apple brandy and my favourite of the off shots, the Spirited Sherry. They first got the idea from the Sherry-seasoned barrels for maturing the whisky. They left Dan pondering that “if sherried whisky tastes great, then so should whiskied sherry.” A blend of Spanish Olorosso and Pedro Ximenez are used along with the single Malt spirit. This is on my Christmas list for sure. If you could keep a note of that, Jack and Zoe, I’d really appreciate it.
Just in case this has wet your appetite somewhat, all of the delightful libations can be purchased through the Cotswold Distillery’s online shop, here.
When I write, I like to go into detail. And, the Cotswolds Distillery have so much detail, it’s almost easy to get lost in it. For this reason, this article needs a sum up, a conclusion at the end. My conclusion is this: that The Cotswolds Distillery has my respect. It’s a distillery that doesn’t cut corners, that tirelessly works to produce spirits to shine as a testament to their beloved local area, from the hard work of farmers plowing the fields of golden corn, to the beauty of the sunset after the day of work, to the light fragrances and soft sounds of wildlife that drift around in the evening; to the Cotswolds themselves. Their creativity has produced a large and varied range of spirits, wild and free, that still share a similar nature, a certain magic that can be found there and only there. And as harvest season is upon us, I raise a glass to everyone who works those beautiful fields and those whose imagination allows me to drink such an evocative thing and to imagine I’m sat amongst those fields myself.
Many thanks to Jack Barnard and Zoe Rutherford for hosting, for your assistance and the photos – courtesy of Cotswold Distillery.