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.

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Batch Premium Gin – A review

Phil Whitwell of Batch contacted me some time ago to request I take the time to try his new gin and write a few words. What an absolute pleasure. Soon after, bottle #123 of batch #12 arrived. The numbers are written lovingly in gold pen, onto a gorgeous and very elegant bottle containing a gin that won Silver medal in the San Francisco World Spirit Competition 2015. For good reason too, as it has one of the most distinctive flavours I’ve tried yet and it will certainly have a home on my shelf.

The micro distillery of Batch Brew Ltd is nestled up in Burnley, Lancashire. Although the family based company started brewing beer, they soon moved into spirits and they’re aiming to put the North West on the map. Only launched in Dec 14, they are already making good headway and are looking to set up a cooperative to allow the local micro distillers to work together and become a stronger force in today’s growing market.

There are 12 botanicals listed on the bottle (if you’re new to gin, notes on flavours can be found in my previous post Tell me, what’s your flavour). In addition to core flavours, such as orange, clove, nutmeg, allspice and cardamom, there are the trademark frankincense and myrrh that puts it well into the spicy category and also slips it into a deep and earthy realm that invokes naked feet in land and grass. Quite rightly, the juniper is not overridden by the heady mix of warming spices. More so, they are dancing together in the sunset of the beautiful bitter orange finish.

Starting out as brewers of craft-ales, Batch’s idea to instead focus solely on gin production came about in Spain where Phil –on a business trip– found himself exploring Madrid. After experiencing so many gins and garnishes amongst Spain’s rich drinking culture he sought to find a unique blend of botanicals that were inspired by the ancient Turk and Moor spice caravans, and it is inspiration well found, as it makes for a fabulous sipping gin, and that is certainly my favourite way to drink it.

That said, it was only right to try it with a few mixers and I’m partial to Fever Tree. The delicate flavourings and high quality of ingredients do a gin justice, really bring out certain flavours and can create an entirely different experience. I took the time to drink it with each one. Indian tonic, ginger ale, bitter lemon and elderflower and I enjoyed every one.

As to how the flavoured tonics worked, the spices disappeared into the ginger, the elderflower disappeared into the gin and the bitter lemon came out on top. The warm spices bring out a delicious lemon meringue flavour that I found very hard to put down. What a combination!

With this gin however, Indian tonic works best. With such a definitive taste, it’s best to give it the limelight. Speaking of lime, lime and raspberries work incredibly well as a garnish and are featured as the perfect gin and tonic from Batch themselves, although we are all encouraged to experiment (which as we know is part of the fun of gin drinking).

One thing’s for certain, one of my favourite aspects of this gin is its versatility. A gin launched in the depths of colder months with botanicals echoing of Christmas, that can be drunk as a fresh G&T in the summer and as a cosy sipping gin in winter, only promises to be a favourite all year round.

Tell me, what’s your flavour?

So, as I see it there are 8 main brackets of gin flavour (Do let me know if you think otherwise). To know and understand these is a good starting point as no matter how well made a gin is, it’s all still a matter of taste. The next step is to understand how each botanical tastes and smells (we’ll get into that another time). Sooner or later you can gauge what bracket a gin will fall into by looking at the listed botanicals.

A list of gins and their flavour brackets can be found in my post Make a suggestion – The gin list This list is sure to grow and if you have any comments – suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Sweet
I do love a good sweet gin. Old Tom gins are my particular favourite. With a nice hit of liquorice (and sometimes added sugar), the gin has a deep and naturally sweet undertone. Haymans were one of the gin makers to look at reviving this older forgotten recipe (a brief story of old tom is included in my fantastical history of gin). Many have followed suit including those big hitters Tanqueray. Their Old Tom gin is a limited edition (only 150,000 bottles have been produced). If you’re sweet enough then try mixing it with bitter lemon for a well balanced and unusual flavour (this also works fabulously with Cream gin created by the Worship Street Whistling Shop).

Savoury
Savoury flavours are big at the moment and the gin on everyone’s lips has to be Gin Mare (pronounced Mar-ray). Served with basil and Fever Tree’s Mediterranean tonic water it makes for a crisp and refreshing G&T. The rosemary and lemongrass in the tonic sets the sweetness of the basil off nicely. Savoury flavours are bursting with herby botanicals and foodstuffs such as Olives. They also comfortably lend themselves towards other brackets so some fantastic balances can be achieved. Twisted Nose for example, is a wonderful, locally produced gin with peppery watercress and floral lavender.

Spicy
Some like it hot. This is also true with gin. Some G&Ts can be served with a garnish of fresh chilli giving an extra kick to an already warming flavour. Great to take your summer drink right on through the autumn before we’re all drowning in a sea of hot toddies and mulled wine. Bathtub gin is a favourite of mine with hints of comforting clove and orange. Monkey 47 also certainly deserves a mention, with 6 different peppers and one of the longest lists of botanicals in a gin.

Citrus
Gin needs citrus. It’s a fundamental part of most gins and most products use peel for their flavour. There are a handful that don’t, including the world renowned Tanqueray Ten. Tanqueray have also been pretty clever with the creation of Tanqueray Rangpur. Based on an old tradition of using the rare rangpur limes to smooth down the flavour, it delivers a gorgeous hit of fruitiness when sipped on it’s own. There are others out there so if you like your drink a little tart these will be the ones to look into.

Floral
Floral gins are summer in a glass. Delicate and flavoursome they are a stark contrast to the enormity of the Juniper we can taste in standard gin recipes. That said, they are the perfect base for any elderflower cocktail. Bloom is well worth comment. With camomile and honeysuckle it delivers a superbly sweet and gentle flavour. The Botanist Islay is up there as one if my favourites. Created by a whisky distiller, there are at least 31 botanicals in its recipe and 22 are native and hand foraged. The result is a complex floral taste with deep hints of earthiness from the surrounding bog and its as if the drink itself is a homage to our earth.

Dry
This is what most gin drinkers expect and in fact, this is a underlying flavour in the huge majority of gins as Juniper does have a naturally dry taste. For those of us after something special, No 3 London Dry Gin delivers. Keeping the recipe simple with only 3 fruits and 3 spices used, it’s clean, crisp and everything you expect from gin. This drink stands for good quality and makes the valuable statement that excellence comes from simplicity, just as much as complexity.

Juniper Driven
One for the true gin drinker. Juniper is the original and definitive gin flavouring. Although we’ve had a recent explosion in flavour experimentation there are some drinkers that feel if you can’t fully taste the juniper, it’s not a real gin. A wonderful example is Sipsmiths VJOP (Very Junipery Overproof). At 57% – Navy rum strength, this stuff really packs a wallop. There are plenty of other gins that are juniper driven but still carry a notable background flavour.

Liqueur
There are a variety of tasty gin liqueurs to be tried. Being a liqueur the abv is much lower than the standard 40% and at around 20% they are lovely to sip over ice. Spencerfield Edinburgh gin have a fabulous range including a raspberry one that really tickles me in the right places. I’ve also found it works brilliantly as a replacement for desert wine.