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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Paul Bower, the creator of the locally renowned Twisted Nose was the first distiller I had the joy and good fortune to meet. Not only was he a gentleman, he was also to keen to tell the secrets of a gin that continues to grow in popularity. Produced locally in Winchester, Twisted Nose is an ode to the surrounding area. The trademark peppery watercress and lavender have been grown locally for centuries (the name Twisted Nose itself comes from Nasturtium – Latin for watercress). Keeping defining notes in the recipe to local ingredients was an intentional move from Paul, who insists that the best gins come with their own story, and a bit of history. His passion is apparent in his words and his obvious enthusiasm in his craft. Bringing along his first copper pot still, there is a certain sense of well earnt pride in what he’s established. The years of experimenting with flavours and timings are starting to pay off. Having a new premises on the horizon and with business booming, he hasnt let it go to his head and still personally distills each and every batch to determine where the best hearts are and he sets his standards high. “Yes” he acknowledges, ‘”I still take extreme care with each distillation”. Meeting him was a true eye opener to my early days of gin knowledge, as he had also brought along a small kilner jar of each of the botanicals he uses so we could identify the individual scents. This was a huge stepping stone in my understanding of each botanical and what it delivers to the overall ‘gin flavour’ we know and love. Juniper, citrus peel (Paul chooses grapefruit to give a different twist), cassia, fennel and with angelica and oris root to seal it, all became definable and I’ve ever since been able to pick those flavours out of any gins I try, and understand how the varying intensities affect each flavour.
The success of his gin has also allowed him to explore new territories. He let us sample his new sloe gin, with a more fresh and natural approach to flavour than what we taste in the sweeter existing varieties. Next was an incredibly flavourful wasabi vodka (a must for any bloody mary) and a remarkable and very different vermouth. A strong hit of wormwood gives this a beautifully earthy and rustic taste and I immediately wonder what a gin martini would be like. There is also a barrel aged gin, for those after something a little special. His knowledge is astute and the gin is aged in German oak barrels for several weeks. The choice of barrel is a reference to those widely used to transport gin in days gone by and the delivered flavour is wholesome and honest. There is most certainly a sincerity in natural flavour that is dazzling but humble and this style is really what makes his range stand out. The vermouth is definitely on my wishlist (It’s my birthday in August, in case you were wondering Paul).
Now I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re feeling thirsty. If you want any info on the Twisted Nose range (including where to find it), you can find out more at the website here and if you’re local to Portsmouth, why not pop into Gin and Olive for a quick tipple. Thank you Paul for creating a fabulous range of drinks, for putting your heart and soul in to such a dedicated task and for allowing my realising gin fanatics would love to read about distillers such as yourself. Good luck with the move! Can’t wait to see what you’ve got lined up next!