Mary Rose Gin – the launch of HMS Spirits

There’s a new nautical gin in town.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.