That Boutique-y Gin Company are doing rather well for themselves.
I’ve got 4 bottles of various gins here and I’m trying to write a focused article on each one. (Lot’s to look forward to at Ginfluence HQ). The same day I start this little project, I get a parcel from TBGC with 10 samples of recent additions to their family of fantastic tinctures. I feel delightfully spoilt. I’ll cover 5 today, 5 next week, only to draw out the pleasure, dear reader.
They’ve got so much to offer! Working with existing distilleries and gins to create inventive spin offs and also their own one off gins.
So lets get started. It’s the quick fire round!
Neroli Gin, 46% : A rather special gin for the lovers of floral flavours, it uses Neroli oil which is extracted from the blossom of bitter orange trees. That bitterness is evened out beautifully by the addition of spicy juniper. Apparently it takes a tonne of flowers to make 1 kg of oil, and with the first batch at only 718 bottles, this is a pretty precious gin. With an opening heavy with floral, sweet spicy citrus palate and lingering finish. It’s going to be fantastic for cocktails and summer coolers.
Pan-Pacific Gin, Farallon Gin, 46%: An American Dry Gin, the idea being to contain botanicals from each side of the pacific. The signature botanicals in the instance are yuzu and schisandra berries. There’s a sweetness to this gin, vanilla kind of flavour that gives it the feel of an old tom. This is twisted nicely with spice and the warmth of juniper. This one is relatively simple in flavours on the palette, and worth owning because of the idea itself. For fans of TBGC 7 Continents Gin.
Cucamelon Gin, 46%: Well, here was me thinking that this gin would be a blend of cucumber and melon botanicals but as it stands, the cucamelon is its own thing, a fruit that looks like a small watermelon but tastes like cucumber with a slightly limey element. Soft and sweet in flavour, with a well balanced kick of juniper on the nose, lime pudding richness. The lime flavour does have a surprising kick. I’ll be sure to experiment with this in long, gin coolers when the summer returns.
CitroLondon Dry Gin, Fifty Eight Gin, 45%: A London Dry Gin, this has a fantastic story! So, the Fifty Eight Distillery has worked with author of 101 Gin To Try Before You Die, Ian Buxton, to create this lovely little nod to London’s distilling history. There is an unusual and ancient little citrus that’s been growing in London for eons, so what a fantastic idea to use that citrus to create a London Dry. Fantastic idea and fantastic gin. Massive citrus flavours that become more spicy as the flavour develops. Citrus gins are growing in popularity with fresh flavours. This one is a cracker.
Chocolate Cherry Gin, Mqueen, 42%: A marvellous creation, with sour cherry and cocoa. There is a delightful desert element, with notes of forest gateaux and kirsch soaked cherry. Although it seems like a particular flavour, and maybe not so adaptable, there’s a lot you can do with this gin. It’s not only good for sipping, it would also work wonderfully with cooking and my favourite is slipping it into a hot chocolate for an ultimate toe curling comforter and deeply sweet nights sleep. Perfect to see us through the next few cold months. I’ll take 2 please.
I normally put links to the relevant sites, but we know who they are, don’t we? Master of Malt, Amazon, as well as local suppliers. But full details can be found at the ‘where to buy’ section on TBGC’s website.
I’m feeling pretty good after getting stuck into these 5 special gins. Do tune in next week where I’ll be covering the others: Double Sloe Gin, Whittakers, Hot Sauce Gin, Finger Lime Gin, Strawberry and Balsamic Gin and the absolutely stunning Rhubarb Triangle gin, which seems to tickle every available rhubarb sensor in the mouth. Well done TBGC! Keep up the good work, and do please keep sending them my way!
With the summer slipping away like sand through our fingers, That Boutique-y Gin Company have done it again with a lovely little speciality, Spit Roasted Pineapple Gin.
Inspired by the second Golden Age of the cocktail (1950’s – 60’s), their Pineapple Gin is a lovely little ode to this bygone era, when liqueurs, cordials and fruit gins were all the rage. Some of the favourite flavoured gins were organs and lemon but there were other flavours, passionfruit, grapefruit and pineapple. Some of these fell out of fashion.
That Boutique-y Gin Company have brought back one of these fruit gins and has given it a 21st century twist. The result is the 40.1% ABV Spit Roasted Pineapple Gin, awarded the Master Medal at the Gin Masters 2017.
The gin is made from whole, peeled pineapples that have been coated with Demerara sugar and spit-roasted until caramelised. This is the combined with a base gin of a classic recipe, with a sturdy base of botanicals including Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Orange, Lemon, Nutmeg, Cassia, Cinnamon, Orris and Liquorice.
On the nose, I can really smell the pineapple with a hint of caramel at the end. These flavours move onto the palette nicely with the freshness of the sweet and sour pineapple moving onto a lovely, tart ginny finish, even after its died away the pineapple and gin are left mingling on the tongue.
And it seems that this wonderfully indulgent spirit is also very versatile. It’s good with ice and tonic, ginger beer, sparkling wine or Ting grapefruit soda. It can also be used in with fresh lime in daiquiris and Tiki cocktails. Spit-Roasted Pineapple Gin.
This lovely little gin is available in 50cl bottles, RRP £29.95. They can be purchased through Amazon, House of Malt, Master of Malt. It can also be found at Hedonism Wine, Selfridges and Starmore Boss.
What a lovely thing that is. Well done Boutiquey! Keep them coming!
Friday 24th February, I went on a lovely jolly up to London with the illustrious David T Smith and delightful Cherry Constable, in order to research for a new book. It’s a hard life, I tell you.
First up was the monumental Sipsmith Distillery. Now any discerning gin drinking will know the importance of Sipsmith. Back in 2009 they successfully completed a court process to allow small batch distillation again and set up the first distillery in London for approximately 200 years. Due to this, they are arguably the forefathers of the ‘glorious’ revolution we have been experiencing the last few years. They are essentially the gardener who pulled up the paving slabs and let the flowers grow.
With this in mind, you can perhaps understand my overwhelming excitement at visiting their distillery with new bar. It’s an interesting thing, discovering where the magic happens. The entrance to the distillery is purely functional, looking more like a garage for your MOT than one of the most successful and established gins in the artisanal range. As soon as we get inside however, it is apparent that the humble exterior is concealing all sorts of delightful surprises. A beautiful copper bar sits along the right hand wall with members of staff to run through the gins and give the all important tastings.
We were lucky enough to have a tasting session with the man himself, Master Distiller, Jared Brown. We began with their sipping vodka, the 40% spirit used to make the gin. The taste is sublimely smooth and sets a good standard for the quality and flavour of the gin. ‘Sipping vodka’ is an extremely adequate name.
We slowly worked through the range. Beginning with the London Dry a classic soft pine, sweet citrus “dry meadow flower warm spice, lime grass with pepper in the long finish”. During distillation a narrow heart is collected and there are differing opinions on filtering, Jared putting forward the good point that filtering can remove qualities as well as impurities. When it comes to the recipe they had a mission: “In the absence of a bench mark we set out to create a bench mark, a dry gin made in London”.
The tasting session was full of really delicious and interesting and information on the distillation process. or example during the production of the Lemon Drizzle, fresh fruit was used plus hand squeezed peel. That’s a lot of work and a lot of love in every bottle. I thought that it tasted good, and now I know why.
We also tried the VJOP (Very, Junipery Over proof), London Cup (a punch using the London Dry) and the Sloe, all fabulous gins indeed. The wall to the left of the bar is covered with large round bottles of experimental flavours. It’s quite clear that Sipsmith do strive to create spirits of quality with a specific, almost scientific approach but that creativity is still thriving. I’d definitely recommend a visit there. It’s a fantastic place and the people are lovely. Well done guys and girls!
Feeling considerably light headed, we then moved on to ‘The Distillery’, the Portobello Road Distillery with Gintonica bar and hotel. What a beautiful place that is and a fantastic idea to boot. The decor is gorgeous with deep blues and greens on the walls with huge sash windows giving a beautiful sense of decadence to the building. There was something romantic about it, as if it had the capacity to transport us back in time to the days of the true gin palaces. It really is a lovely place.
The Gintonica Bar is equally special. We were lucky enough to meet James, who is responsible for writing the cocktail menu, a fantastic twist on the growing popularity of Spanish serve gin and tonic in copa glasses, a halfway house between the gin and tonic and the cocktail. There were some fantastic options, my favourite being one including Nordes Atlantic Galician Gin with hibiscus, orange and ginger.
Portobello Road have also been experimental with their flavours. I was lucky enough to try their ‘Butter Gin’, the sweetness was strong and very nice, making this a prime base to use with cocktails holding any sort of peanut butter or chocolate flavours. They also produce a ‘Director’s Cut’, utilising the unusual botanical of late season English Asparagus. The flavour is wonderful and very unusual.
Finally getting to visit the Sipsmith Distillery was a fantastic experience and one I’ve been waiting patiently for, for so long now. It feels ever so good to finally tick it off my list! As for the Portobello Road Gin Hotel, what a beautiful building. Their Gintonica Bar is 100% worth a visit. Lots of interesting gins as well as there own variations and their cocktail menu is gorgeous. Thank you for having us!
Sunday 2nd October marked the first of a new run of Gin Tasting Evenings to happen at the Wine Vaults, Portsmouth. Brainchild of Business woman Tracie Sharp, they are also to be joined by brandy and even whisky tasting evenings later on. Well worth keeping an eye on.
Tracie runs ‘Your Platinum Events’ and has already been putting on occasions such as Ascot and Goodwood trips. She’s a fantastically bubbly and honest character. Incredibly determined and hardworking, she has already won awards for her efforts, Business Woman of the Year 2015 and Social Enterprise Business Woman 2015. She doesn’t do things by halves.
Held upstairs in the wonderfully homely setting, the long table managed to accommodate 20 people. On arrival there were goody bags on the chairs waiting for us, each containing miniature Hendricks, Fever Tree Tonic and Juniper berries amongst other things. What with the Williams Chase Sloe and Prosecco cocktail on arrival, nibbles on the table and 6 gins on the menu it was already shaping up to be very good value for the £25 ticket.
Once everybody was arrived and seated the festivities got under way. Helen Stevens, the General Manager of the Wine Vaults, led the evening with a talk about gin in general and then a guide through each one. We started with Sipsmith, with her telling us a little bit about Sipsmiths themselves, before our assistant put one down in front of each of us.
In front of us were trays with different botanical garnishes. Lot of options including the standard lemon and lime as well as more exotic ginger and rose petals. There were also different tonic options, standard, elderflower and rose lemonade.
The name of the game was to mix and match, initially trying the straight gin to talk amongst us and work out the base flavours. From that we then added ice and our choice of tonic and garnish. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but it was fun and all part of the learning process. In all fairness I’m pretty sure the only wastage was a nice lady next to me choosing to add wasabi peas to one of her creations. Helen was careful to confirm the base notes with us before we added the extras so we had something to go on.
We worked through Sipsmith, Ophir, Gin Mare, Monkey 47, William Chase Extra Dry and Tanquery Ten, with intervals after each two. As the night went on, everybody naturally limbered up and became more talkative. The group were very social and I believe are all planning to return. There were some nice twists and I learnt quite a lot. For example, Monkey 47 going with tarragon. That is a new and lovely thing for me.
Finally, things got serious with the surprise quiz. 10 Questions on what we had learnt that evening and a bottle of Hendricks was at stake. Not having one in my collection (shame on me, I know) gave me sweaty palms. Competition was tight though and it seemed that I wasn’t the only one. Four of us scored almost perfect and had to approach the front for the tie breaker question. I’m sad to say that I fell at the final hurdle but we all warmly congratulated the very happy winner.
Tracie and Helen clearly put a lot of effort into the night. It was generous, informative and really good fun. I can highly recommend it and I’ll certainly be going again.
There is another night, a special ‘Gins of the World’ edition on 6th of November. Tracie and Helen explained that they wanted to try different gins as much as possible so people could come another time and experience a new thing. This attention to detail is one of the most exciting things about these nights as I can see them growing better and better each time.
There I was, minding my own business when I get a message from a JJ Lawrence of Tiger Gin asking if I had tried the gin and would I like a sample.
Well, of course I would.
In a matter of days the ‘tiger cub’ 50cl sample bottle arrived. I was working on other articles at the time so promised myself I’d wai. until I could give it my full focus. Occasionally I’d look up from my laptop and my eyes would naturally fall to rest on the curious vessel. Enticing, intriguing, there was something reminiscent of the temptation of the Alice in Wonderland ‘drink me’ bottle. What magic would I unlock? I had to keep reminding myself that patience is a virtue.
JJ Lawrence is an intriguing character. From his initial contact I had a little root around online and couldn’t find too much about him. To talk to he seems friendly and buoyant, a true Shropshire lad. No pushover either. His love of all things stripy led to the name Tiger Gin. Tiger tattoos, tiger attitude and an intention to donate towards Save the Tiger/Born Free, meant the name was close to his heart and he trademarked it. To multi billion pound global company Heineken however, it was a little too close to one of their products, the infamous Tiger Beer. Heineken contacted him to drop the name and in true tiger spirit he fought the whole way through, from 2 years of an appointed top London Trademark Attorney, all the way to Court where he had to appoint a top London Trade Mark Barrister to make his defence. Despite the financial concerns and his wife’s pleas to call it ‘Big Cat’ instead he stood his ground and eventually and triumphantly he won. Beating such a large company in Court is quite the achievement. As he put it “No one likes a bully”.
Indeed no one does like a bully and in my mind it’s important for this modern day David to stand up to one of this worlds Goliath companies. This astonishing gin revival we are blessed to be experiencing in recent years is built solely on the change of law allowing small batch distilleries. This in turn led to the boom of independent business, men and women chasing gin flavoured dreams and by doing so delivering us, the humble consumer, a spectrum of taste and smell so colourful, Van Gogh could take them and paint a masterpiece. As beautiful as trees are in a forest, they still need to let a little light into the undergrowth to allow rare and individual flowers to grow. What a beautiful forest that is. I personally think he has every right to feel proud of his victory.
A long love of gin, it’s history and the eastern spices that give Tiger Gin it’s personality have led to him thinking he could contribute a valuable product and he’s jumped head first into a new endeavour in an unfamiliar industry. “The process” he says, “has been very challenging indeed”.
As recommended I try some over ice. I’m immediately hit by the sweetness. The quality of a gin is immediately notable from it’s taste. There’s a strength in flavour but no harshness. The ingredients come from the far reaches of the world including juniper from the Balkans, coriander seeds from Eastern Europe, cut and dried angelica root from France and Belgium, dried sweet lemon and orange peel from Spain, cassia bark from China, liquorice root powder from the Mediterarranean, ground nutmeg from the West Indies, cinnamon bark from Madagascar, orris root powder from Italy and two secret ingredients that I just can’t put my finger on. It’s an impressive set of credentials.
Sipping a glass of perfect serve Tiger Gin, marbling in Fever-Tree tonic and orange garnish is the drinking equivalent of laying in the heady glow of an Indian summer, basking in nature’s warmth, absorbing and recharging by the power of the glorious sunshine. That’s what Tiger Gin feels like to drink.
Now it should be apparent to readers of my previous articles that I’ve a soft spot for the sweetness of orange with gin. Be it in botanical make up or garnish, it compliments the flavour so well on my palette. Refreshing as well as indulging, the delicacy of that gentle sweetness is difficult to match. Bathtub Gin was once my gin of choice…I also have a particular soft spot for COLD’s Christopher Wren, but now, I have also discovered Tiger Gin. How would I describe the difference? Tiger Gin is bold. The strength of flavour is only matched by the strength of attitude in JJ Lawrence himself. The future will hopefully see his intention of sharing his lovely gin with the world (he’s currently exceeding 60,000 followers) and things are going up with him being rewarded with silver in the Gin Masters 2016.
Although his sights are aimed on being recognised as one of the best gins in the world, one of my favourite things abut JJ Lawrence is his recognition of others. When I asked what advice he could give others getting into gin making he replied ‘I would wish them well. I don’t concentrate on what other people are doing. I don’t compete, I create”.
One of the things that baffles me about our hometown of Portsmouth, is that despite our Victorian and nautical heritage, there is a distinct lack of gin in our history.
Am I missing a trick here?
I’m wondering if it simply wasn’t documented. It’s a subject I am highly interested in and dedicated to uncovering. If anyone out there has any stories or information, please do get in contact. It would satisfy my restless heart and I’d love to write about it.
Nonetheless, every day is history in the making and look at us now, in the midst of this gin revolution. The number of distilleries in Britain has doubled in only 6 years according to a recent article in the Telegraph and let’s be honest, with the huge array of flavours achievable through natures glorious palette of botanicals, there is room for everyone. Along with distilleries, gin bars and gin evenings have been popping up like straws out of fizz since the law was changed in 2009 and there’s a world of gin out there for the discerning drinker. Even JD Wetherspoons have managed to bag some very good brands for their ‘gin palace’ selection, including craft gin revolution forefathers, Sipsmiths themselves.
So, what to do as a beginner. Well, we can research online. Or more fun we could venture into a local gin bar for recommendations and explanations of flavour. We now have another option. The Gin Festival, an opportunity to learn together, stopping on its national tour in the Guildhall of our beautiful city.
Lock your doors. The gin fiends are out in force and tonight I walk amongst them.
The queue was full anticipation and the well dressed and it moved quickly. Once inside we had an introduction from Laura, and provided with very own copa glass, gin book, pen and order form, we were ready to be let loose. There were four areas as such, the main arena with live music and the gin stalls: A&B: British, C: International and D: fruit/sloes/liquors, the cocktail bar with vendor sample stalls, the masterclasses and an outside space with food and a punch bar.
The people were plentiful and our immersion into this collection of chic, geeky and fun loving drinkers was quick and natural. The gin books with introduction, recommended Fever-Tree tonic and garnish for each and every gin proved incredibly effective for those still learning and took the weight off the staff if they didn’t know an answer about a particular one of the good 100 gins on offer. It was however, very impressive what they did know and there was a definite passion, pride and patience in explanation that made learning a more fun and comfortable experience. It was also obvious that they were enjoying themselves too and the bubbling correspondence between them and the drinkers made for a tantalising and somewhat boisterous atmosphere.
My advice is, that it’s imperative to try a sip before the adding tonic. By adding tonic you are creating a completely different drink, garnish an additional element entirely. Some gins are made to be sipped on their own, some are made to be opened up by the right tonic pairing. To get a true understanding of the complexity of flavours in a gin it’s important to try it both ways. Terribly hard work, that.
With so many to choose from it made it difficult to choose at all. We started with Bluebottle, a gin that made an appearance as part of the Craft Gin Club on Dragons Den and has also won both a gold award in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the Gin Masters 2016. Not a bad set of credentials and with such a beautiful and powerful taste including notes of floral and spice it delivers what it promises.
As we enjoyed our first of many, we took time to contemplate the offerings in the Gin Book and our next selection was a no brainer for me. Dictador Columbian Ortodoxy Premium Aged Gin, a Columbian twist on our favourite tipple. The sugar cane spirit base and ageing in rum barrels gave a deliciously sweet underbelly to its more tart juniper and citrus elements.
It was shortly after this, and still with two gins left, I started to contemplate the possibility of buying more tokens. I then started considering how much I would have to spend to try every gin I wanted, finally reassuring myself that although that wasn’t possible, the Dictador had already been a brilliant discovery and had made my night worthwhile. This voyage of discovery is the very magic at the heart of the Gin Festival.
It was about time to check out the cocktail bar. With a lovely little collection of gin themed cocktails such as the Rhubarb Rumble with proceeds going to charity, there was something for everyone. I spoke to a seasoned chap who had clearly found his place and had decided the Rumble was his favourite thing ever. His joy was infectious and he wasn’t the only one. Two hours in everyone was beaming brightly in their gin tinted glasses.
The vendor stalls were fantastic. I just love the opportunity to meet distillers and representatives to talk to them about their gin in detail. I firmly believe that understanding the story behind the gin gives the flavour an extra depth that’s simply unachievable by taste alone. I counted Locksley, Masons, Whitley Neil, Copper House, Conker, Pinkster and Brockmans, who together were a brilliant collection with lots of variety between them.
Sir Robin of Locksley Gin was a delight. Elderflower and Dandelion with pink grapefruit that gives it a wonderful sweetness. In addition, elderflower tonic lights it up into a fresh and dewy spring day of a drink. This was one of my favourites and recommendations of the evening.
Brockmans have been on my list for a while and they didn’t disappoint. The blueberry and blackberry tones came alive and fizzled like sparklers with ginger ale. Absolutely made for the Autumn months to warm our hearts when creeping chills hint of the coming winter and the crackles and smoke of bonfires fill the air.
It was lovely to meet a couple of the guys from Conker. Living in Bournemouth for a while, I’d heard of them bringing out the first Dorset gin for over 100 years and I’d been, as once a local, rooting for them to do well. They certainly have with a combination of earthy compounds including elderberries, samphire and gorse which they forage regularly in their local area, a delightful pastime if it weren’t for the prickliness of the bushes.
It was good to see Masons there too. I’m already a fan of their tea gin (marvellous in a marmalade Martini) and was lucky enough to try their lavender gin which was stunning. Not the heavy floral taste we’d expect, but soft, gentle and sweet. It’s on my Christmas list, which was by that point, growing longer by the minute.
The food smelt incredible and on venturing outside we found two stalls and the punch bar. A nice chat with host Peter revealed we had just missed the last of his special punch, an unusual milk and citrus marvel that he based upon a recipe that was over a century old. I would love to go into more detail on this, and fingers crossed that may happen down the line, so watch this space.
Back to the main arena and the music was flowing. Speakeasy style fiddle and guitar from two very talented musicians really got the mood going. I went in for a Strathearn Oaked Highland Gin, on the rocks as recommended by the rather knowledgeable barman. The website recommends serving with an equal measure of orange juice for a brunch drink, the Gin Harvey Wallbanger. I’m doing that as soon as possible. Life has many heavens to me and one of them is sipping on a whisky gin.
And another would be Tarquin’s Single Estate Cornish Tea Gin Ltd Edition. This absolutely outstanding gin has been made exclusively for the festival. With Tregothan tea Camellia sinensis, kaffir lime, ginger and bee pollen it is both a delicacy and a triumph. Floral notes, warmth and the most wonderful sweetness that lingers on the tongue. I am heartbroken at its passing and live in hope they release a public batch. If you like the sound of this, it’s worth checking out South Western Distillery, they are creating some wonderful things at the moment.
I confess, through the fun I was having what with talking to all the lovely people about gin, drinking said gin, furiously writing notes and having the occasional dance time just raced past and I missed the masterclasses. I did however catch up with the lovely gentleman from Locksley Distilleries who explained that during his masterclass (120-140 people in attendance), he had spoken a little about EU regulation and explained that they were about lots of different aspects of gin and between them they’d tried to cover lots of these.
I wish I could have stayed longer, the time ran out far too quickly but that’s always a good sign. All the extras like Hobo Tom Photography really kept the party moving. Tom is the official photographer for the Gin Festival and you can see his work in much of their marketing. He took some amazing photos taken there, and some a bit of fun, one of my good friend Dave and me is posted below. Before we knew it, we were spilling out into the streets of Portsmouth, clinging defensively to our copa glasses and chattering excitedly about all our favourite findings. It seems that everyone was in agreement that it was a big step up from last year. The Gin Festival began in 2012 when Jym and Marie Harris wanted to up the ante on the gin bars they’d visited and that idea has grown and grown. Four years down the line and business is booming. This year there are 28 locations around the UK. Next year it’s looking to be 40.
Since I first discovered the gin revolution it has blossomed into a renaissance, with Artisan distillers putting love, money and pride into creating truly beautiful gins. It’s an interest for adults to indulge and socialise in, sharing knowledge, enthusiasm and a bit of good old fashioned fun. Despite Portsmouth’s lacking history in gin, we are gaining momentum for the future. What with establishments such as Gin and Olive offering very good selections, local distilleries like the Isle Of Wight offering mighty gins such as Mermaids and the Might HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin and now the Gin Festival, maybe it’s Portsmouth’s time to shine and to take on the gin torch that it’s deserved for so many years. Who’s with me? Raise your glasses! Chin chin!
Many thanks to Laura at the Gin Festival for the press passes.
Also huge thanks to my good friend David Scotland for the photography. If you like his style you can find out more about him here and look at and purchase his work from here.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of London City, nestled quietly down Bride Lane and just out of reach of the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral; sits the humble entrance to COLD or to those in the know, the City of London Distillery.
The distillery opened in late 2012 and was the first within the City of London Square Mile for 200 years, (the Victorian gin craze has a lot to answer for). The Square Mile, or ‘City of London’ is a city inside a city, with their own Mayor and police force…so it makes perfect sense that they should have their own distillery.
So how did COLD come about? In 1967 a gentleman called Jonathon Clarke was a 16 year old dishwasher in the golf club/bar that previously occupied the premises, living on £32.50 a week. He would go on to purchase the freehold in 1997 and at 50 years old would get into gin and tonic, eventually becoming Master Distiller of COLD.
Descending down the stairs away from the close heat of outside, the understated and subtle entrance hides a beautiful speakeasy style underground bar that opens up into a blissfully relaxing space that feels a world away from the busy streets just above. Today I’m meeting Alfie Amayo, Brand Ambassador and COLD know-it-all for a distillery tour and tasting and boy, does he know a trick or two! Despite being not long back from a business trip to Switzerland, he’s excitable and engaging, with his torrent of knowledge being broken down into sizeable chunks by pausing to ask questions, keeping me well on my toes. He’s full of fantastic gin related tit bits such as the ancient medicinal uses for juniper, including its use during the bubonic plague and as a contraception (not to be tried at home ladies and gentlemen, there is little proof it worked).
The distillery is a beautiful set up and it spotless. Approximately 9ft x 14ft in size, it’s made up of Jennifer and Clarissa, 2 x 140L copper pot stills and named after the 2 fat ladies. Also a fabulous 7 level column still, which really is very clever indeed. The first step is cleaning the spirit. White spirit, which can be made from starchy materials such as grain or potato is brought in, (it’s actually quite rare for a distillery to make their own). In this case it’s wheat based and through Jennifer it’s cleaned to remove as much of the methonal as possible.
The spirit is mixed with water then heated by an electric coil (as we know alcohol is incredibly flammable and despite the bomb proof glass surrounding the equipment, we certainly don’t want a explosion). It’s made up of methanol (the bad stuff) which evaporates at 67.4deg, ethanol (the good stuff) which evaporates at 74deg and water, which as we know evaporates at 100deg (all Celsius). During this process the sulphites react with the copper, making copper sulphite (surprise) which needs to be cleaned from the walls of the still regularly. This over time thins the metal, meaning a full replacement is required very 10 years or so. Not a cheap endeavour when we’re talking highly sought after German Carl equipment. In fact, in just 3 years, public demand means the waiting list has soared from 4 months to 18, which is perfect testament to the fabulous gin revival that we’re lucky to be living in, well I feel blessed for certain.
The 7 plate column still then filters, as the vapour rises it hitting the metal sheets, cooling it down and separating the methanol and ethanol by condensation. Ethanol comes out at 95% and Alfie explains the finer details that it will always react with the environment to be at 95%, higher levels are only achievable in a controlled environment.
Once the spirit is clean, the single shot distillation can begin with Clarissa. Micro distilleries such as this, producing 200 bottles per batch can use the single-shot process; the botanicals, alcohol and water being distilled into a liquid where only water is added. Companies making larger batches need to use the multi-shot method, where are the gin ‘concentrate’ is created through distillation and then watered and sugared down into it’s final form.
It’s this single shot method, that requires full attention and care from the distiller. A distillation has to be watched at all times as the changing pressure can alter the times and volumes and each batch must come out perfectly. There is just no room for error when there’s no way of altering the final taste. The botanicals are put in the still with half alcohol and half water. This is to prevent them from getting closer to the coil and burning as the alcohol evaporates as this would impair the final flavour. He admits after playing with different waters to see how it would affect the final taste, they prefer to use water that’s been purified through a reverse osmosis machine. It’s interesting to note that pure water is actually quite dangerous for us, but when it’s mixed with alcohol it’s ok, thank goodness.
Of every 80L, the first 500ml distilled will be the methanol, or the ‘heads’, this is collected in a jug and discarded by a company in an environmentally friendly manner (there are different methods such as it being sold on to make nail varnish remover), the next 63L is the ethanol or the ‘heart’ and is collected in large, metal churns. The ‘tails’ left over from the process consist of broken down compounds and are not used in the gin.
Alfie takes me through a room full of mini stills (for gin making classes), to the tasting room which is stacked with different gins and small jars full of different dry botanicals. Here we get to grips with the individual smells and tastes of piney juniper, coriander to add spicey and citrus notes, liquorice to sweeten and angelica to give the flavour a good earthy base. These are the base flavours for City of London gins and there are different varieties that have their own twist. All are made by forefather, Jonathon Clarke, bar the Christopher Wren gin, which I have read good things about and incredibly eager to try. The bottles are new, designed especially for COLD and take inspiration from their neighbour, St Paul’s Cathedral.
No1. City of London Dry – 41.3% – Amongst the base 4 botanicals, there is a wonderful combination of orange, lemon and pink grapefruit which gives a lovely zesty finish. It’s a delicate dry gin with a superb flavour and winner of the Silver Award for the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2015.
No2. Christopher Wren – 45.3% – Created by Tanqueray distiller Tom Nichol, this was the one I’d been eager to try, with the addition of sweet orange, the flavour is divine. Named after the architect responsible for rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral after the great fire of 1666, this gin proves itself as an architect of flavour by winning Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2016.
No3. Old Tom – 43.3% – I’m a fan of Old Tom gins. As well as a bit of history (you can read more on this in my A fantastical history of gin), my palette likes a sweetened gin if it’s done right. Distillers have to be careful. Sometimes they can be too thick, almost syrupy in flavour and consistency. I have to say, this Old Tom is brilliant. Really delicately flavoured and on the nose with balance of cassia and cardamom spice and a slight hint of sour from zesty orange and lemon.
No4. Sloe gin – 28% – Made with Blackthorn berries, this is an excellent example of a sloe gin. A slow gin has to be sweetened as it’s just to sour on its own. Again, COLD have delicately sidestepped over sweetening with a well balanced sloe gin that leaves a tingle of tartness on the tongue. This is not surprisingly, the winner of Silver-Outstanding Award in the International Wine and Spirit Competition 2015.
No5. Square Mile – 47.3% – Similar base to the dry gin, but with a little tweak and some extra strength. Coriander is used to give additional citrusy flavours as too much citrus would make the drink to oily and cause it to turn milky when added to tonic. This gin is a well deserved tribute to the home of COLD. Winner of the Gold San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2016.
After a few drinks I was comfortable and heady so I stayed talking all things gin with Alfie for quite some time and to be honest, I could have stayed longer. COLD is a beautiful place, steeped in history and passion from the people that work there. Everything alludes to their love of gin, from the delicacy and complexity of flavour to the constant homage to their history. Through Alfie’s time and patience I probably learnt more of the technicalities of craftsmanship than any of my meetings to date. I can’t recommend it here enough, at minimum for a drink or ideally for a distillery tour/gin tasting because it’s a brilliant experience that’s fun and oh so interesting. And please, please do yourself a favour and seek out the Christopher Wren. It’s gorgeous.
Further to my previous blog Tell me, what’s your flavour?, my good friend Lewys Pharoah at Gin and Olive has spent a great deal of time going through the our gins and has compiled a list of gins in their flavour brackets. He’s separated sloe gins and extra strength but kept the liqueurs in their relevant flavour category. There is also one red herring non-gin in the list. Can you spot it?
Now it’s safe to say with the ever changing gin world there’ll be changes made. Of course new gins will be added and over hazy late night debate some categories could be changed. Still, I think it only fair to keep all gins on the list, even when out of production. This a brilliant reference for anyone starting down the gin road and in time could prove a very fruitful document.
Any suggestions, please get in touch!
Haymans Old Tom
Tanqueray Old Tom
Gabriel Boudier Saffron
Warner Edwards Rhubarb
Spencerfield Raspberry – liqueur
Martin Miller Original
Hammer & Son Old Pot (sweet)
Blackdown Sussex (dry)
Spencerfield Orange – liqueur
Square One Botanical
London No.1 Blue
Spencerfield Elderflower – liqueur
Haymans London Dry
Tanqueray (import and export strength)
London Dry No.3
Moonshine Kid Dogs Nose
Warner Edwards Harrington Dry
Portobello Road No.171
Martin Miller Westbourne Strength
Plymouth Navy Strength
Warner Edwards Harrington sloe
William Chase Sloe
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.