At a Juniper Society moot DBS met a South African chap called Byron from the Gabriel Collective who was looking to distribute beer from his home country in the UK, but he also had a couple of gins in his portfolio. It wasn’t really his main focus but when we met up he had a couple of bottles for us to try. In fact they were the only bottles in the country—just check out the batch numbers in the photo below.
The Savier Spirit Co. offers a couple of gins, a vodka and a cocoa vodka, made in North Carolina and bottled in South Africa. Whether it would ever be economically viable then to ship the bottles to the UK I don’t know, so you may never encounter them commercially, but they make interesting sipping. Both gins are organic, certified for the USDA National Organic Program by the CCOF.
The back label of the Artisan Gin refers to “copper botanical trays”, suggesting a Carter Head type still where the alcohol vapour passes through the botanicals on its way to being recondensed, but in fact both gins are a mixture of this process and the traditional process where botanicals are macerated in the liquid base spirit before distillation. The Artisan Gin immediately strikes you as a ginny gin—you probably hear that a lot now, but it really is quite single-minded in its juniper character and consequent emphasis on the high notes (plus a bit of something like ginger, some cucumber and something a shade pungent like fennel). Whereas a lot of modern gins focus on softening, sweetening mid-range spice elements, as if to make them palatable on their own, this product seems to be saying, “Drink a gin neat? Are you a barbarian?”
Duly chastened I try it with water and with tonic, and a distinct character emerges of not just juniper but also that cucumber again. I confess my immediate reaction was that it seemed rather refreshing to encounter a gin that stuck to its guns and delivered a flavour that played its role in a mix, rather than pandering to an approachable neat serve that might appeal to vodka drinkers or those who find gin too dry and scary. If they could import it at a relatively affordable price I think they could have a winner—not least among the organic crowd. Rui Esteves from the Gabriel Collective tells me that in fact there is no cucumber in either gin. (Although of course Hendrick’s and Martin Miller’s have already established a bridgehead for cucumber flavour in gin.)
But the other gin in the portfolio is altogether more intriguing: they call it a “Juniper Gin”. “What gin isn’t?” you may ask. Well, what marks this out from the pack is that rather than just macerating juniper berries in the starter spirit then distilling this, Savier then re-macerate some of the gin in fresh juniper berries, and blend this back into the mix before bottling. Moreover, the Juniper Gin apparently has a different botanical line-up—though of course Rui won’t say what it is—and even uses a different type of still. All Rui can tell me is that the still design enables them to “collect heavier oils during the actual distillation”, adding, “We’re actually thinking of patenting the design, since we do think its unique.”
The result is a rather cloudy liquid but one with an extraordinary fresh juniper nose—if you’ve ever crushed juniper with a pestle and mortar when cooking you’ll know what I mean. Compared to the base Artisan Gin, it is much more accessible neat, and indeed the label suggests this is a good way to serve it, or perhaps in simple cocktails that won’t smother the character of the gin.
In a G&T I’m struck by how the juniper of the Juniper Gin is fresher, in an almost apple-juicy way, whereas the Artisan G&T has more of a dry pencil-lead juniper character. It’s a deceptively soft drink, compared to the muscular botanical character of the Artisan, and has a fresh, rustic, homemade quality. It’s an accessible, seductive G&T, though side by side I probably prefer the assertive presence of the Artisan.
One final blasphemy: although after a few tastings I think that the Artisan gin has quite a few flavours in there, the first time I made a G&T with it I was stuck by its spiky high-note character. Compared to it, SW4, say, has a warmer, spicier profile altogether. As an experiment, I tried blending the two and considered the resulting balance rather pleasing.
I’m sure the makers of both gins will be horrified. So I might as well confess right now that, my analysing done for the day, I am enjoying a G&T made with 6 O’Clock, Savier Juniper and SW4 all mixed together. Sue me.