|The mysterious box opens to reveal…|
I was initially a bit perplexed as to what the thing was handles was, but Mrs H guessed that it was for coring and slicing apples in a single stroke. It seems that just as, in a crowded marketplace, new gins frequently have oddball botanicals, so it also seems de rigeur to specify an unusual garnish, and in this case it is indeed slices of apple—coul blush apple being one of the botanicals.*
The other thing you notice straightaway is the unusual five-sided glass included in the package (not the easiest to drink out of but stylish nonetheless). In fact the bottle itself is subtly pentagonal, and the theme carries on in the five-pointed asterisk that graces the label.
|A sticker with a five-pointed star, hiding…|
Fortunately there is a more prosaic explanation. In addition to six conventional gin botanicals (juniper, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica root and cassia bark) Caorunn (pronounced ka-ROON) also features five Scottish botanicals as well, rowan berry, heather, dandelion, bog myrtle and the aforementioned apple). In fact caorunn is the Gaellic name for rowan.** In this respect it is like The Botanist gin, which uses only botanicals found on the island of Islay where it is made (which is not to say, I assume, that the actual botanicals used in the gin are all sourced on Islay). That gin manages to rack up a tally of 31 botanicals (which I had thought was a record, though I gather that Monkey 47 actually has 47), making Caorunn seem a model of Zen-like simplicity with only 11. Although Caorunn technically falls into the category of “London Gin” (the highest EU grade, indicating a high quality spirit, natural botanicals with no artificial flavourings, and no colours or flavours added after distillation), the labelling prefers to refer to it simply as “Scottish gin”.
|A collection of intriguing objects|
The gin was allegedly inspired by the landscape of the Cairngorms in which the distillery is located. It is batch-distilled by hand using an unusual still a bit like a Carterhead, in that the botanicals infuse into the alcohol vapour rather than coming into contact with the liquid spirit. But where the Carterhead has a botanical basket at the top of a column, the Balmenach still has a unique copper “berry chamber” in which the botanicals are spread out on four horizontal trays, to maximise their exposure to the vapour. The spirit is triple distilled from 100% grain and the gin is diluted to 41.8% ABV using spring water that filters down through the Cromdale Hills behind the distillery.
|The "berry chamber" with trays for the botanicals|
|Those mystical objects in detail. Both the bottle label and the etchings of the highball glass |
show sort of Rennie Mackintosh stylised images of the five Scottish botanicals in the gin
I knock up a couple of G&Ts, one with Caorunn and one using Chancery, a fairly traditional own-brand gin from Tesco that is made by Greenalls. Where the Chancery emphasises dry spice the Caorunn at first offers a more pronounced orange element plus delicate, fragrant high notes that do seem something like apple. In any case the apple garnish does go very well.
|Even the bottle (viewed here from the underside) is pentagonal|
|Yes, the apple corer/slicer does actually work|
I try another one from the site, called King James II and created by Mal Spence of Blythswood Square Hotel. It involves an interesting blend of the gin, Lillet Blanc, Pernod, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit bitters and gomme syrup. An inspired and imaginative combination in my opinion, with the anise and elderflower fencing in the foreground and the gin’s apple aromatics seemingly floating over the top. This is an interesting example of a Lillet Blanc cocktail where this ingredient really works—most are just using Lillet Blanc because Kina Lillet isn’t made any more, and it never seems to work, presumably because Kina Lillet packed more of a bitter herbal punch than the soft, sweet, orangey modern drink.
|A King James II cocktail|
Hats off to Caorunn for producing such a thoughtful cocktail list—many spirit brands will post just a perfunctory five or six “cocktails” that turn out to be simply the addition of a mixer. And the couple that I have tried so far do indeed seem to showcase the gin’s gentle subtleties, where many classic gin cocktail recipes might swamp it.
Experimenting with flavour blends not led by juniper seems to be frightfully modish at the moment (as we discovered on Monday at the Craft Distillers Association gin awards organised by DBS, more of which anon). So even if you are not a Scottish nationalist you might want to give Caorunn a try. At about £25 a bottle it’s not unreasonably priced.
** Apparently rowan berries were used in Celtic medicines—as indeed juniper was also considered to have medicinal benefits, and was first used in spirits as a way of preserving those healing powers rather than as a way to flavour the hooch.