Saturday, 22 February 2020

Drinking in the Night Garden

DBS find his inner lunatic, clutching a Blue Lady
To Knightsbridge, for the launch of a new gin from Hendrick’s. It’s called Lunar Gin, and it’s intended to be a gin for later in the day, even after dinner. As such it’s richer than the regular gin: ordinary Henrick’s has rose in it, but the Lunar Gin adds “the aroma of night scented flowers” and some citrus. (For more on the making of regular Hendrick's see this post.)

The event was in a room at the top of Harvey Nichols, the up-market department store where spirit brands often launch exclusively. One room had been turned into a dimly-lit night garden, dominated by a nicely realised moon, about four feet high and slightly convex, mounted on one wall, with various plants, a garlanded swing and other garden furniture, a babbling fountain and various bits of mirror standing in for a reflecting pool. Eerie womblike noises were piped through speakers. The entrance corridor was lined with foil (which reminded me of the gold foil on lunar landing modules—not sure if this was deliberate) and had a mirror floor, which is rather disconcerting as it makes you feel as if you’re stepping off a precipice.

We were greeted by two actors, with long “eccentric” names, one playing an astronomer and one an astrologer. They delivered vague monologues about the moon’s influence on us, regularly breaking into well-known songs about the moon (‘Blue Moon’, ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’, etc). We’d been asked in advance what our star signs were, which obviously raised both suspicions and hackles, but this didn’t really come up. Instead one of the actors asked what my spirit animal was. Of course his was the wolf, but he didn’t seem to believe me when I told him mine was the tapeworm. In any case we agreed that tapeworms didn’t make a sound that you could emulate while gazing at the moon.

A Lunar Gin and tonic lurks in the undergrowth
The brand ambassador Sasha Filimov wasn’t giving away the precise botanicals but emphasised the rich floral character. Floral is certain how you’d describe it, but it’s a warm, spicy kind of florality. The barman went further, explaining that various essential oils are added to conventional Hendrick’s gin, including lavender; I can certainly believe I get lavender on the nose. Tasted neat it has a rather thin, astringent, bitter finish, but I don’t suppose it’s intended to be drunk that way. We were offered a Lunar Gin and tonic and a cocktail called a Once in a Blue Moon. The G&T was garnished, as ever, with cucumber and also some pepper—being right under your nose they rather dominated what you smelled, but the gin certainly makes an agreeable drink. The cocktail contained gin, lemon juice, egg white and blue curacao, so is essentially a White Lady which is blue, rather a shrewd safe bet while harmonising with the purple/blue tones of the room.

This device creates a bubble filled with aromatic vapour: it would be cool if the bubble could be attached
to the glass so that it bursts when you drink it, but in practice it always burst during preparation

A Moonlight Buck
Back home I tried making an Aviation, figuring that the floral character of the gin should work well with the cherry and violet ingredients. In fact the gin rather disappears in this combination. On the other hand I think it makes rather an approachable Martini, with the vermouth (and the dilution from the ice) taking the edge off the spirit, allowing the warm, inviting botanicals to work their magic. The key serve actually seems to be the Moonlight Buck, gin with ginger ale and lemon juice, and they also suggest just making an Old Fashioned with it. I try making a Buck at home with Fever Tree ginger ale and it does work—it strangely brings out the lavender quality, which for some reason does harmonise with the ginger.

Hendrick’s make great play of the way their gin is lovingly made in small batches of just 500 litres. In fact, despite their eccentric, “not-for-everyone branding”, it now has a huge market all over the world and they have expanded their distillery to meet demand (it’s a “multi-shot” gin, with each batch of distillate made with a very high botanical intensity, a sort of gin concentrate, which is then blended with water and neutral grain spirit to produce the right dilution and volume for bottling). This ubiquity is partly what is behind limited editions like the Lunar Gin, to have something else that is rare and quirky. Last year they released their Midsummer Solstice gin—originally created for Global Brand Ambassador Duncan McRae’s wedding, before the subsequent decision to go commercial with it—as well as Orbium, a sort of gin–absinthe hybrid with wormwood, quinine and blue lotus that is definitely seen as “not for everyone”. (I keep wanting to call it Opprobrium, though in fairness I’ve yet to try it.) These offshoot products are described as coming from master distiller Lesley Gracie’s “Cabinet of Curiosities”, “a place of experimental botanic alchemy”, so you can see that they are keen to hang on to their playful, oddball image and not become a faceless juggernaut brand.

If you wish to sample the Hendrick’s Lunar Gin Experience for yourself, it will remain until 1st March. Tickets are £8, including a drink, from Lunar Gin is currently available from a limited number of outlets at £35.99 for 70cl (though I’m sure when I visited Harvey Nicks the bottles were price-tagged at £47…).

You can see more photos from the Lunar Gin Experience in this album on Flickr.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Bitter sweet—absinthe-filled chocolate

A friend was holidaying in Switzerland and noticed this curio—I’m not sure if this was just in a regular shop or in the weird, fluorescent hell-cave of the duty-free shop at the airport, where all concept of value and worth are mysteriously sucked out of your brain. Yet she battled through the fog to realise that this was destined to be brought back for me.

On the face of it one should have no fear. The Swiss famously make great chocolate and their country (or rather the wormwood habitat that straddles the country’s border with France) is the home of absinthe, so what could go wrong? The packaging features a bucolic scene with a cow calmly munching some grass and NOT going off its nut on mind-bending substances, and even if you examine the image with a magnifying glass there is no trace of the 1905 bloodbath wherein Swiss labourer Jean Lanfray murdered his family—allegedly after an absinthe bender—which finally led to the banning of absinthe throughout much of Europe. OK, so the glass of absinthe in the foreground is sloshing around maniacally, as if it is sitting on the dashboard of a pickup doing 105 kilometres per hour along a busy Swiss arterial road, as the driver mutters to himself that what is about to happen is HER fault and she MADE him do it. There is even an absinthe spoon on display for verité, though you sense that, while the artist has probably seen one, he/she has no idea what you actually do with it, so it has been left leaning jauntily against the glass. The same glass that is about to lose its contents in a green tsunami as the pickup revs ever closer to its destiny…

Anyway, this is absinthe-filled chocolate, called “Larmes d’Absinthe”, or “Tears of Absinthe”. Which I admit does not sound that positive. In fact it has a hint of “we warned you” about it.

We’re all familiar with liqueur-filled chocolates, and this uses the same technique—I guess the nodules of absinthe are lined with some sort of sugar shell, which you can feel crunching as you bite into it, right before the liquid centre spills over your tongue. Needless to say, it is very good chocolate, and although the absinthe brand is not named it tastes authentic enough in the context. I admit that there is something disconcerting about it: precisely because we are familiar with liqueur-filled chocolates, each time I bite into one of these I am taken aback by the bitter pungency of the absinthe. But overall it does work—the chocolate and the sugar offer more than enough sweetness to balance the bitterness of the absinthe, and the chocolate is proper dark stuff, so overall it does seem like a decadent, grown-up treat.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

The joy of recycling

There is no doubt that some manufacturers put more money into the packaging than the product, and sometimes I get wine or spirits in a bottle that I can't bear to throw away. My Hibiki Japanese blended whisky was one such, but I'm pleased to say that I have found a noble reuse for the vessel. Mrs H.'s aunt Pam recently mentioned how much she missed the cocktails her husband Ray used to prepare—I previously posted about the Claridge Cocktail and my investigations into it and its origins, but here was an opportunity to put that Hibiki bottle to good use. I rustled up a bottle's worth of Claridge using the original proportions of 2 parts (Tanqueray) gin, 2 parts (Noilly Prat) vermouth, 1 part (Sainsbury's) triple sec and 1 part (Briottet) apricot brandy. Still a bit sweet for me but it is more balanced than I remember—you're able to taste all the ingredients, including the herbal bitterness of the vermouth. I worked out the ABV and I hope that at 29–30% it'll be stable enough for the vermouth not to oxidise between now and Christmas, or whenever the last drop is consumed… I'm encouraging them to keep it in the fridge.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Christmas at Gin Lane

Those crazy kids at That Boutique-y Gin Company are no strangers either to bizarre things to add to gin (whether unlikely botanicals or conventional ones that have been blasted into space and back—seriously) or whacky ways to present their products (such as the elaborate package that contained their Spit-Roasted Pineapple Gin).

So it’s no surprise that this Christmas they are capitalising on the vast and diverse range of gin that they now offer and have produced a “ginvent calendar”, if you will. Yes, it’s an Advent calendar with a door for each day of December up to Christmas Eve. But unlike most Advent calendars, behind each door is not just a picture of something seasonal like a robin or a sprig of holly, but a 30ml bottle of gin.

Want to know what Chocolate Cherry Gin tastes like? Or lemon-myrtle-infused Bush Tucker Gin? Gin made with Neroli blossom, smoked rosemary or the skins of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes? Gin that smells like fresh rain on soil, or a dank forest, or an embalmed Egyptian mummy? Or indeed gin with botanicals that have been shot into space? Here is your chance to find out, for all these and more are to be found in the calendar’s 24 exotic pockets. (You’ll also find the Spit-Roast Pineapple Gin, Finger Lime Gin, Cucamelon Gin and Balsamic Strawberry Gin that I have written about before, along with last Christmas’s Yuletide Gin.)

So what better to give the lounge lizard or gin wife in your life?

That Boutique-y Gin Company Advent Calendar is available now from Master of Malt for £49.95. View the full range at

Friday, 18 October 2019

Merser rum: reviving a London tradition

To Temple, by the river, for the launch of a new rum. It’s the brainchild of Hayman’s, whom you probably know as a gin distiller. Hayman’s present themselves as a family firm (I chatted to both Miranda and James Hayman, fifth generation in the business), though in fact Hayman’s gin only dates back to the 1980s. Miranda’s and James’s father Christopher, head honcho, is the son of Marjorie Burrough, of the Burroughs family behind Beefeater Gin, a family gin brand that dates back to 1863.

This sense of history is actually what lies behind the new product. Apparently back in the day the Thames was lined with rum blending houses, importing source rums from around the Caribbean and practising the art of skilful blending to create a perfect balanced product. Industrialisation and cost-cutting later drove this trade elsewhere, and Hayman’s are hoping to bring the old skills back to life.

The whole brand, called Charles Merser & Co., is steeped in this olde worlde image. The launch took place in a four-storey Georgian merchant’s house a couple of streets off the Strand, which they have named At the Sign of the Post and Hound. Charles Merser is actually a family ancestor, James tells me, but they are not reviving an old rum-blending business—they simply picked his name, not least because it has a City-of-London mercantile sort of ring to it. The Post and Hound name is a reference to the fact that in the old days pubs were identified by the imagery on their signs, rather than a written name, because most of their clientele couldn’t read. (The post refers to the wooden posts that Thames barges full of rum barrels would tie up at; the dog is a greyhound, apparently a London connection.) I asked if this meant their plan was to turn the building into a rum bar, which seems the obvious way to go, but apparently that sort of decision is a long way off. For now the high narrow building just seems to be a visitor’s centre.

At the launch the ground floor had shelves of bottles, plus some branded enamelled mugs, in one of which I was served a simple hot rum punch, essentially rum, hot water, sugar and spices (cloves and, I think, star anise). I think this room is intended as a shop front. Up on the first floor was a tasting room where we sampled the rum and on the top floor was a bar where vintage cocktails were being dispensed. Down in the cellar was their blending room. The idea is that the blending really will take place here, although it is no longer permissible to store barrels of rum in a London town house, for fire safety reasons, so all the storage will go on at the Hayman’s distillery plant in Balham. At the time of my visit there were only some empty barrels plus some pieces of barrel to show how they are made.

It was in this room that I learned a bit about how the new rum was concocted. It is made from three existing blends, in turn composed of some ten source spirits. The three component blends are imported, blended here then left in barrels for a number of months. Whereas the aged rums in the blend have matured in tropical conditions, which accelerates the interaction with the wood, the final ageing takes place in the temperate British climate, using barrels already used first for bourbon and then for whisky, so there is far less flavour imparted from this process. It is more about allowing the blend of blends to settle and marry. Given that so many different rums go into the mix, I asked if it was expected that as time went by different source spirits would be used, with the blending process used to adjust the recipe to ensure a consistent final flavour was maintained, and this does indeed seem to be the plan. Up in the top-floor bar there were rows of the source rums on display (not for tasting!), ranging in colour from completely colourless to dark brown.

Source rums for blending

The product we were tasting was to be their signature “Double Barrel” blend, though it is envisaged that other products may join the stable, such as limited edition blends. The bottle is striking, with a dimpled surface. I’m not quite sure what this is meant to suggest—to me it looked a little like the straw or wicker protective jacket you sometimes see on a glass carboy used to transport wine or spirits, but I was given no encouragement that this is in fact the intention. The three component blends are: 19% (A) a mix of 3-year-old Barbadian rum, 3-year-old Dominican rum and unaged Jamaican rum; 47% (B) a mix of 8-year-old Barbadian rum, 8-year-old Dominican rum and 6-year-old Panamanian rum; and 34% (C) a mix of 5-year-old Barbadian rum, 8-year-old Dominican rum, 3-year-old Guatemalan rum and unaged Jamaican rum. Blend A is said to add a fresh pine-like element, blend B the warming, rich, dark-sugar notes and blend C bright tropical fruit and toasty oak.

On the nose there are hints of the pungent Jamaican pot-still character (which pokes you in the eye when you open a bottle or Wray & Nephew), but these are well controlled within a soft and smooth aroma, with distinct notes of pineapple and mango, a bit of banana, plus caramel and for me a sweet sherry aroma. On the palate it is smooth and subtle, fruity and chocolatey. It is very easy to drink neat, elegant and refined. It’s more like an old-school butler than a hipster flairtender. It doesn’t scream one particular flavour, but dignifiedly suggests one nuance after another with a discreet cough. Add a little water and the chocolate and pineapple seem to come out more on the nose, and for the first time I notice the wood, while the palate takes on a creamy quality.

At £38 a bottle the Double Barrel is not cheap, but at the same time it seems good value to me. My immediate impression is that this is not a rum you would smother with mixer, but Hayman’s are keen to showcase some cocktails with it. The Hot Spiced Rum that I was served when I arrived was a bit sweet for me—I found myself wanting to add a squeeze of lemon juice. Up in the top floor bar I got to try a Polo, two parts rum, one part orange juice and one part lemon juice. It’s nice enough and you are aware of the rum, but having recently sampled it neat I now find myself wishing I could taste more of it in the mix.

A row of Palmettos being rustled up

I’m keen to try the Palmetto, combining rum with red vermouth and a dash of orange bitters. It’s nice, but again I instinctively feel there should be a bit more of an emphasis on the rum. The next day, at home, I make my own. I can see that the recipe in the booklet handed out at the launch gives equal parts rum and vermouth: by analogy with a Manhattan or a Rob Roy, this is a bit vermouth-heavy, so I try one that uses two parts rum to one part Antica Formula red vermouth, plus a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters. It’s bloody fantastic, with lots of toasty caramel flavour hitting you up front and a Christmasy cinnamon flavour (I think the Angostura is partly responsible for this).

50ml Merser Double Barrel
50ml or 25ml red vermouth
Dash of orange (or Angostura) bitters
Stir over ice

Another cocktail that catches my eye in the booklet is the Flapper, made with rum and dry white vermouth, plus a dash of Angostura. The stated proportions are 1:1 again, and again I am cautious about overwhelming the rum, but in fact in this mix the rum holds its own easily. In fact at equal parts the vermouth is hard to pin down, yet clearly affects the overall flavour: I’m using Belsazar Dry and it seems to add a saline finish, creating a pronounced note of salted caramel. It’s a good, subtle, complex drink. I also try making a Small Dinger, a recipe I found in Bar Florida Cocktails (1935) which no one else seems to have heard of or make, but despite the unlikely wheeze of combining rum and gin, I think it really works. Again it performs well with Double Barrel, with the rum showing its character and cozying up comfortably with the gin in the way that it mysterious does in this cocktail.

50ml Merser Double Barrel
50ml dry white vermouth
Two dashes of Angostura
Stir over ice and garnish with a maraschino cherry and a slice of orange (though I drink mine straight up with a lemon peel garnish)*

As you can tell, I’m much taken by Merser Double Barrel. It’s complex but approachable, easy to drink on its own and working well in certain classic style cocktails where it retains its character. In longer drinks I think it gets a bit lost, but there are plenty of short drinks to experiment with, until you suddenly find you’ve reached the end of the bottle…

*I take a fairly dim view of garnishes in general—sometimes their big fresh flavours can ride roughshod over subtleties of the cocktail ingredients; with some Martinis I regularly put a bit of lemon peel in then instantly regret it, as the vigorous rind oils steamroller the gin’s aromas. And when gin brands recommend you garnish their G&T with a kumquat, I find myself thinking, “So why didn’t you just put more kumquat in the botanical mix?” (Though I concede that some things taste quite different fresh from the way they do when infused then redistilled.) But in this case the lemon rind really complements the cocktail.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Gin from the Western Isles

A friend of ours who lives in Edinburgh came to stay and brought us a bottle of Isle of Harris gin, made on the Outer Hebridean island of that name. She knew and liked the gin already, but was also taken by the quaintness of the process of acquiring it—you can only buy it from the distillery, either by mail or you can place your order then collect it at an appointed time and place, furnished with a wonderfully old-fashioned docket (see photo). I don’t know if this is to do with the logistics of getting the gin to the mainland or whether it is part of a deftly constructed image, designed to evoke a sense of scarcity and old-world craftsmanship.

The website’s homepage is mostly about their vision of themselves as “the social distillery”. This manifests itself in being constantly open to visitors—though in fairness most shrewd distilleries offer tours, tastings, a café/restaurant, etc, these days—but also as a shot in the arm for an island suffering “acute economic problems” as a result of a dwindling population, by creating a business that uses local resources to produce jobs and income, as well as acting as a global advertisement for the island’s charms. It’s interesting that the distilling team all come from other backgrounds—a builder, a joiner, a crofter and ex-engineer, etc. All have re-trained from scratch to learn how to make spirits.

Harris is most famous for Harris Tweed, the choice of country gentlemen everywhere, and the only fabric in the world protected by an Act of Parliament that closely defines how, where and from what it can be made. This year the distillery had a project to create their own Harris Distillery Tweed pattern, and you can see how they are keen to borrow from the cloth’s sense of tradition and artisanal integrity and quality in how they present their own products. On the underside of the bottle is the Latin motto Esse quam videri—“To be, rather than to seem”.

Of course gin is not a traditional product of the island. (Oddly, neither is whisky, though the distillery is working on its own dram: in fact they think of themselves primarily as a whisky distillery. Like others, they clearly realised they needed the gin to bring in revenue during the long years it takes the whisky to mature.) So the distillers have instead sought a botanical bill that they feel captures “the elemental nature of our island, particularly the maritime influences of the seas which surround us”. The most striking botanical is sugar kelp, a local seaweed harvested by hand by a diver. What does sugar kelp taste of? Who knows—unless they have sampled the “sugar kelp aromatic water” that the distillery also sells, but the implication is that, as its name suggests, it is both briny and sweet. The other botanicals are all common enough: juniper, coriander seed, cassia bark, angelica root, bitter orange peel, cubeb, liquorice root and orris root.

The most striking reference to the sea is actually the bottle that the gin comes in, with rippled glass to echo the waters of Luskentyre, a marine blue rising from the bottom and a label made of paper flecked with copper leaf and sugar kelp—no two are the same.

So what does it taste like? I was expecting a bold mouthful with an ozoney whiff of the sea, but in fact to me Harris gin is rather elusive. The nose has piney juniper and an agreeable character of fresh lemon peel and grapefruit, a floral element like violets or rose, and a hint of black pepper (possibly from the cubebs). Dig in and there is a subtle herbal layer too. The palate follows on from this with much the same balance, and perhaps a slight sugariness at the end (is this from the sugar kelp?). A direct comparison with Plymouth Gin, which I happen to have a bottle of, shows that both have a strong citrus element, but the Harris gin has the smoother, sweeter mouthfeel of a more refined spirit. (Liquorice can also give a suggestion of sweetness.)

Does it remind me of the sea? Not really, but this is a question that has come up before with my studies of Cornish gin—what exactly would make a gin redolent of the sea? I suppose if I concentrate hard I can persuade myself there is a slight brininess on the finish, but I don’t think it is something that would strike me if I weren’t actively looking for it. I notice that a number of the cocktails that various bartenders have created for the gin, listed on the website, use Fino or Manzanilla sherry, which does indeed have a sea-breeze quality to it, or some kind of seaweed, or indeed added sea salt, suggesting they felt the gin needed a bit of help if it was to smack of the waves. (One recipe actually has you add salted fish roe.)

The recommended serve is essentially neat. They advise you to try it as it is, then, if you must, add some ice, but large pieces to minimise the dilution. If you insist on adding tonic, use only a splash. For a garnish they recommend not a sprig of seaweed or something preserved in brine, but a slice of grapefruit. I tried this and it certainly sits comfortably with the strong citrus notes, but doesn’t have much to do with the sea.*

I think some gins probably are best consumed neat or just on the rocks, such as Roku or TOAD Physic Gin, because their subtle complexities are easily swamped. Harris gin is certainly subtle, but I’m not sure it is that complex. It’s upfront character is essentially sweetish citrus.

I find I’ve worked through almost the whole bottle of Harris gin in my quest to try and establish its character—so it is certainly drinkable, but hard to pin down. Finally, still riffing on the brine angle, I make a Dirty Martini, using carefully controlled amounts of Belsazar Dry vermouth and Stirrings Dirty Martini olive brine (yes, it’s dedicated, bottled brine, that has had olives in it but from which the olives have since been removed before bottling—something DBS gave me ages ago). It’s nice enough, though I’m not sure the salty, savoury, olive brine really goes that well with the essentially sweet, fruity nature of the gin. But I concede it does (slightly) bring out the stemmy, herbal notes, and it is certainly a more complex drink that the gin on its own.

* Except in as far as the classic Salty Dog cocktail features gin, grapefruit juice and a salt rim.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Gin-in-a-tin gets exotic

Over the years I’ve come across various attempts at premixed cocktails. The sticking point is usually that some ingredients like lemon juice need to be preserved in some way—the Coppa ones clearly had some sort of preservative and some very synthetic-tasting ingredients, while the KÖLD range came in foil pouches that you partially freeze before opening, though I’m guessing the foil also meant you could pasteurise the pouch after sealing, meaning it should stay uncorrupted until the pouch is opened. I don’t know if they do do this, but you run the risk of altering flavours through this “cooking” process. (I think that the Funkin fruit juice pouches are preserved this way—their lime and lemon juice certainly tastes rather cooked.) Both these ranges were heavy on fruit, or at least on fruity flavours.

The only successful range I’ve encountered is Master of Malt’s Handmade Cocktail Company range, which are proper grown-up cocktails. They get round the preservation problem by only making classic recipes that consist mostly of spirits, bitters, etc. Moreover they maintain the high alcoholic strength so that less stable ingredients, like vermouth, are effectively preserved by the alcohol.

Now That Boutique-y Gin Company have launched their own range of “cocktails in a can”, using some of their exotic spirits. This should bode well, as their spirits are generally pretty poised and thoughtfully constructed, even when they contain some whacky flavourings.

The first thing to note about these cocktails is that they are not really cocktails—they are really spirits with mixers. The second thing to note about them is that, like the Coppa and KÖLD ranges, as well as the M&S samples I tried, they are remarkably low in alcohol. I’m assuming that this is to control duty and therefore price—probably because, as with Coppa, there was no getting away from the fact that the marketplace you’re in contains things like Bacardi Breezers and other alcopops. If, like me, you tend to mix two parts tonic to one part gin, you end up with a drink about 13.5% ABV (akin to a beefy wine). The Boutique-y range are around 5% (lager strength), meaning that the spirits must have been pretty heavily diluted.

Moonshot Gin with Citrus Tonic
The Big Idea with Moonshot Gin is that the botanicals (all of them, apparently) have been sent into near-space and back. This subjects them to very low temperature and pressure, though no one seems to be suggesting that this will have had a known effect on the flavour. Ironically they are then vacuum-distilled (so mimicking the low pressure they have just endured). Apparently they throw some moon rock into the vat, but effectively this is just gin.

And you can certainly tell that there is gin in this premix (the ABV is higher here than in the others, at 7.2%). But it’s dominated by a distinctly synthetic-tasting lime flavour, presumably coming from the tonic.

Yuzu Gin Collins with Jasmine Tonic
Given that this is all about the Japanese citrus fruit the yuzu, I was surprised that the citrus flavour here is less in-your-face and more natural-seeming than in the previous mix. But you don’t get much sense of gin—given the ABV of 5.2% it must have been diluted by a good 8:1. You really just get a sense that you are drinking lemonade.

Pineapple Gin Mule
This is the serve that we tried in June, when TBGC were pushing its spit-roasted pineapple gin in time for International Pineapple Day. However, this is not the same drink as the one I made at home. It’s not too bad, and you can certainly taste pineapple, but you can’t really taste the gin itself. It also doesn’t have much body; you mostly have a sense of drinking sweet, fizzy water. Even the gingeriness of the ginger beer seems lost (and you would expect that if they had skimped on the gin then this should be more prominent by comparison). I note that it is not actually the same recipe as the one we tried at home, as they seem to have included pineapple juice—presumably you wouldn’t otherwise get any pineapple at all, given the low gin content.*

Cherry Gin Cola
It’s recognisably cola, with a strong vanilla hit reaching you first, plus an obvious cherry flavour, though I’m not sure I would guess there was any gin in it. As with the pineapple, this has actual cherry juice in it, which may be a way of getting some cherry flavour to make up for the lack of gin in the blend (or it may be a way of describing the gin itself—gin and cherry juice), plus added cardamom and orange blossom. It has a slightly chocolately finish.

Strawberry and Balsamic Gin Fizz
We previously decided that the TBGC Strawberry and Balsamic Gin served with sparkling wine was a thing of great beauty, but sadly this is not that recipe, but a blend of the gin with cream soda, vanilla and orange blossom. There is proper strawberry on the nose, and on the tongue you get vanilla too, as well as orange, but it is still rather synthetic-seeming. Having said that, this is one of the nicer ones from the range and I did finish it (unlike one of the others which ended up going down the sink).

So, are these premixed cocktails? No, despite the “craft cocktails” blazon on the can. Are they good mixed drinks? Hard to say, as I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and almost never drink cola, lemonade, cream soda, etc. You don’t really taste much gin in any of them, but given that they are beer-strength they may make sensible session drinks for a hot summer’s day—my cans even came with a branded cool bag just the right size and shape for half a dozen of them—assuming the cloying sweetness doesn’t send you into a diabetic coma before sundown…

*Here I’m assuming that they literally make these premixes from their gins, though I suppose it’s possible they somehow use some of the individual components in different proportions. It’s also possible that when they list the ingredients as including London Dry Gin and “fresh pineapple juice”, this is actually just a legal way of describing the process by which they make the gin itself—judging by the colour, the pineapple gin has clearly been infused with pineapple post-distillation, so there must be actual pineapple juice in the bottle. The same goes for the cherry gin.