Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Win a bottle of Yuletide Gin!

Those irrepressible kids at That Boutiquey Gin Company have dug even deeper in their search for unlikely gin botanicals, with the release of their Yuletide Gin. While Sipsmith have a Mince Pie Gin and Sacred offer a Christmas Pudding Gin, TBGC have attempted to capture the entire season, starting with conventional botanicals such as juniper, cassia, nutmeg and cardamom, then adding more Christmassy ingredients like cloves, allspice, raisins, dates, and finally some off-the-wall things like panettone, gold, frankincense and myrrh, and a whole gingerbread house. (The gold is in the form of gold flakes in the bottle, like Goldwasser, which gives the whole thing a snow globe quality.) They probably even bubble some Goodwill to All Men through it just before bottling.

What does it taste like? I’ve no idea. The one bottle that they have sent me is a prize for one of you. Yes, you could be the lucky winner of this eccentric elixir. Then you can tell me what it tastes like.

To be in with a chance of winning, email with your answer to the following question: which of the following is NOT a genuine ingredient used to flavour TBGC’s Yuletide Gin:

A. Mince pies
B. Sherry
C. Chestnuts
D. Christmas tree needles

Closing date is Friday 14th December. The winner will be drawn at random from the correct answers received.

Terms and conditions:
You must be aged 18+ to enter 
The prize is a single 50cl bottle of That Boutiquey Gin Company’s Yuletide Gin
There will be one winner, drawn at random from those who have sent in a correct answer by the close of business on Friday 14th December. You will be contacted by email and asked to supply an address that we can mail the prize to
Competition open to UK entrants only
No purchase is necessary to enter
Winners will not be made to pay more to enter

Check out that flurry of flakes of real gold

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Six of the best from Suntory's painstaking gin

Earlier in the year I had a chance to taste Roku gin while visiting a friend, and found it arresting. Now I see that it is being stocked by my local Sainsbury’s supermarket, currently at a very reasonable £25, and I have found it more intriguing than ever.

Produced by Japan’s Suntory, this is the first Japanese gin that I can recall trying (I’m not counting Jinzu, a “Japanese-inspired” gin made in Scotland)—though in fact Suntory launched a gin called Hermes as far back as 1936. I’m a big fan of Japanese whisky (or I was until prices went through the roof), which seems to me to be characterised by a subtle complexity, poise and harmony. And I get something similar from this gin.

Opening the bottle I am relieved to be hit initially by a wave of juniper—so this is not one of those gins that feels the need come up with crazy, unginlike flavours to draw attention to itself. After that I get something crisp and fresh like apples, then a distinct citrusy layer of orange and cinnamon, followed by a sweetness that is both floral and fruity like cherries. Woven into this are savoury hints of cucumber and peppery celery. This is quite a complex nose.

In the mouth it is soft and round, easy to drink and sweetish without being cloying (or actually sweet). There is orange again and a distinct nutty fullness on the tongue.

Roku and tonic with strips of fresh ginger
So what is actually in Roku? It has eight traditional botanicals: juniper, coriander seed, angelica root and seed, cardamom, cinnamon, bitter orange peel and lemon peel. To these are added six distinctly Japanese botanicals: sakura flower (cherry blossom), sakura leaf, sencha tea, gyokuro tea, sanshō pepper and yuzu peel. The gin is made at what the Suntory website calls their “Liquor Atelier” (images of starving distillers eeking our a living in a gloomy garret to bring their art to the world), using different distillation techniques for the various botanicals. “For instance, the delicate scent of cherry blossom is drawn out through vacuum distillation in stainless pot stills, whereas the deep flavour of yuzu is achieved by distillation in copper pot stills.”

Those six botanicals give this gin its name—roku meaning “six” in Japanese—and images of them are embossed on the fancy six-sided bottle. In a further layer of resonance, the sakura represents the spring, tea the summer, sanshō the autumn and yuzu the winter.

So that list explains some of the flavours I’m getting, such as the orange and cinnamon, the cherry, the florality of the Angelica and perhaps that pepperiness I associated with celery. Yuzu is a sour citrus fruit that looks like a pale yellow-green satsuma and tastes, it is usually said, like a lime crossed with lemon or grapefruit. I gather that sanshō peppers are citrusy too, which will be contributing to the gin’s citrus character.

To appreciate its subtleties, do try Roku simply on the rocks. Note the slight
louche—the cloudy haze familiar to absinthe drinkers—as the essential oils
dissolved in the alcohol come out of solution and form an emulsion as
water is added
Roku is not the first gin I’ve tried with tea in it—Beefeater 24 likewise features sencha tea as well as Chinese green tea, and Adnams Rising Sun gin has Japanese matcha tea as a botanical. I found the tea flavour easier to pinpoint in Rising Sun than I did in Beefeaster 24, and in Roku it is likewise not something that leaps out at me. I return to the empty glass and waft it under my nose—it’s citrus that is most prominent, plus cinnamon, angelica and fruity cherry and plum. I can certainly believe that I’m getting the aromatic dryness of tea, though I’m not sure I would have identified it unprompted. (Incidentally, I return to the empty glass an hour or two later and I’m now just smelling faint lime.)

Roku is fascinating and approachable enough to drink neat, and it certainly makes a refined and thought-provoking Martini. The preferred serve seems to be a G&T garnished with matchstick-sized strips of fresh ginger. The flavour of the ginger is at first low-key, but it gradually spreads; and its fiery, rooty spice does seem to blend elegantly with the citrus and floral elements of the gin. I also tried a Negroni and, while all these work perfectly well, I still feel that the subtle sophistication of this gin works best unencumbered by other ingredients. Try it in a Martini or just on its own. I thought about making a gin Old Fashioned but, sipped simply on the rocks, Roku’s velvet mouthfeel doesn’t need any sweetening and its complex balance of fruit and savoury layers does not need the aromatic lift of bitters.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Wilful eccentricities from That Boutique-y Gin Company

The box of samples, exterior. You can see images of finger limes and cucamelons

I don’t normally do “unboxings”, but those giddy types at That Boutique-y Gin Company sent me a set of samples packaged in a way that required a photographic record.

The company is an offshoot of That Boutique-y Whisky Company, in turn descended from Atom Supplies who run Master of Malt. The whisky version has been bottling odds and ends for some years, with a trademark style of busy, cartoonish label, often featuring people involved with the product, and the gin version carries on this tradition. They describe themselves as the world’s first independent gin bottler, releasing small batches of new and experimental gins from various distillers, as well as producing some of their own.

Lid removed, revealing three sample bottles of gin and the three tiny phials

With so many gins on the market, and no let-up in sight to the idea that everyone needs to have their own gin, many new products seek to go somewhere unusual with their botanicals, to stand out from the crowd, often to the extent of describing the end result specifically as tangerine gin, blueberry gin, seaweed gin, what have you. (In fairness, a few of these concepts, such as orange gin, do have a heritage stretching at least back to the early 20th century.) So in order to be truly boutique-y, TBGC have gone out of their way to find some truly odd things to blend into their gins.

Some miniatures from the range, given out at the party earlier this year

Early this year I went to their birthday party where I was confronted by such oddities as a gin made from botanicals that have been shot into space (no, it didn’t seem to affect the flavour) and gin aged in Canadian icewine barrels. The three samples sent to be this time were Finger Lime Gin, Cucamelon Gin and Strawberry & Balsamico Gin. Finger limes are an Australian plant which apparently have a texture like caviar with a lime-like flavour (though apparently not actually related to the citrus genus). Cucamelons are indigenous to Central America and look like small watermelons and taste, it says here, of “lime-dipped cucumbers”. For the final gin they take a gin base, add fresh strawberries as well as strawberry and black pepper distillates, and balsamic vinegar from Modena, aged for 12–25 years in barrels of chestnut, cherry, oak, mulberry, ash and juniper wood.

Each of the gin samples was accompanied by a tiny phial of a key distillate in concentration (60% ABV)—or, in the case of the last one, a phial of the vinegar in question. These have been vacuum distilled from whole finger limes, or whole cucamelons with a bit of liquorice root. However, this does not seem to be an indication that the gins are made by distilling botanicals individually then blending the distillates (as happens with Sacred and Gin Mare), as the notes suggest that for the actual gins all the botanicals are macerated together.

Tasting the gins together there does seem to be a house style, with a rich, smooth, sweet feel: where some traditional gins are dominated by steely juniper high notes, mixing well with tonic, these give the impression they are meant to be approachable neat, easy on the tongue and weighted with woody, floral middle notes.

The Finger Lime Gin has a nose of lime, unsurprisingly, but it’s a soft, sweet, perfumed smell, without the sharpness of a fresh lime. It is plump in the mouth, with a jammy fruit character up front, then some savoury, stemmy flavours coming afterwards. It’s pretty drinkable neat, with only a hint of bitterness on the finish.

In a gin and tonic (with Fever Tree Naturally Light)*, however, the Finger Lime Gin is pretty disappointing, in my opinion. I was expecting a joyous, juicy drink, but the gin lacks the juniper backbone that would traditionally balance the sweet/citrus/bitter contributions of the tonic. It’s a bit too soft and sweet in its own right, and creates a G&T that’s a bit unnerving, almost sickly. (I’m struck by an odd salty finish, not entirely unwelcome, but I’m not sure where that is coming from.)

So I figured it might sit more comfortably in a Martini, but I’m not convinced about that either: again a bit too sweet and not sitting comfortably with the vermouth (Belsazar Dry in this case). So I try another of my standard gin tests, an Aviation, made with woody Luxardo Maraschino, dry Bitter Truth crème de violette and lemon juice. Now, suddenly, it all comes together. And the weird thing is that, as I adjust the amount of gin to get the balance right, this is the first time that I have been particularly aware of the Finger Lime’s juniper content. I can’t entirely explain it, but a Finger Lime Aviation is a very satisfying cocktail.

Next I try a Gimlet—a traditional blend of gin and Rose’s Lime Cordial. I honestly expect it to be a bit of a pointless exercise, since the gin has lime in it anyway, but again I am surprised. For the second time I notice the gin’s juniper aspect, and however the various lime elements are relating to each other, it is a pleasant cocktail overall, with just enough sweetness from the cordial helping to round things out.

The little phial of finger lime distillate is an interesting idea—not that you would have any difficulty spotting the presence of lime in the finished gin blend. At 60% ABV the distillate is drinkable, and offers a sharp blast of fruit/sour/bitter. It’s like biting into a particularly intense kumquat.

By this time I’m running low on the Finger Lime gin, so I turn my attention to the Cucamelon. It has a general family resemblance, being fragranced on the nose and plump and smooth on the tongue, but with an obvious cucumber element that makes it straightaway more savoury. In a Martini it is obviously more ginny, again with the savoury cucumber notes (and cucumber in gin is not novel, thanks to Hendrick’s and Martin Miller’s). But there are complex layers unpeeling here, first a wholly unexpected blackcurrant fruity sweetness, then a woody dry spice like cassia on the finish. And there is juniper too. In a Gimlet and an Aviation it works perfectly well but doesn’t transform like the Finger Lime did—I’m guessing drinks like those are the Finger Lime’s spiritual home, while for me the Cucamelon is more successful in itself and therefore works better in simpler serves.

The cucamelon distillate proves even more fascinating. Yes, there is obviously a bright cucumber element up front (and, oddly, nothing that I would really identify as melon) but there is another wave of flavour, darker, more mid-range—seriously, it’s suggesting orange, rose, banana, artichoke and more—plus a finish of pink peppercorns.

The Strawberry & Balsamico gin has a nose, unsurprisingly, of strawberries. It was never going to be exactly like fresh strawberries (strawberry infusions always end up tasting of stewed or baked fruit, like the strawberry Palmetto moonshine), but this is closer than I had expected. The balsamic note is subtle, but combines with the fruit to suggest coffee. The juniper is clearly present too. On the tongue is has the thick, rich texture of those intense, dark Pedro Ximenez sherries; but, though sweet, it is not tooth-curlingly so.

So what does one do with it? It makes a surprisingly viable G&T but TBGC suggest trying it lengthened with sparkling wine. This does work very well (I tried it with some rosé Champagne, which possibly emphasised the strawberry notes), creating what is effectively a one-stop Champagne-style cocktail, with the fruit element clear—but also again I found myself noticing the juniper character more strikingly in this combination with as much ginniness as you would get from a French 75. It’s a complex, sophisticated combo.

As for the tiny phial of balsamic vinegar? Absolutely delicious. It combines a sweet, delicate approachability with a depth and complexity of flavour that I’ve not previously encountered in a vinegar, balsamic or otherwise. I don’t know how much this stuff costs for a bottle but it’s probably worth it.

So what of the TBGC range in general? They tend to be competently made, though there is something of the dog-on-its-hind-legs about these eccentric botanicals. To my surprise, the one I would be most keen to hang on to is the least versatile, the Strawberry and Balsamic gin—simply because of the cocktail it creates when added to sparkling wine. Of the other two, I probably preferred the cucamelon over the finger lime, but one does get the impression that they dream up odd flavours for the sake of being different. And what’s wrong with that? Every now and then they’re going to come across something that strikes such a chord it could be a future classic.

The TBGC range sells for from £30 (50cl), up to £50 for their Very Old Tom.

* This is a favourite of mine at the moment: it doesn’t have any artificial sweeteners, just less sugar than the regular tonic.

Strawberry & Balsamico Gin with Champagne

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Lux coin: whisky with a hint of mint

Those crazy kids at Wealth Solutions have been at it again. As their name suggests, these Polish entrepreneurs take the view that wealth is a problem needing to be solved and they specialise in creating fantastically expensive things for rich people to spend their money on. Rare booze is a thing with them, and I first encountered them when they sent me a sample of their Jubilee bottling of Glenfarclas 1953. Their next move was the frankly bonkers idea of buying a bottle of 1762 Cognac—the oldest ever sold at auction—then putting a drop of the spirit inside a glass capsule mounted in a specially commissioned wristwatch by boutique Swiss manufacturer Armin Strom.

Compared to the watch, their latest wheeze seems relatively conventional. This time they’ve bought a bottle of Old Vatted Glenlivet 1862 whisky, believed to be the oldest extant whisky in the world, and placed a drop of it inside a glass capsule mounted in a solid gold coin. The coin is carved with images of whisky-making and bears the words “WHISKY 1862” by the capsule. (Which sounds a bit vague to me, for something so rare and valuable—why not “Glenlivet 1862”? There is plenty of room.) This should lessen the risk of the cleaner mistaking it for tea or WD40 and trying to buff it away.

The coin, marketed by subdivision Lux Coin, was created by the Perth Mint, who have been making limited edition precious metal coins for 30 years. Mind you, if you look at their website (where you can buy the coin) there is something bathetic about the way it appears alongside gaudy Looney Tunes commemorative sets and a coin shaped like Iron Man’s mask.

But here’s the kicker: the Whisky Coin is legal tender—in Tuvalu, where its face value is 50 dollars. (You do wonder how many other governments they tried before they found someone who would go for it. The forthcoming Rum Coin is legal tender in Barbados, where the rum was actually made, and the Cognac coin is worth 100 Congolese francs, which at least has a French connection.)*

In case you’re wondering, the spirit coins are all priced at €7,900 in limited editions of 300.

* In fairness, Tuvalu did used to be part of the British Empire, and is still in the Commonwealth, so I suppose there is a tenuous link with Scotland.

Friday, 12 October 2018

The birth of the “caketail”?

The bar team at the Candlelight Club excelled themselves last weekend for our 8th birthday party. The cocktail menu had a birthday theme, and I feel compelled to share this image with you. Its a drink called Dont Blow Them All Out: the liquid is mostly gin and strawberry purée, lengthened with soda, but the cupcake-style piped-icing garnish is inspired. (How you actually consume it is a separate matter—I drank mine through the straw then found that by the time Id done this the garnish/topping was now nestling at the bottom of the glass and youd need a long spoon to eat it, but that is just nit-picking.)

I'll just leave this here

Friday, 14 September 2018

Uncle Nearest: something new from Tennessee

Think of “Tennessee whiskey” (if you think of it at all) and you’ll probably think of Jack Daniels, the mighty presence that, certainly here in the UK, tirelessly advertises on the London underground with vast posters emphasising the old-school homeliness of its global brand. I must have ticked a box once and ever since I receive weird branded merchandise on my birthday, so eager is the JD machine to make me feel part of some community of honest, whiskey-swilling folk, modest, plain-speaking, thrifty and hard-working.

In fact you’d be hard put to find another Tennessee whiskey here. Specialist shops offer some George Dickel products (see below) and Master of Malt have a few historical bottlings too, but that’s about it. So I was intrigued to be approached by a new brand, Uncle Nearest.

Nathan “Nearest” Green was an ex-slave turned whiskey maker, the first African American master distiller on record and the man who taught Jack Daniels how to distil—but a figure who then got lost in history. In fact the desire to bring Uncle Nearest’s story to the world seems to be the main motivation behind the new brand, and they have even set up the Nearest Green Foundation so some of the whiskey’s profits can fund a museum and book dedicated to Green’s life and scholarships for some of his descendants.

As a slave, Nathan ran the still at the farm owned by Reverend Call. Jack Daniels was eight years old when Call introduced him to Green, asking Green to teach the boy how to make whiskey. When the good Reverend’s parishioners objected to his involvement in the ungodly business of making liquor, Call agreed to sell the distilling operation over to Daniel. By now the Civil War was over and, when Daniel founded his own distillery in 1866, he hired Nathan, now a free man, as his master distiller. He went on to employ three of Nathan’s sons as well and, later, four of his grandchildren. Direct descendants of Nearest were still working at Jack Daniel’s into the 21st century. Yet for years it was widely accepted that Reverend Call himself was Daniel’s mentor; it wasn’t till 2016 that the New York Times ran a story revealing that it was the slave Nearest Green who really taught Daniel.* Only last year did Jack Daniel’s officially recognise Green as their first “head stiller”. (Certainly now the JD website has more information on Nearest than the Uncle Nearest website does.)

In this early-1900s group shot Jack Daniel is centre in the white hat; to his right is Nearest's son George

So much for the backstory—what of the whiskey? It’s a little hard to tell. The Uncle Nearest brand has come up with a recipe that they only say “is based on a Tennessee recipe that hasn’t been used since 1912”; the mash bill is 90% corn and rye (they don’t say in what proportion) and in the Silver version there is 3.5% malted corn, which is apparently unique. All the grain is locally sourced and the spirit is distilled twice. One of the defining characteristics of Tennessee Whiskey is the “Lincoln County Process” (which Nearest himself helped to develop), where new-make whiskey is filtered through a stack of sugar maple charcoal. UN have come up with a proprietary version of this, “an intricate 11-step, 25-day process utilizing a one-of-a-kind triple charcoal mellowing system”.**

The company are in the process of building their own distillery, but for now the whiskey is made for them by a distillery in Nashville. They are selling an unaged “Tennessee Silver” whiskey, while the rest of the spirit goes into new, charred American oak barrels for ageing.

What is confusing is that they already have a “Premium Aged” whiskey—which is what I was sent—and are about to release a 12-year-old single barrel edition. This whiskey has been sourced from the stocks of two other distilleries, though UN have developed their own post-ageing filtration process to which they subject the bought-in barrels to create their own character.***

You can see, as with so much these days, there is a great emphasis on heritage and locality. The company already own Dan Call Farm, the Reverend’s place where the whole story started, and when talking of their new distillery—complete, of course, with visitor’s centre and even a music venue—they emphasise the economic benefits to the community, the use of local crops, their plan to have their own 100 acres of corn, in-house malting, etc. So what exactly is “Tennessee whiskey”?

At a federal level Tennessee whiskey is legally defined is a “straight bourbon whiskey” made in Tennessee. A “straight” whisky is defined as fermented grain distilled to no higher than 80% ABV then aged for at least two years at no higher than 62.5% ABV in new, charred American oak barrels; prior to bottling it may only be filtered and diluted with water. The term “bourbon” carries most of the requirements of straight whiskey, but without minimum age—although “straight bourbon” must indeed have been aged for at least two years. Moreover “bourbon” must be made in the United States from at least 51% corn. However, few makers of Tennessee whiskey use this term. State legislation goes further, adding that “Tennessee whiskey” must use the Lincoln County Process—but the law (dating from 2013) makes specific exception for Benjamin’s Pritchard’s whiskey, which has never used the process and has no desire to, and some smaller distillers have grumbled that the legislation means that all Tennessee whiskies effectively have to be made like Jack Daniel’s.

There is plenty of whiskey made in Tennessee that can’t be called Tennessee whiskey, either because it is not aged long enough or uses a more rye-heavy mash bill. George Dickel, founder of what is now the second biggest brand after Jack Daniels, thought his liquor the equal to any Scotch and to this day the brand calls its product by the Scottish name “whisky” instead of “whiskey”. As for the Lincoln County Process, ironically in 1871 the rearrangement of boundaries meant that the Jack Daniel’s distillery, where the process was developed, was no longer in Lincoln Country—the one distillery still in Lincoln County is Pritchard’s which, as noted above, is the one Tennessee whiskey that does not use the process.

Oddly, Tennessee is a state where Prohibition never really went away: until 2009 there were only three counties, out of its 95, where distilling was even legal. By default it is still illegal to sell alcohol or alcoholic beverages, and it is down to individual counties to decide otherwise. There are still 13 dry counties, and 69 of the remainder only allow it within certain jurisdictions (my favourite is Decatur County, where liquor may only be sold by the drink, in restaurants with a capacity of at least 75, within three miles of the Tennessee River).

To get a sense of what Uncle Nearest are up to, I line up a bottle of their Premium Aged alongside a bottle of regular Jack Daniel’s Old No.7. The JD starts off with a whiff of varnish, a hint of smoke and some peardrop fruitiness. The palate is pretty thin-feeling, with that varnish element, bananas and a bit of charcoal with a bitter finish. By comparison Uncle Nearest has a nose that is straightaway more inviting, with a pronounced caramel note, plus marzipan and fruitcake and a bit of sesame. On the tongue it is strikingly smoother and sweeter than JD, even though it is 50% ABV.

Moving then to Bulleit Bourbon—the only other American whiskey I have in the house at the time—this has a mellower nose and a palate that is fundamentally different from the Tennessee whiskies, with a fruity quality that is somehow reminiscent of shampoo, but not in a bad way. But I would still say that Uncle Nearest has more structure and poise to it.

Bulleit itself has a fairly high rye content (28%, with 68% corn and 4% malted barley), but I was surprised that the Uncle Nearest struck me as having a rye-like spiciness too. Yet the word on the street seems to be that the bulk of it is most likely sourced from George Dickel, and their mash bill is just 8% rye.

George Dickel was briefly advertised here with the slogan, "If you
only know Jack, you don't know Dick". It doesn't seem to have
done them any favours
Later, I manage to get hold of a bottle of George Dickel Old No.12. It has a softer nose than Uncle Nearest, fragrant and perfumed by comparison, with a orange-fruit palate and more pronounced caramel. I’d say it was smoother on the tongue (but then it is 45% ABV, to UN’s 50%)—and smoother too then Jack Daniel’s. Again JD strikes me as having a flabby, wet-cardboard character compared to the fruity poise of the Dickel. And I would say that, neat, the Dickel is more drinkable that Uncle Nearest, though that may just be because of the alcohol. All three Tennessee whiskies here have a bitterness on the finish, perhaps the result of all that exposure to charcoal.

As an experiment, I add water to a sample of Uncle Nearest to dilute it by a quarter to get its ABV down to 40%, so I can compare it to JB on an even footing. At this dilution it still comes across as noticeably smoother and with an elegance and depth, notes of old wood and marmalade. JD is thin and can only muster those pear-drops and a bit of wet plaster. UN is drinkable at 50% but I experimented with drinking it over ice, and even when I absent-mindedly allowed all the ice to melt I found the resulting heavily-diluted whiskey was an interesting and flavoursome beverage.

I don’t know if there are any classic Tennessee whiskey cocktails, but I try Uncle Nearest in some obvious Bourbon or rye concoctions. It has the backbone to sit easily in an Old Fashioned or Sazerac—it doesn’t need the added sugar to make it smooth, but at the same time it has the strength and presence to cut through and make for a proper drink, not liquid confectionary. It also makes a cracking Manhattan, with plenty of heft to create a focused drink but enough refinement to sit well with high-quality ingredients (I was using Antica Formula vermouth). Mind you, if you follow Difford’s proportions of 2½ shots of whiskey to one of vermouth (and I tend to add a splash of maraschino too) you do end up with a modestly-proportioned drink that packs about four units of alcohol… I likewise tried it in a Boulevardier and even that combination of vermouth and Campari could not swamp the whiskey’s presence.

Uncle Nearest Premium Aged will retail in the UK at about £50.

* In fact Nearest was first mentioned in a 1967 book on Jack Daniel, according the the Foundation, and again in a 1972 issue of the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, but it was only recently that his contribution became widely know.

** Interestingly, Jack Daniel’s “Gentleman Jack” product differs from regular JD whiskey in that it gets a second charcoal filtration, something that Daniel himself allegedly experimented with.

*** Uncle Nearest refer to “special carbon and DE filtration”, which turns out to stand for “diatomaceous earth”—filtering through the fossilised remains of micro-organisms. These fossils can be found in great numbers where they sank to the bottom of prehistoric lake beds and are now mined in certain parts of the world. DE filtration has been used to produce safe drinking water since the 1940s and is common in the beer and wine industries to achieve a clear final product, but less common in whiskey-making. Brittany Crockett of Uncle Nearest tells me that they do have their own bespoke DE process, and the sourced whiskies they are currently selling are actually taken to Kentucky for the special filtering to make them even smoother than they already are.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Locksley gin: the taste of Lincoln Green?

On the way back from Scotland we broke our journey for Mrs H. to attend a get-together of seashell collectors at the Chatsworth estate in Derbyshire. I found myself with a bit of time to kill and wandered over to the Big House. And by big I mean BIG. The home of the Dukes of Devonshire for 16 generations, the estate’s 20th-century history has been characterised by each generation’s struggle to pay inheritance taxes (up to 80% of the value of all property), and like many such country houses it is today a well-oiled tourism machine.

In addition to several eateries on site, I found a gin bar in the courtyard, featuring a number of local gins, including Sheffield Gin from the True North Brew Co. and Shining Cliff Gin from the White Peak Distillery (which I keep calling Shining Path Gin, probably not the image they were trying to present). But the one I chose to try was Sir Robin of Locksley, from the Locksley Distilling Company, named after the region’s famous son who would go on to great things as Robin Hood.

Chatsworth House, a modest country get-away

They describe the gin as featuring traditional botanicals (juniper, coriander, cassia, angelica, liquorice) plus elderflower, dandelion and grapefruit—the elderflower gathered Lincolnshire and the dandelion from Yorkshire. Their intention was to create a “sipping gin” that fell somewhere between a London Dry and an Old Tom. The finished recipe was apparently their 61st attempt. They refer to it as “one of the very few (if not only) true English sipping gins”—which I think other producers would dispute. The term “sipping gin” may be a neologism, but it already seems pretty widely embraced (Tom, from TOAD, for example, told me he feels their Physic Garden gin is best drunk neat).

The bottle features a rather overworked letter R, filled with images of oak leaves and acorns, dandelions and other plants, a feather, a bow and arrow, a stag, a bit of a castle and other medieval-looking fol-de-rols—like the daydream doodle resulting from a long and unengaging teleconference. The inside of the back label is green, suffusing the contents with a verdant glow—I briefly wondered if the liquid itself was coloured but it is not. An online search for bottle images mostly shows a plain glass vessel, but my one features a nest of embossed heraldry at the bottom, including a crown, bees, suns/stars and leaves, perhaps dandelions plants. To emphasise the handmade, “artisanal” credentials, each bottle is signed and hand-numbered by distiller John Cherry.

Uncorking the bottle I’m relieved to be hit initially by juniper, followed by a powerful orange and lime citrus notes, sweet like Opal Fruits/Starburst (not overtly grapefruit per se, but this may be where it is coming from). But then there is something strongly herbal too. This note is hard to pin down (and may ultimately come from the dandelion, though I don’t really know what dandelion tastes like) but it is a defining quality in this gin, however you serve it—perhaps I should dub this flavour “Lincoln green”. Given the nose, tasted neat it is surprisingly savoury, with something like cucumber peel or plant stems going on. But then a perceived sweetness does appear, and it is certainly smooth and mellow on the tongue. Whether you find this quality makes for easy drinking or gets a bit cloying will be a matter of taste, but it did start to suggest crystallised fruit and flowers.

It makes a smooth Martini, with a suggestion of fresh mint and the sweet/savoury herbal element again. It’s not a hugely powerful gin, in terms either of alcohol (40.5% ABV) or flavour, something which became clear when I tried making cocktails with it. With an Aviation or a Corpse Reviver No.2 I had the opposite experience from when I recently used the two Cornish Navy strength gins—Sir Robin gin is easily masked by other ingredients, and in both cocktails I found you had to at least double the specified quantity of gin before you could really tell it was there. With the Corpse Reviver you can get to a reasonable balance but with the Aviation I’m not sure it ever really made its presence felt.

But then they do say it’s intended as a sipping gin. Is it a good sipping gin? I confess it will never be my favourite, but there is something intriguing here and I’ve not had anything that tastes quite the same. For me it is probably a bit too cloying neat, though—I think I prefer it in a G&T, where its savoury, herbal stripe seems to add a refreshing quality.

I see that Locksley also make another hybrid, a Navy Strength Old Tom—see the last post for my thoughts on Navy strength gin—which, like the Navy strengths from Trevethan and Tarquin’s, might fare better in cocktails. They even do a version of the Navy Strength Old Tom that has been aged in a Sauternes barrel.

Sir Robin of Locksley Distilled Artisan Gin can be bought for about £38.