Saturday 24 September 2011

The old ones are the best ones

In my review of the new Handmade Cocktail Company range of ready-mixed, bottled cocktails from Master of Malt, I mentioned that there had clearly also been an Old Fashioned, but that the website listed it as out of stock. Almost as soon as I posted that, a bottle arrived from a new batch.

The drinks chosen for this range have all focused on the classics—whether to maximise recognition, to show just how well they could turbo-charge an established formula or simply because these tend to be spirit-heavy and therefore self-preserving—and it’s hard to get much more classic than this. Widely regarded as one of the oldest cocktails around, it was already being called an “old fashioned cocktail” by the late nineteenth century, to distinguish it from modern upstarts like the Manhattan and Martini, with their fancy vermouths. Apparently the first recorded use of the name was on the menu at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. An Old Fashioned is essentially a glass of whiskey with sugar and bitters. It is entirely possible that the sugar was there to soften the roughness of early whiskey and perhaps that the whiskey was there to make the medicinal bitters more palatable. (As is so often the case, drinkers developed a taste for the medicine—as with tonic water and probably most herbal drinks, including gin and absinthe).

The Handmade Cocktail Company version starts with a high-proof, nine-year-old rye-heavy bourbon (they won’t say which one), which is sweetened and augmented with a secret blend of bitters plus orange peel. It is bottled at 38.4% ABV in the same pleasingly squat, hefty and, yes, old-fashioned bottle as the rest of the range. You simply pour a slug into a glass over ice—though, as with the other drinks in the range, it also give you the chance just to keep the bottle in the freezer.

I have to say that, not having a sweet tooth myself, the Old Fashioned is not my favourite cocktail. And yet, as with the other drinks in this range, I instantly get a sense that this is a very polished and poised example of its kind; and once I’ve got used to the sweetness, I find it very easy to quaff. (In fact I see that I have already managed to drink half the bottle. Tum tee tum.) Moreover, I would add that the level of sweetness is entirely as it should be, balancing well with the fire of the bourbon. This cocktail has a wonderful perfume of wood (evoking old varnished wood, cigar box wood, fruit crate wood), fruit (both fresh and rich, dried fruit), plus keen, high aromatic notes from the bitters, yet all of it integrating so well that it is in fact hard to say which elements come from which ingredient. On the tongue it spreads softly and warmly and finishes with a marmalade and vanilla depth. The instructions suggest serving with a piece of squeezed orange peel, though I confess I never seem to have oranges in—unlike lemons and limes. In honour of Jerry Thomas’ recipe I try a lemon peel instead and it is jolly appealing, adding a refreshing zing to the drink (although, in combination with the sugar, also reminding me of Opal Fruits—or Starburst as you youngsters would know them). But I would add that I don’t think the drink actually needs a garnish at all.

If you’re a fan of the Old Fashioned and want to make sure you’ve tasted it at its best—or if you’ve tried it and didn’t think you liked it—I advise you to try this version.

The Handmade Cocktail Company’s Old Fashioned Cocktail is available from Master of Malt for £34.95 for a 70cl bottle.

Thursday 22 September 2011

A good blow for whisky lovers

I received this little item recently from the Whisky Exchange as a bonus with an order—it’s a handkerchief printed with a single malt whisky flavour map! Just the thing for an evening spent drinking whisky and taking snuff, I would have thought.

I don’t know what you have to do to get one, as they don’t appear to be for sale. But perhaps if you ask nicely…

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Draughts from the Windy City

Our last Candlelight Club event looked at Chicago during Prohibition so I set about tinkering with a menu of appropriate beverages.

I must say, I hadn’t realised just how corrupt the city was in those days. Al Capone apparently spent some $75 million on bribery, with the result that some of his speakeasies didn’t need to disguise the fact that they served alcohol. From 1927 even the city mayor was in his pay. At one point the Chief of Police admitted that half of his men were actively engaged in bootlegging themselves. There was a magazine called The Chicagoan, now little known but then intended as the equivalent of The New Yorker, and I’ve been looking at a copy from 2nd July 1927: not only does Prohibition and bootlegging feature quite heavily but it seems defensive, almost proud of the local hoods:

Chicago is the present capitol of large-scale bootlegging, her bootleggers the merchant princes of the profession… Any good bootleg office should guarantee a loop delivery in 30 minutes. Good firms usually scorn to adulterate their wares. They attempt to win and hold patronage by solid merchandising value… “Hell,” as one explained to this investigator, “we got no kick coming. Our business is gettin’ better and better. We’re all making money. Everybody’s happy!”

Al Capone
So what are some quintessentially Chicagoan cocktails? I guess we’d have to start with the Chicago Cocktail. No one seems to know where or how it came into existence but it was apparently being served under that name before Prohibition at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria as an import from the Windy City.

Chicago Cocktail
2 shots brandy
2 dashes of bitters (presumably Angostura)
Curaçao (somewhere ¼ and 1 tsp)
Sometimes a few dashes of gomme
Champagne to top

Also known as a Fancy Brandy Cocktail, this goes back to the dawn of mixology where the idea seems just to prettify the base spirit with sweetness and some aromatic high harmonics. It is also essentially a Champagne Cocktail with curaçao and different proportions. It is sometimes shaken and strained and sometimes served on the rocks. I have found one reference (Robert Vermere’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them) to its being improved with a dash of absinthe—but then isn’t everything? Being familiar with the Champage Cocktail I had a feeling that this version would be too heavy on the brandy, but in fact it works very well, and feels agreeably rich and decadent.

Chicago Fizz
1 shot rum (light or dark, depending on whom you believe)
1 shot port
Juice of half a lemon (about 1 shot)
1 egg white
1 tsp powdered sugar
Soda water to top
Shake all ingredients except soda, first without ice, then with ice, and strain. Top with soda water.

Again I can’t find any story for this drink but a fizz (or fiz as Jerry Thomas spells it) goes back to the nineteenth century and can be made with any base spirit. I’ve heard a tip that, with egg white recipes, you should dry-shake the ingredients together before adding ice, to give the egg a chance to whip up a good consistency; but certainly with this recipe you just get too much of a foamy head that way. I was using pasteurised egg white in cartons and found that half a measure was fine. It’s an intriguing recipe that works better than it sounds it will—the egg adds a silky texture but the whole is refreshing, with a sweet/sour vinous element from the port, and pleasantly pink.

Cohasset Punch
1½ shots dark rum (only Martha Stewart suggests light rum)
1 shot vermouth (recipes are evenly split between sweet and dry)
Juice of half a lemon (about 1 shot)
½ shot Grand Marnier (optional; triple sec is also worth trying)
½ shot syrup from a tin of peaches
Put half a tinned peach in a Champagne glass, half fill with shaved ice, shake the liquid ingredients and strain into the glass.

Odd that this definitive Chicago cocktail should be named after the town of Cohasset in Massachusetts. The story goes that William H. Crane, a very successful actor in of the late nineteenth century, was doing well enough to throw fancy parties at his summer house in Cohasset. Having played a long run at Chicago’s Hooley Theatre Crane brought one of the city’s better bartenders, Gus Williams, out to his next party to do the mixing. Williams came up with this drink and it was so successful he put it on the menu at his own place, Williams & Newman, in Chicago. In 1916 he retired and sold the recipe to the Ladner Brothers, whose saloon was then decorated with a neon sign proclaiming the “Home of the Cohasset Punch”.

The classic recipe doesn’t have the Grand Marnier—that was added by Wall Street Journal writer Eric Felton, I think. My own experiments have found that the syrup in tins or peaches round here doesn’t really taste of much—neither peaches nor syrup—so I tried replacing it with Monin commercial peach syrup or crème de pêche, which works much better. I think I slightly prefer it with dry vermouth. I’m not sure what the drinker is supposed to do with half a peach in their glass, so I replaced this with a couple of slices.

2 shots gin
1 shot lemon juice
½ shot gomme syrup
Half a dozen mint leaves
Muddle the mint in the bottom of the shaker then add the other ingredients, shake and strain.

Essentially a Gin Collins with mint. The story goes that, served over crushed ice, this was the beverage of choice for Chicago’s Southside gangsters, while the Northside crew preferred to take their gin with ginger ale. How it thence came to be the house drink at Manhattan’s 21 Club and later a staple of summer in the Hamptons, I do not know: Eric Felton (see above) pooh-poohs the origin myth and believes it was more likely invented at the exclusive Southside Sportsmen’s Club on Long Island itself. I was surprised how strong a presence the mint has if pummelled in this way, making for a delightfully fresh cocktail.

A Chicago speakeasy, apparently
Back in the day, Chicago was full of speakeasies. Many of them would have a legitimate business on the ground floor: Club Lucky was a hardware store, Emmit’s was a bank, John Barleycorn’s was a Chinese laundry, with booze carted in covered by dirty linen. The drinking went on in an upstairs room or in the basement. Emmit’s and Halligan came complete with escape tunnels. At least 30 of these places are still bars, but there are also new cocktail bars seeking to revive the spirit of the cocktail age, such as The Violet Hour. So I adapted one of the drinks from their list. They don’t reveal their recipes, but here is my version inspired by The Blinker.

The Violet Hour
2 shots bourbon
2 shots grapefruit juice
1 shot Chambord or crème de framboise
2 dashes grapefruit bitters
Shake and strain.

It’s an intriguing drink because it is very fruity, but refreshingly bitter-sweet because of the grapefruit juice. I was much taken with it, though one of our barmen, as he handed me one, sniffed, “It’s not my favourite from the list…” Clearly the grapefruit sharpness will divide drinkers.

One other I considered for our party is a well established drink called a Godfather, essentially a mixture of Scotch whisky and amaretto. Proportions vary but I think 2½ Scotch to 1 amaretto is about right. I did find one passing reference to the idea of adding a dash of absinthe, which actually works very well, so I’ve included the recipe and adjusted the name to reflect this:

The Godfather, Part 2
2½ shots Scotch
1 shot amaretto
Dash absinthe
Build on the rocks. I tried it with Islay malt whisky, thinking the smokiness might evoke gunsmoke, but it’s actually quite horrible—the iodine peatiness quarrels with the amaretto. This works better with blended whisky.

So here is a list that we can justify as Chicago-related. But do they drink these in Chicago? The Cohasset Punch was definitely served at Ladner’s until its demise in the 1980s, and it was even sold as a bottled premix. As for the others, in 1931 John Drury wrote Dining in Chicago and lists a number of locally popular cocktails: but he doesn’t suggest people were drinking the ones mentioned so far, and doesn't mention the Southside at all. He does reference:

The Gilbert To one jigger of Gordon gin, add one-half jigger of French vermouth and one-half jigger of Italian vermouth, a touch of Absinthe, and strain into cocktail glass. Concocted by Paul Gilbert, of the Chicago Evening Post, and a favorite of Ring Lardner, when both rested their weary reportorial feet on the brass rail at Stillson's. 

The Pink Lady To one jigger of Gin, add orange syrup to color, a dash of Apollinaris, and one-half a lime. Ice, stir well, and serve. Another Paul Gilbert creation, now become a standard cocktail. Said to be Walter Winchell's favorite. 

The Ticonderoga To one jigger of Dubonnet, add a dash of Italian vermouth, a dash of Grenadine and a touch of lemon. Emil Rutz, manager of the extinct Vogelsang's, concocted this—and the Loophounds liked it.

The Martini Into a shaker half-filled with cracked ice, pour two-thirds of a wine glass of Gordon Gin, one-half wine glass Italian Vermouth, and add a dash of Orange Bitters. Shake well, and serve with a piece of orange peel or an olive. 

The Mission To two-thirds Gordon Gin, add one-third French Vermouth; stir well and strain into cocktail glass into which a stuffed olive has been placed. This was a great attraction to the boys at the old Mission Bar in West Madison Street before Mr. Volstead appeared.

So this is what Chicagoans were actually drinking in 1931, though obviously the “Mission” is closer to the Martini as most of us understand it today.

And if you want some modern day verité, the Chicago edition of foodie site The Tasting Table offered this selection of the city’s best contemporary cocktails last year.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Pash-ion For Vodka #9 - Babicka Wormwood Vodka

I picked up my sample of Babička at a recent London Barshow—having tasted it at the stand I knew it was something I wanted to write about. Hartley and I tried a Wormwood distillate at the Sacred Distillery and were taken with how much of the flavour of absinthe the distillate had. So naturally a wormwood vodka is of similar interest.

Babička is from Czech Republica and takes its name from a 16th-century word from the country: these were old wise women or "grandmothers" known for their healing herbal remedies and use of witchcraft.

The vodka uses 100% Moravian corn as its base spirit

Nose: Herbal nose, with hints of fennel, star anise and wormwood. Some other woody elements and a little menthol
Taste: Very smooth, and then the flavour comes, herbally complex with a sweetness akin to a cough draught and a little aftertaste of rosehip sweets or Barratt's Fruit Salad chews. Very tasty.

Slightly syrupy and pleasantly viscous, nose subdued a little sage and a tiny berry note. The taste is subdued but the woody menthol notes are still there, with a green herb and red berry finish. A bit different but a definite quality to the flavour and to the product in general. My preference would be at room temperature.

Rather nice, quite bitter and pleasantly crisp. Touch of Cinnamon Very smooth and completely unique. Superb.

Monday 5 September 2011

Gin Mare: a gin you can't refuse

As the fad continues for producing “gins” that include all manner of bizarre flavours, Gin Mare, behind which a fair amount of marketing clout seems to have been put, looks like a bold move. In addition to juniper, coriander, cardamom and citrus peel (lemon plus both bitter and sweet oranges), we have thyme, basil, rosemary and olives. The idea is to create a self-consciously Mediterranean gin, something that denizens of that region will embrace as their own. (The name comes from the concept of Mare Nostra, “Our Sea”. Spain is a huge gin market so you can see the logic.)

Fortunately they allow us Brits to drink the stuff too. The bottle is striking, with an olive-leaf pattern prominent on the front along with the phrase “Colección de autor”. Some marketing bumf I’ve seen attempts to translate this, rather bafflingly, as “author’s collection”. I speak no Spanish, so I don’t know if they are getting at something artisanal here, a product created by craftsmen, or if it means the creation of an visionary auteur: it is, apparently, “the vision of a new generation of a family with a long tradition of distilling high quality spirits”. So, both traditional and innovative at the same time, conveniently.

The blue and white shades of the bottle represent the sky and the clouds, the sea and the surf.  The bold cap covers the whole neck and forms a handy 50ml measure. Its top is struck like a classical medallion and there are four vanes on the side that apparently represent the four Mediterranean botanicals (the basil is from Italy, the thyme from Turkey, the Rosemary from Greece and the Arbequina olives—the only olives to have their own DOC category—from Spain, though in fact the citrus also comes from Spain and the juniper is, they say, harvested on their own farms, so I assume that is Spanish too). But to me the bottle cap has a Futurist architectural quality and reminds me of Mussolini’s Fascist EuR development in Rome.*

The product was launched in February 2010 and the promotional literature shows that it was born as a titanic marketing exercise, attempting to encapsulate a relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle, a warm climate, a native love of gastronomy and a sense of escape. (This last one seems at odds—if you’re a native of the Med, surely you’re not escaping there? It’s only us pasty Brits who try that.) There are photos of beautiful people dressed in minimalist white and scenes of what Mount Olympus would look like if it were a club on Ibiza.

Typical Gin Mare consumers: these people are so relaxed they have forgotten
to build the rest of their house
But a lot of thought and effort have gone into the product too. All the botanicals are distilled separately (something I used to think only Ian Hart of Sacred did, but one hears of it more and more). Whereas most gins macerate their botanicals all together for about 24 hours, Gin Mare botanicals are steeped for varying times—from 36 hours for the olives up to a year for the citrus peel. At a tasting at Graphic in March we were told that the reason for the separate distillations is that the olive distillate varies a lot in heaviness and flavour, so this way they can keep the balance consistent. The distillates are hand blended and the finished product is bottled at 42.7% ABV.

That Futurist bottle cap
As if terroir, tradition and technique weren’t enough, the manufacturers have hedged their bets even further by erecting the still in an 18th-century chapel that was dismantled brick by brick and reassembled in its current location in an old fishing village between the Costa Brava and the Costa Dorada, presumably to make sure that God is also on their side.

So many New Gins seem to play down the juniper aspect and add sweet, floral notes, apparently to woo punters who perhaps are ripe to like the idea of gin, but fundamentally don’t like the taste (especially women, at whom some brands are specifically aimed). Gin Mare is, when you unscrew the cap, clearly gin—the juniper hits you first. But then there is obviously something floral, smooth and sweet going on too. On the palate I get something like cinnamon, warm and rich, and then there is the olive, quite noticeably, plus the woody, aromatic thyme and rosemary elements. This is the fascinating thing about Gin Mare, the way it manages to present sweet, smooth, floral qualities yet avoids ending up cloying like many modern gins, and somehow successfully marrying this with a distinct saltiness from the olives and the dry, savoury, resinous elements of the herbs too.

In a G&T this character remains pronounced, with both a distinctive herbaceous quality and a silky smooth mouthfeel. At the Graphic tasting we had our wrists slapped over the idea of garnishing the drink with lemon or lime (despite the fact that citrus is an ingredient) on the ground that they would overpower the flavours: instead we should use rosemary, thyme, basil or mint. In a Martini one should use an olive.**

I tried the gin in a few other classic cocktails:

Martinez (2 parts Gin Mare, 1 part Carpano Antica Formula red vermouth, 1–2 tsp maraschino, dash of Angostura bitters) Cracking. The herbaceous flavours of the gin marry well with the vermouth and balance nicely with the fruity sweetness of the maraschino.

Negroni (equal parts Gin Mare, Carpano Antica Formula red vermouth, Campari)
With Antica Formula this makes a warm, chocolately Negroni, with the sweet fragrance of the gin and the prominent vanilla of the vermouth creating a smooth feather-pillow for your tongue; but then there is that bitterness at the end, from both the vermouth and the Campari. Not sure it’s the very best Negroni I’ve had—perhaps it wants the steely juniper note in more conventional gins.

Dirty Martini (4 parts Gin Mare to 1 part dry vermouth, plus about ½ tsp of olive brine) It seemed an obvious thing to try and, as you might imagine, it works very well—although you are really just adding more of the salty olive character that is already there. Nevertheless it does emphasise the effectiveness of the botanical combination in the gin.

Graphic bar manager Sarah Mitchell with Duncan Hayter
from Gin Mare at the event in March
Gimlet (2½ parts Gin Mare and ¾ part lime cordial) Balances in a surprising manner—it brings out the floral character in the gin, though the savoury, salty qualities are still in there too. The warm, spicy elements poke through clearly. In fact in an interesting way this cocktail spotlights the complex balancing act that Gin Mare attempts—and for my money by and large achieves—though I sense it might be a love-it-or-hate-it thing for most people.

Gibson (A dry Martini with one or two cocktail onions as garnish) Having quite a savoury tooth I do like this cocktail and I figured that a gin with so many savoury elements as Gin Mare would work well. But I’m not sure I was right: in context Gin Mare came up with some surprising sweet elements that seemed to jar with the sulphurous allium flavour of the onion (reminding me a bit of sweet-pickled herring). It makes you realise that the dominant herbaceous notes aren’t as savoury as they seem.

Red Snapper (2 parts Gin Mare, 4 parts tomato juice, ½ part lemon or lime juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, celery salt) Likewise an obviously savoury cocktail (and one of the few classic cocktails that sits easily with the extraordinarily savoury Aviation gin). And it was pretty good, yet again it didn’t work as neatly as I would have assumed. In this savoury, almost meaty context, Gin Mare showed itself to be more floral and sweet than I had thought. And I am reminded just how powerfully flavoured it is: this is a muscular cocktail context, with the acids of the tomato and lemon and the chilli and pepper heat, yet the Gin Mare immediately pushed its flavour profile through.

Aviation (2 parts Gin Mare, ½ part maraschino, ½ part lemon juice, ¼ part crème de violette) As gin shorts go this is relatively fruity/floral, so I didn’t expect it to work but I was wrong. This sort of cocktail, perhaps like the Gimlet, showed that Gin Mare actually has a strong floral perfume, that in this case sits quite happily with the violet and cherry flavours.

I’ve now nearly finished my bottle of Gin Mare in my experimentations, which is in itself a sign. The strong thyme, rosemary, basil and olive elements are impossible to ignore, yet this would make the gin sound like food, and as it turns out it is not that savoury as a mixer. It works well in combinations with a floral/fruity character. Forcefully characterful, it may well divide and perplex drinkers, but I still find myself fascinated by it.

Gin Mare can be had for about £34 a bottle (or £42 if you buy it from Harvey Nicks).

* See m’colleague’s recent review of Adler gin from Munich: adler means “eagle”, but it is reminiscent of the Adlerhorst, Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” mountain hideaway. So if Adler is “Hitler’s gin” then perhaps Gin Mare can be “Mussolini’s gin”. I believe that Churchill was partial to Plymouth in his Martinis. So, what would be Roosevelt’s and Stalin’s gins, I wonder..?
** This whole business of garnishes sometimes seems a bit pointless to me. Granted that nothing you can do to the constituent liquids will create the same effect as squeezing the oil from a strip of lemon rind on to the surface of your Martini, but many prescribed garnishes leave me thinking, If you believe your gin needs that extra element of grapefruit/basil/raw beef or whatever, why not just add that flavour when you distil it and serve it without a garnish? Much of it is just gimmickry, methinks.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Is there a "Scottish" gin style?

The gang gather at Graphic in London's Golden Square

It hadn’t escaped DBS that there were an increasing number of gins coming out of Scotland these days, joining the juggernaut that is Hendrick’s, made by William Grant of whisky-making distinction (for more on that gin, see our previous review). So last week a posse of ginthusiasts assembled at Graphic for a blind tasting of some dozen spirits that were linked only by the fact that they are all made north of the border. You could argue (and some did) that “Scottish gin” is not a recognised style—although this is something David wanted to put to the test. But even if it is not, comparative tastings usually shed some useful light.

So to cut to the chase, here are my notes (bearing in mind that at the time we did not know what the samples were). Each gin was sampled on its own and with tonic (and sometimes just with water).

1. Old Raj Red (46%) Notwithstanding the blindness of the tasting, this was immediately recognisable as one of the two Old Raj samples, because of its colour—faintly yellow, as a result of the saffron that is infused post-distillation (by the company chairman himself, apparently). It had a sweet, fruity nose with a hint of blackcurrant, it seemed, and a silky mouthfeel. A classy heft to it. Made a pretty well balanced G&T (though for my money the best use of Old Raj is in a Martini).

2. Edinburgh A nettly, slightly pungent nose with perhaps a hint of smoky rubber. The palate was dry but with a definite hint of banana. It worked better in a G&T but still there was that banana element, which I didn’t like at all. Bit sweet.

3. Cadenhead Classic More juniper-led than perhaps any of the others; quite traditional in its come-on. Has an underlying perfume but also a hint of allium, or something else savoury. The palate is dry but with a “dry sugar” botanical flavour. Marries very well with tonic in a classic way. A classy example of a conventional conception of gin.

The blind samples in their numbered bottles
4. Hendrick’s 41.4% Nose seems dominated by citrus, orange in particular, with a sweetish palate. [Odd that I wasn’t struck by rose or cucumber, the signature botanicals of Hendrick’s.]

5. Caorunn May be my imagination but it seems almost to have a greenish tint to it. Pencil juniper on the nose, then citrus, then coriander, then a warm bottom note, more or less in that order. The palate is fairly balanced but a bit sweet, and with an interesting aftertaste, the sweetness joined by a lingering vegetal flavour. Quite fiery too, despite that sweetness. Add tonic, though, and it falls apart slightly, actually becomes a bit crude.

6. Hendrick’s 44% Nose of citrus but also something sappy and herbal. Hint of coal tar. Palate is balanced; smooth but not over-sweet. Nice orange/aromatic finish.

7. The Botanist The nose is a bit like a less subtle version of No.6. Has a definite “green” note. Palate seems a bit flat. With tonic it seems a bit crude and heavy-handed compared to some of the others.

8. Boe A dry, herbaceous nose of thyme or lavender, and a light, balanced palate showing poise. Add tonic and citrus emerges. Quite interesting though I suspect the floral/lavender element might get a bit cloying to me after a while.

9. Old Raj Blue (55%) Yellowish, so clearly the other Old Raj. A bit hard to get a handle on neat, because the high strength keeps some of the flavour elements bottled, but with tonic it becomes smooth, floral and perfumed, with a bit of ginger.

10. Darnley’s View A floral nose but just edging towards rancid plasticene. A fruity palate but surprisingly dry after that overmellow flowery nose.

11. Hammer A dry nose led by juniper and orange. Palate is dry too but quite balanced, though ultimately rather low key; which is perhaps the idea. [This isn’t a Scottish gin at all—it’s made in Norway—but David included it as a sort of control or touchstone, because it sells itself as a London Dry Gin; but I wasn’t struck by its standing out from the overwhelming “Scottishness” of the other samples. In fact for me the one that stood out as a more classic style was Cadenhead Classic.]

12. Blackwood’s, 2008 A nose or spearmint chews and lemon and lime. Light and dry on the palate with a pleasant lemony aromatic quality. As a G&T it works rather well, the lean, lemon notes sitting comfortably with similar qualities in the tonic water.

My favourites? Knowing what Nos 1 and 9 were, and therefore lumping them together, I would say that my top three were 1/9, 3 and 6, which is to say Old Raj (in both formulations), Cadenhead Classic and Hendrick’s 44%. It’s hard to say what order I’d put them in but probably the Old Raj (made by Cadenhead) and the Cadenhead Classic would vie for top spot—meaning that the Cadenhead distillery is probably where I should go and live.

Overall as a group we voted Hendricks 44% into first place, followed by Old Raj Blue (55%) in second, Hendrick’s 41.4% in third, Old Raj Red (46%) in fourth and Cadenhead Classic in fifth, which is broadly consistent with my own conclusions.

Hendrick's (US export, 44%)

Old Raj Blue (55%)

Hendrick's (UK version, 41.4%)

Is there a “Scottish style”? Some of the gins play on their Scottishness in terms of presentation and ingredients—many include heather, The Botanist includes a whopping 31 botanicals all of which grow naturally on the island of Islay where it is made, and Blackwood’s make a big deal of how their botanicals are hand-picked on Shetland in a particular season (though don’t actually state that all the botanicals come from there, any more than all the Botanist ones come from Islay). But it’s telling that our top five in the blind tasting don’t really fall into that category: the Cadenhead gins are fairly classic (with the saffron being not very Scottish at all) while Hendrick’s key ingredients are rose essence from Bulgaria and cucumber essence from the Netherlands.