Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Boodles gin returns home

The modern bottle design
Drifting through the spirits aisle of Sainsbury’s I noticed that they were now stocking Boodles gin. This took me slightly by surprise—DBS has always proclaimed it to be his favourite gin (and this from a man who has tasted hundreds), but I had never hitherto been able to taste it, as it was no longer available in this country. Clearly that is no longer the case.

The gin was named after Boodle’s, the gentleman’s club at 28 St James’s Street that celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2012. (This club itself was founded by the Earl of Shelburne, later to become Prime Minister, but was named after its head waiter, Edward Boodle.) According to the brand owner’s website it was created in 1845 and was a favourite of Winston Churchill’s (although I’ve also heard that Plymouth was his top tipple.) It doesn’t seem as if it was the house gin at the club, however. Throughout the 20th century it was bottled by Seagram in the US, ownership later passing to Pernod Ricard.

The back label
Made by Greenalls in a Carter-Head still* as a botanical concentrate (i.e. distilled with a high quantity of botanicals, and therefore with a very concentrated flavour), it was, by the time I became aware if it, being shipped to Arkansas where it was diluted with alcohol and water to get its flavour down to a palatable intensity and its ABV to 47.2% (which later dropped to 45.2%). Since 2013, although still made by Greenalls in the same way, it has been owned by Proximo, of Kraken rum fame, and is bottled in Burlington. Although still sold in the US at 45.2%, the version distributed in the UK is only 40% ABV. (This is quite a common pattern.) David certainly feels that the 40% version is not a patch on the higher strength expression.

Boodles famously has an understated juniper component, and this is indeed how it strikes you, the nose offering candied floral notes and something like lemon sherbet. Orange seems to be present, although in fact there is, unusually, no citrus among the nine botanicals—juniper, coriander seed, angelica root and seed, cassia bark, caraway seed, nutmeg, rosemary and sage. I’m guessing the impression of citrus is coming from the coriander and nutmeg, both rather lemony in their way. On the palate it is smooth, with an immediate impression of sweetness on the tip of the tongue, which then dries out. There is black pepper on the finish and, for me, a slight bitter aftertaste. As you add water you get more of an orange/lemon suggestion, and something like violets (presumably from the angelica, the root of which is doubtless adding to the sense of sweetness).

An Aviation cocktail made with Boodles
Some of those botanicals are pretty rare groove. Can I taste rosemary and sage? Not really. I can believe there is rosemary there, though its resinous herbaceous character occupies similar territory to juniper.

I believe Churchill was fond of a Martini, and I can see that the sweet, softness of this gin makes for an approachable example of this drink. I make one up, and get the same floral character with hints of vanilla and ginger. In an Aviation** the gin blends in smoothly and harmonises with the cherry and violet fragrance. It shows warm, dry spice that almost reminds me of turmeric or cumin. I think this gin likes an Aviation, and it’s interesting to note that I thought the same of Gin Mare, the only other gin I have tasted with rosemary in it.

Finally I try a side-by-side comparison with Tanqueray and Plymouth. Tanqueray has an up-front juniper nose and is dry on the tongue, while Plymouth has a softer nose and a smooth palate with plenty of orange peel. Boodles by comparison leads with that lemon sherbet element, which is refreshing, though I’m not keen on that hint of bitterness on the aftertaste. I decided to try and combat the latter by mixing the three gins with sugar and lemon juice. Now the Boodles comes across as coyly sweet and smooth compared to the others (perhaps too much so: one needs to control the sugar), and floral complexities unfold, with refreshing suggestions of lime.

I don’t think that Boodles could become my favourite gin, but I can see how it, like Plymouth, might appeal as a Martini ingredient. Like Gin Mare, it sounds as if it should be savoury but in fact blends best when you consider its forward floral character. But as for gins with unusual herbs in them, I prefer Gin Mare.

* The defining characteristic of the Carter-Head is that, instead of macerating in the alcohol prior to redistillation, the botanicals are placed in a basket within the still so that the alcohol vapour passes through them. This process, without any actual steeping in the liquid alcohol, extracts different flavours.

** Gin, lemon juice, maraschino and crème de violette, although after the last ingredient became hard to find many got into the habit of leaving it out. Of course without the crème de violette, your cocktail does not have the pale blue colour from which its name derives. I use the modern version from The Bitter Truth. You only need a small amount, but the violet note is distinctive part of the cocktail.

No comments:

Post a Comment