Friday 27 June 2014

Adnams gin, old and new

The original 50cl sample (left) and a newly-purchased 70cl bottle
I noticed that my local Sainsbury’s had started selling Adnams First Rate gin. Having remembered it as impressing me favourably when I reviewed the Adnams spirit range back in 2011, I bought a bottle. It still impresses me, with a powerful spicy, herbaceous flavour that makes a punchy Martini.

While poking around in a cupboard, however, I came across the last of the original bottle I was sent for review purposes. I was interested to see that they had made some minor changes to the label design. This got me wondering if they had changed the contents as well, so I did a comparative tasting.

On the nose the old bottle is herbaceous, aromatic, with a slightly medicinal, almost eucalyptus-like note. The new bottle, while recognisably the same, has more juniper steel about it, plus a more pronounced orange aroma, with darker elements of butter and caramel.

On the palate the old bottle is soft, with a hint of florality; the caramel notes that you can smell on the new batch come through here. Meanwhile the new gin is sharper in the mouth, with the aromatic qualities now making themselves felt, and a long, lingering finish.

Have they changed the formula? Or am I witnessing the effect of three years in a bottle that is now only about a quarter full? They say that spirits don’t change once they are in glass, but the older batch would have been exposed to quite a bit of air on repeated openings, and the bottle itself contains a fair amount. It makes sense that perhaps some of the alcohol will have evaporated, and we know that the same gin can come across differently at different ABVs (just taste the regular and Navy Strength versions of the same gin). If this has happened it might explain why the older batch seems softer in the mouth—there may be less alcohol in it.*

Just to be sure I ask John McCarthy, Adnams’ Head Distiller, if the recipe has changed. He assures me it has not. He agrees that oxidation is likely to have played a part in the difference in flavour between the two bottles I have, but he also adds, “Batches of botanicals, being natural ingredients will have slight variations batch to batch (we try and make adjustments to allow for this).” Interestingly, he also suggests that maturation may be a factor: “Flavours will change and develop over time, even in bottle.”

So, should we be “laying down” bottles of gin to mature? Of course there is no suggestion that spirits in the bottle will necessarily change for the better. You may just lose volatile elements, sanding off the aromatic corners. But it’s an interesting idea.

Ironically, the thing that prompted this experiment—the change to the label design—turns out not even to be a change. The original sample I was sent was a smaller 50cl bottle and, looking at the online shop, I realise that the 50cl bottles just have a different label from the full-size bottle, without the latter’s photo of what looks like bits of a yacht. They still have the same label as the one I have.

* I experienced a striking illustration of this recently. I poured myself a jigger of malt whisky as a nightcap, drank half of it but then either forgot to finish it or perhaps just fell asleep. Either way, the half-full shot glass sat on my desk for several days waiting for a suitable occasion for me to finish it. When I finally took a sip I nearly spat it out in disgust. While it was still clearly related to peaty malt whisky, it was now sour, dusty and thin—I suspect that the bulk of the alcohol had evaporated away, leaving mostly water.

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