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.

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