Thursday 14 July 2022

Taste the rainbow

One of the minis of gin I was sent
I was contacted out of the blue by Jane Oake from a gin that was new to me, Rainbow Gin. She was actually hoping to get us to stock it at the Candlelight Club, but as a pop-up we can’t have a huge back bar, just a few key flavours. However, I’m always interested in new products, and I asked her what the distinguishing features of the gin were.

“Our USP is our Rainbow Branding,” she replied. “We set out to create a vibrant, colourful brand which would stand out on the shelf. We wanted a gin with a glamorous, celebratory feel.” I’m sure no one can attempt to market a gin, or anything else, without giving plenty of thought to branding but it’s interesting to encounter a gin that is presented primarily in terms of its branding. I mean, you can’t actually taste a rainbow, so it’s not rainbow-flavoured gin.

In fairness, Jane did then add, “In addition to this we have the gin itself! It is not only delicious, it is incredibly smooth with a creamy finish.”

Given the name, I asked if there was an LGBT connection. No, there isn’t, but “we want to celebrate all things Rainbow with our brand.  We are donating £1 per bottle to charities with a Rainbow connection.” I didn’t probe as to what a “rainbow connection” might be, but I’m assuming we’re talking about charities with the word in their name, rather than charities that create rainbows or hunt for crocks of gold at the end of them. I also wondered if there was an interesting origin story behind how and why the creators decided to make their own gin; I asked Jane what her background was before this, but she just said that her background was “very varied” and left it at that. You could be forgiven for thinking that the whole exercise has been generated by an experimental marketing bot.

When I read some of the literature I discovered there was more: the name also refers to their botanicals “reflecting the colours of the rainbow”, and Jane confirmed that, having established the branding, they then asked their Master Distiller to come up with a botanical bill that did this. These botanicals are red grapefruit, orange, lemon, (green) bay, (blue) gentian, juniper (which I guess is ticking the “indigo” box) and violet. Citrus peel and juniper are obviously fairly standard gin botanicals, but I’m not sure I’ve encountered bay before, so that’s intriguing. I know of at least one gin that uses violets (Tarquin’s Cornish Gin, which deploys violets from Tarquin’s own garden), but it’s still quite a rare botanical. 

A full-size bottle
As for gentian, it’s usually used for its bitterness—however, none other than Ted Breaux himself told me that it’s pretty hard for bitterness to pass through the distillation process, as the molecules responsible for that flavour are heavy and tend to get left behind.* I mentioned this to Jane, who spoke to their Master Distiller (who is not named anywhere), who insisted that the gentian does lend bitterness, so who knows? But remember that Jane herself gave the gin’s smoothness as a key characteristic, so I’m not sure why you’d actually want a bittering agent. A cynic might suggest that they wanted something blue and perhaps gentian has the advantage that it is certainly that, while not having any real effect on the flavour.

Anyway, what’s it actually like? On the nose there is a strong citrus element that hits me first, almost candied, before any juniper, plus something more flatly herbal and savoury. This could be the bay—certainly once I’d noticed this on the botanical list I could convince myself I could detect it. As time passes it’s this herbaceous note that comes to dominate. I don’t get any violets. On the tongue it is indeed smooth (though it’s not an especially high ABV). My first impression is that it is very savoury, almost salty, though I’m wondering if the strong notes of orange on the nose trick you into subconsciously expecting it to be sweet, exaggerating the absence of sweetness.

I only had a couple of miniatures to play with so I couldn’t do endless experiments, but I tried making a Martini using Rainbow Gin and Belsazar vermouth. On the nose the gin melds fairly effortlessly with the herbal character of the vermouth, and now I do get a hint of violet—perhaps it takes a bit of dilution to reveal itself. Likewise, on the palate this serve is more complex and interesting that the gin on its own (OK, so I guess that’s the whole point of cocktails, but I mean that I’m getting more from the gin this way than I do neat). It’s sort of sweet and salty. I even get a whiff of cinnamon, which is strange as there is none in the gin. But am I getting a rainbow of flavours? No. A tricolor at best.

Finally, I try a gin and tonic, using Fever Tree Light in a 2:1 ratio. Comparing it directly with G&Ts made with Beefeater and Tanqueray, which I happen to have to hand, the Rainbow produces a dark and savoury element like cumin that floats up (again, though there’s no cumin mentioned in the botanical bill). And despite the citric nature of both the tonic and this gin, in combination the gin actually seems to smooth away the tonic’s sharp citric edge, even though, deep down, there is still a lime Opal Fruit note. ** Overall it makes a smooth and mellow G&T. With no hint of gentian bitterness.

*  Ian Hart of Sacred Gin once gave me a couple of infusions of wormwood and hops to taste—and both were very bitter. Then he gave me distillates made from those same infusions, and there was no bitterness whatsoever. (I think the wormwood had a soft earthiness to it; I can’t quite remember about the hops.)

** Starburst to you youngsters.