In my earlier review of Hendrick’s gin I commented that I thought that Hendrick’s would go very well with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic water. After a short trip to Waitrose earlier in the day, I am now restocked with two different varieties of Fever-Tree tonic water.
Mixing up a gin & tonic with Fever-Tree Mediterranean and Hendrick’s gin, I added ice, but no lime – in this case, I just wanted to appreciate the combination of rose and geranium in my favoured drink.
The aroma liberated by the effervescence of tonic water drove off a slightly predictable combination of rose and geranium that was underpinned with quite subtle juniper. The geranium of the tonic was the dominant floral, but the rose was definitely there.
Drinking the floral concoction yielded much of the same; the attack was fresh and complex, but is immediately overtaken by an intense floral body and and lingering floral but astringent finish. Incredibly heady.
This is definitely a G&T but not as we know it. The floral components almost overload the experience – this can be really very good or appalling, depending on how you view the floral aspects of gin. It will probably to too much for some, but it will be a winner for others. I can imagine it being fantastic on a summer’s day with a slice pink grapefruit instead of lime. It is a serious feel-good drink, but not what most look for in gin and tonic.
Previously, Juniper Green gin has been a strong contender for my gin of choice. After trying Sipsmith gin for the first time yesterday, I was struck by its similarity to Juniper Green gin; however, memory can be a tricksy thing and the only way to settle the battle for favour would have to be a good old-fashioned gin-off, where these two junipertastic titans are pitted against each other in a merciless struggle for supremacy.
After an entirely unsuccessful search for Fever-Tree tonic water, the contestants will be graced with inferior equipment (namely Schweppes tonic water). However, the wedge of lime and the ice will be standard issue, the glass will be straight-sided and the panel sober.
The referees were appointed (me and my mum – whom we are visiting this weekend) and the drinks prepared. Giving each bottle a sniff, for the sake of aroma comparison, resulted in a very similar yield. The Sipsmith may have held the edge over the Juniper Green in clarity of scent, but on the whole, they were fairly similar.
Sampling the G&T told a different story though. While the Juniper Green did not disappoint, the Sipsmith was the clear victor in the mouths of both judges. Sipsmith gin made the smoother drink, and it blended with the lime in a way that the Juniper Green couldn’t quite manage. Don’t get me wrong, the Juniper Green wasn’t rough by any stretch of the imagination, nor did the lime taste like an unwelcome intuder in the glass, but the Sipsmith gin was such a rounded and complete G&T experience, it was like comparing Susan Boyle against Luciano Pavarotti.
Sipsmith gin is, quite-frankly, awesome. It doesn’t have any gimmicks or weird ingredients to make it stand out from the crowd, it is simply gin created to be excellent; its USP is uncompromising quality and it delivers that by the barrow-load.
Will I be buying more Sipsmith gin when this bottle runs dry? Absolutely.
In my last post I mentioned that Sipsmith had been in contact asking if I would like to sample their rather special gin. After a short email conversation, there was a bottle in the post, winging its merry way to Devon and a few exciting days later, a Sipsmith branded box graced my desk at work. Grateful as I am about being sent a free bottle of gin, this will not guarantee anything other than me drinking it and writing about it. I am not going to give Sipsmith a favourable review because of this – if I don’t like it, I will tell you.
I have been looking for Sipsmith gin in the shops and supermarkets for quite a while as it seems to come highly recommended. Saying that, Beefeater 24 came highly recommended and it was a distinct let-down, so I am not holding my hopes too high for fear of a thorough dashing.
The Sipsmith gin bottle is a rather spiffingly-presented, heavy-bottomed, round affair, with an elegant copper label depicting a stylized pot-still with a swan’s neck and head – reference to Prudence, the swan-necked copper-pot still that Sipsmith is distilled in.
Prudence is the first still of its kind to be commissioned in London for 190 years and was hand-made by Germany’s oldest still-makers, Christian Carl. She lives in a small building in Hammersmith where she is lovingly tended by founders Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall, as well as Sipsmith’s master distiller, Jared Brown. The building is little bigger than a garage and was formerly the home of whisky and beer writer Michael Jackson and a micro-distillery supplying a local pub. The whole operation was only allowed to commence after a painful two-year quest to obtain the first new distiller’s license issued in 150 years.
Sipsmith gin is a London dry gin but it doesn’t have any strange botanicals or unique selling points. Indeed its botanical list seems fairly run-of-the-mill.
- Macedonian juniper berries
- Bulgarian coriander seed
- French angelica root
- Spanish liquorice root
- Italian orris root
- Spanish ground almond
- Chinese cassia bark
- Madagascan cinnamon
- Sevillian orange peel
- Spanish lemon peel
The only stand-out botanical is cinnamon, which given its similarity to cassia bark, seems to add little to the mix that isn’t already there – it seems like a very traditional gin recipe. Sipsmith touts the quality of its botanicals, but which gin brand doesn’t? The water however, is drawn from the source of the river Thames, the Lydwell Spring and it is rumoured that Sam sets off at 4am in order to collect water for a distillation run.
The bottle top is sealed with green wax and unsealed with a black ribbon under the wax. The cork comes out with the satisfying faint squeak and a pop that all good whiskey bottles do.
All of this detail is crowned with a batch number which can be used on the Sipsmith website to find out what was happening on the day of its creation: http://www.sipsmith.com/your-batch
The whole experience pleased me greatly – it is the little details that make opening a bottle like this a pleasure, rather than a chore which one must dispense with before getting to the goods. However, presentation is worthless if the contents of the bottle do not measure up.
Inhaling deeply from the bottle-top rewarded my nose with an incredibly clean scent of juniper and pine notes. The scent was clearly gin and it held what smelled like a fair payload of juniper. There was little to complicate it, no floral or spice notes, just clear, clean juniper. This first impression was only reinforced when I poured the Sipsmith into a clean glass.
Sampled neat, Sipsmith gin rewards the mouth with more of the same; it is definitely a spirit, but there is only warmth, not harshness, in the mouth. The gin carries a medium-to-heavy juniper load, firmly placing it outside of the realms of the vodka-gin. It is super-smooth and while there are hints of citrus and spice, they are there very subtle and serve only to support the juniper, rather than distract from it.
Adding a little water intensifies the experience again; more flavours are mobilised and some of the alcohol disappears into the background but, critically, the balance remains true with juniper being firmly to the fore.
Well, so far so good; time to add the tonic water to see if the quality carries through to the main event.
Initially, I used Schweppes; this is because I wanted to try it on a level playing field with the other gins I have tried of late. The bubbles from the tonic water liberated the same clean aroma from the gin as smelling it neat.
Tasting the completed gin and tonic was certainly pleasing, it was smooth and very creamy – I hate terms like this as it reminds me of Jilly Goolden and her preposterous descriptions, but it really is creamy. The juniper is absolutely unrestrained by the tonic water but all of the astringency of the quinine and juniper disappear into a sweet creaminess. In fact, it needed the wedge of lime to add a little tartness to the drink, something that I have never experienced before – all too often the taste of lime just sits there wrestling for dominance with the flavours of the gin and tonic, but in this instance, it seemed to fill a lime-shaped hole in the taste, like it was waiting for it.
Sipsmith gin makes a cracking G&T with the Schweppes but next up, I have to try it with Fever-Tree tonic water; this seems to be the god of tonic water and works superbly with a gin of strong character. Sipsmith gin should work very well. However, this will have to wait for another day as I have none at the moment – I need a shopping trip to gather more.
Something else I have to try is a gin-off between the Sipsmith and Juniper Green. These are very similar in character an I have a burning desire to do a side-by-side taste comparison to see if the premium price tag of Sipsmith is justified, or whether the budget value of the Juniper Green will win again.
Update – 31/10/2010
After a trip to Waitrose to stock up on Fever-Tree tonic water and the wave of trick-or-treaters abated, it was time to kick back with a G&T in an attempt to not watch X-Factor – what better way then with an experimental combination that explores new territory (for me at least)?
Sipsmith gin and Fever-Tree tonic makes for an incredibly clean, crisp drink. It is the epitome of gin and tonic in my mind – it is clearly a juniper-based drink, with pine freshness and a biting astringency that doesn’t let you forget it is a G&T you are drinking. For the seeker of the traditional G&T with no frills or gimmicks, this is going to be a total winner. I like this a lot and have found myself a new favourite G&T.
It is a rare thing when I post something that isn’t directly about gin, but I feel the need; I have a few minor updates and a burning need to share them, so here it is,
1) Gin Journey is now on a new domain. I hadn’t really named the blog when I bought gin-online.co.uk, it was bought on a whim really. Gin Journey now sits on ginjourney.co.uk – a lot more sensible. Hopefully everything redirects properly from one domain to the other, but if you do spot any issues, please let me know.
2) I have added a feed of my Twitter list that includes all the tweets from the gin brands I am aware of; hopefully some people will find this interesting. If you come across any gin brands that aren’t on the list, please do let me know and I will add them forthwith.
3) Last and certainly not least, I am officially on the map. The guys over at Sipsmith contacted me to see if I would like to try some of their gin. Sipsmith is certainly one of the gins that is firmly on my radar so I am delighted to be contacted directly like this and I certainly have high hopes for it – I can’t wait to review it. Watch this space.
There it is, a little site news for you. Exciting for me, maybe not so exciting for you.
Over the last couple of months, the hedgerows have been full of autumnal fruits and I am never one to pass up free food. Once upon a time, I used to brew my own wine and had some great successes over the years; it was time to renew that passion and turn the bounty of the hedgerows into some quaffable delights. I set about brewing wine from black berries, elderberries and apples.
However, we are not here to talk about hedgerow wines; this is a gin blog after all.
Something that was in abundance as I collected various edible berries, was sloes. What can you make with sloes? That’s right, sloe gin.
So, we invited friends over and spent an hour or so picking sloes. We horrified the children by persuading them to try sloes and spent a rather pleasant afternoon plundering the fruits of the countryside.
We collected just enough sloes to create a gallon of sloe gin. Recipes vary wildly for sloe gin, so I took a view of several and picked a middle-ground; here it is.
Sloe gin recipe:
- 3 litres gin
- Half a demijohn of sloes
- 1kg unrefined caster sugar
- 1 slack-handful of sliced almonds
- 4 slices ginger
I decided to add the ginger to give it a little gingery kick – hopefully not enough to dominate, but just enough to add a subtle warmth to enhance the warmth of the drinking experience.
I froze the sloes to simulate that much-sought first frost; this serves to pierce the cell membranes and mobilise the juice. Upon thawing, the sloes had turned from solid little berries into squishy bags of bitter juice.
It is recommended that you pierce each sloe to allow the juices to be drawn out, but I went with popping them; splitting the skin should serve the same purpose.
The sloes were layered with sugar in the demijohn to begin the juice extraction. I left this for a while before chucking in the almonds and ginger, and then the gin.
The colour immediately started to bleed-out from the skins and after a good few shakes, I had a demijohn full of slightly pink spirit.
Leaving the sloe gin to steep for a few months should see it ready for Christmas, but I have heard that leaving it for a full year will see its flavours mellow significantly; with three litres on the go, I can lay a couple of bottles down for a year and drink the rest over Christmas and New Year.
Today I bought four litres of Tesco Classic London Dry Gin. This was ostensibly to turn into sloe gin, but I only needed three litres in the end, so I have some spare.
Time to try and judge it.
There are no botanicals listed on the bottle and the only hint is “a well balanced gin with subtle notes of juniper, citrus and warm spice”. One can only assume it contains all the basics of gin and little else.
This gin is almost certainly distilled by G&J Greenall. It claims to be a London Dry Gin, which by law at least guarantees certain standards and Greenall is a reputable distillery.
Anyway, the gin smells of gin. There is little else but the basics of gin, no citrus and no spice; this is a pattern that asserts itself throughout the drinking experience.
Drank neat, the Tesco gin isn’t that smooth, but certainly beats the Beefeater 24 on this front. It has a middling juniper load and doesn’t really have any subtlety beyond spirit and juniper. It pretty-much tastes like it smells.
With Schweppes tonic water it forms an uninspiring G&T. There is no real depth of flavour in the attack or the after-taste. Saying that, it ticks the “I am drinking G&T” box, much like Gordon’s gin does; in fact, I would say it even beats Gordons.
To be honest, this gin epitomises Tesco labelled products. It is of a basic standard of quality but doesn’t deliver anything special, but it is good enough for most needs. It would make a good house gin and at just under £12.50 per litre, it is good value.
It will likely make a decent sloe gin and will make a great base for other infusions. Take a bottle of Tesco gin and infuse your own botanicals to make your own bathtub gin.
Update – 24/10/2010
I am not convinced that this is a particularly clean spirit; each time I have consumed his gin in any volume, I have had a mild hangover the following morning. At first I wrote this off as developing man-flu, but after several (non-consecutive) evenings on the Tesco gin, the correlation is becoming harder to ignore. This is the first gin I have tried that has this sort of effect on me – gin usually leaves me hangover free.
Having reduced the number of bottles of gin I have knocking around, and therefore mollifying her indoors, I went out and bought another bottle today. This gin needs little introduction; Hendrick’s gin, with its apothecary-style bottle and its quirky cucumber USP, it is considered by many to be the king of premium gins.
Hendrick’s gin has been a favourite of mine for a long time, but so was Bombay Sapphire, and that has experienced a fall from grace since broadening my horizons; would Hendrick’s have suffered the same fate?
Produced in Scotland by William Grant & Sons, Hendrick’s is not a London Dry Gin; two of its botanical flavours are added after the distillation process, and as such, can only legally be called a “distilled gin”. These two botanicals are rose and cucumber.
The full list of botanicals is hard to come by, but I have managed to piece the following together…
- Coriander seeds
- Juniper berries
- Angelica root
- Orris root
- Lemon peel
- Orange peel
- Bulgarian Rose Petals
This may be far from complete.
Hendrick’s gin is a creation of a blend of two products from two different stills; a carter-head still and a small pot still. For a more complete description of the methods of distillation, there is a fantastic post on The Institute for Alcoholic Experimentation, the blog of the Sheridan Club, here.
Tasted neat, Hendrick’s gin is a gentle, subtle gin. It is not a big juniper gin, which likely contributes heavily to its popularity, however, it is smooth and complex. The nose is fresh and floral and the initial attack is gentle but there is little spice in the after-taste which is almost entirely floral. The flavour of rose builds and even cuts through tonic water to leave a beautiful after-taste of rose.
I cannot honestly say if my palette can pick out the cucumber. There is definitely a clean, fresh quality to Hendrick’s but I cannot be sure my mind isn’t adding a hint of cucumber because I am expecting it.
I have it on some authority that those that work with the Henricks’s brand drink their G&Ts with a slice of lime instead of the recommended cucumber. Trying it with cucumber, I can see why – it is an acquired taste, and although not unpleasant, I think I prefer mine with citrus.
Hendrick’s gin, along with Bombay Sapphire, has definitely helped bring gin toward the mainstream, but it achieves this through being mild. It is a fine gin, but if you are looking for a juniper bomber, you are better off with Juniper Green.
I imagine that Hendrick’s would make a good G&T with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic water – the combination of geranium and rose is a great one and to have it in drink form should be awesome – I have run out of this tonic, so watch this space.
DB Smith kindly pointed out a much more complete botanical list in the comments below, but I have just had confirmation from Hendrick’s that Meadowsweet has since been replaced with Yarrow. So the botanicals stand as…
- Coriander Seeds
- Lemon Peel
- Orange Peel
- Orris Root
- Carraway Seeds
- Cubeb Berries
Plus essences of Rose & Cucumber