Month: July 2011

Homemade cardamom & saffron bitters

 - by Dug

I have been looking into making liqueurs and bitters recently. There is a wealth of excellent information online on these topics and one that really caught my eye was Cardamom and Saffron bitters.

Cardamom

Cardamom

I love cardamom; it is a wonderfully bright and powerful flavour, but it is also very palette-cleansing. It is used as a breath-freshener in India and forms a back-bone of indian cookery, both savoury and sweet. The idea of sticking it in a drink has a great appeal.

Saffron is an interesting spicy/floral flavour that works very well in sweet and savoury, as well.

There are several recipes around the ‘interwebs’ with wildy differing quatities. In the end I went with the one with most cardamom. This, I found on Embitter (http://embitter.net/2010/12/i-prefer-to-get-high-on-life-cardamom-saffron-bitters/); so thanks to Embitter for providing.

I really didn’t need a whole litre of bitters so I scaled down the recipe to 250ml (to fit a bottle I had kicking around and to make the maths easy). It looked something like this…

Cardamom & saffron bitters

  • 250 ml vodka
  • 25 g cardamom pods (green)
  • large pinch saffron
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1 clove

Method

  • Pound the pods in a heavy pestle & mortar to split them, exposing the seeds. If you haven’t got a pestle & mortar, stick them in a plastic bag and beat them with a frying pan.
  • Mix the Cardamom, clove and bay leaf with the vodka and leave to soak for three days; agitate each day.
  • Strain the solids out and mix the saffron into the liqour; leave to soak for one more day. Strain and bottle.

This should produce a brilliant orange/red liquid. It may be quite cloudy depending on how well you strain it. I used a seive rather than a coffee filter, so mine is quite cloudy.

Saffron

Saffron

I also didn’t quite pay enough attention to the method and put my saffron in on day-one. I was using quite poor-quality saffron though, so it didn’t overpower the end result. I also, (due to working away) left it for six days, rather than four.

In spite of all these little errors, the resulting bitters were remarkable. The aroma is overwealmingly cardamom, and very bright and fresh. Tasted neat (a drop on the tip of a finger), it isn’t as bitter as I was expecting and was rather overpowering.

I tried a few drops in a shot of No.3 gin and the cardamom really does well against that huge stack of juniper freshness. The bright clarity of the juniper and cardamom combine to product a fresh flavour assault that is a pleasure to bear and has a tremendous nose to it.

Next up was a G&T (made with Whitley Neill gin). It took more than a few drops, maybe as much as a good-sized dash, but it really lifts the G&T. This cardamom is a good fit with the citrus flavours and marries with the quinine well. The saffron brings a slightly floral note to the whole affair.

I am really impressed with this. It is a cracking addition to a drink and adds a fantastic new dimension to some staple tipples. Expect to see a few cocktail recipes here in the near future using cardamom and saffron bitters. Give it a go and have a play.

Image attribution
Cardamom courtesy of Zoyachubby.
Saffron courtesy of David H-W.

Weekend martini marathon

 - by Dug

I recently had a martini at Graphic that changed my mind about this simple, yet classic, cocktail. So, girding my wallet, I sprang for some vermouth (Lillet Blanc) and a martini glass (more on that in another post) as well as some Seagram’s Extra Dry, which will have to wait for another day.

Martini

Martini

My DIY martini kit arrived on Friday as planned, just in time for some weekend imbibing and here is what I got up to…

No.3 Martini

Starting on the sweeter-side of the spectrum, I tried a 3:1 ratio of No.3 gin to Lillet Blanc.

Very clear and smooth martini with the juniper of the No.3 shining through. The citrus of the Lillet Blanc and the twist really complimented the gin and rounded it out nicely.

As with the G&T though, I felt that mixing this gin diminished its outstanding quality somewhat.

No.3 Dry Martini

No.3 is claimed to be the “last word in gin for a dry martini”, so I took it drier by moving down to a 8:1 ratio of No.3 to Lillet Blanc.

This is much truer to the neat gin. The little splash of Lillet Blanc brought just enough citrus and other fruitiness to the mix to really round out the No.3. This was crisp, clear, juniper-heavy and had an incredible clarity of taste. I am not sure I prefer this over the neat gin though – it is that good.

Old Raj Martini

It has been suggested that I try the formerly maligned Old Raj gin in a martini to appreciate all it has to offer. Being slightly harsh and bitter I stuck with the sweeter 3:1 ratio for this one. I threw in a splash of orange bitters as well.

Blimey, what a martini this was. In spite of it being very cold, this was an incredibly warming drink with a nose full of warms spiciness. Really very rounded and comforting. I have found a home for the rest of my Old Raj.

Tanqueray 10 Martini

On Saturday, my wife and I went out to a cocktail bar (Michael Cain’s). We had managed to sent our boy off to a friends’ house for a sleep-over and headed to the bright lights of Exeter for some child-free entertainment. My first drink of the night was a martini; Tanqueray 10 and Noilly Pratt. I didn’t get the ratios as I thought it best to pay more attention to my lovely wife that the bartender.

The resinous, herbaceous aromatic twang of the chamomile was supported very well by the vermouth. A very complex and deep flavour. Well rounded and quite unique.

Marteani

On Sunday (with a bit of a hangover) I infused some Whitley Neill gin with some Earl Grey tea, as per this recipe, although I only made 100ml and infused for just 20 mins (based on the fact that I like my earl grey weak and black). It ended up a beautiful rich tea colour (odd that) and perfectly clear.

Didn’t have any eggs worthy of the name “fresh” so omitted the egg white and used Gomme instead of simple syrup in an attempt to add some texture (I knew I would find a use for that gum arabic I had kicking around).

The tea adds a slight bitterness to the gin and the finished drink is a very decadent assault of subtle citrus flavours backed with the floral and woody notes that bergamot brings with it. All of this was underpinned by tea (unsurprisingly). All-in-all a very good brew.

 

So, there we have it; the experimentations of a martini noob. I have a tremendous new respect for the (not so) humble martini. There is such variation to be had and it is almost a category of drink unto itself – not just one cocktail. The weekend’s imbibing wasn’t restricted to martinis either, but the rest of it isn’t particularly relevant to this post; needless to say, Sunday was dominated by after-effects of our Bacchanalian excesses.

 

No. 3 Gin

 - by Dug

I have had my eye on No.3 Gin for some time. It certainly talks the talk and has the price-tag of a top-tier premium gin, so it should be something special. The fact that it costs just north of thirty quid and that it’s hard for find outside London has relegated this to my “must try at some point” list rather than the “rush out and buy it next” list. Imagine my delight when I was asked if I would like a sample bottle.

No. 3 Gin

No. 3 Gin

Now, as with my Sipsmith review, the fact the someone has sent me this free of charge, will only guarantee one this; that I drink it. My opinion will not be swayed by generosity; objectivity will still reign in my house.

No.3 is almost as defined by the number three as Caoruun is by the number five. Three is the number of the building on St James’s Street that Berry Bros. & Rudd occupy, the number three is emblazoned three times on the front of the bottle, three is the number of spice botanicals in the gin and three is the number of fruit botanicals. You get the gist.

Speaking of which, the botanicals are…

  • Juniper berries
  • Orange peel
  • Grapefruit peel
  • Angelica root
  • Coriander seed
  • Cardamom pods

Berry Bros. & Rudd asked one Dr David Clutton, as well as a panel of gin specialists and mixologists, to help in creating a gin that is that last word for a dry martini. Dr Clutton has over 40 years in the spirits trade and holds the world’s first PhD on Gin Flavour – this man is a doctor of gin!

Anyway, exciting fields of science aside, the result of a year’s labour was No.3 gin.

Now, I am a sucker for packaging. There is something of a ritual about opening a new gin and flimsy metal caps and boring labels just don’t cut it for me. The more attention to detail that goes into the bottle and its dressings, the more pleasure I derive from opening and pouring the contents. No.3 certainly didn’t disappoint on this front.

Firstly, it comes with a book. Not a little four-page postage-stamp-sized pamphlet affixed to the neck of the bottle with elastic, but an A6 book printed on thick, high-GSM paper. It runs to 26 pages and it provides information on the gin, Berry Bros. & Rudd, the symbology used on the label and a few cocktail recipes. This is a nice little keep-sake unto itself and I haven’t even got to the bottle yet.

The bottle is held in a very understated white card box that is green inside. There is a little keyhole cut into the front face, through which I can see white paper with green lettering on (a motif that is mirrored on the front of that little book). Opening the box reveals a bottle which has been hand-wrapped in a large leaf of white paper, on which is printed a replica of an old street map depicting the area around St James’s Street. Only once this is removed do I get to the bottle.

The bottle is more olive-green than bottle-green and is square, tapering from a broad shoulder to a narrow base. The front and back of the bottle are flat and the sides are slightly concave; easy to hold and pour as well as aesthetically pleasing. The cork stopper is sealed in place by a  perforated alloy foil which peels nicely. I was curious as to what this was, but a flame test didn’t show any significant lead content, but it melted very easily, smelling, when it did, a lot like solder.

Uncorking No.3 was a joy – the 22mm stopper came out with a delightful squeak and a high “plop” that I know will deepen as the liquid level goes down.

Smelling the bottle-top, and then some neat gin in a large wine glass, revealed an amazing clarity of juniper. It is fresh and crisp with little to complicate it, but there are subtitles there – it is far from a single-minded juniper approach.

Trying the neat gin was a joy. The clarity of the juniper absolutely follows through into the mouth and only deepens as the coriander develops, followed by the cardamom. The citrus is very well balanced and takes a bit of a back seat to the juniper and spice. There is a slight peppery note in the nose and early stages of the after-taste and the cardamom lingers long after swallowing. It is also incredibly smooth, especially for a gin weighing in at 46% ABV.

I can’t seem to put into words how bright and clear and fresh the juniper is. If you sidled up to an unsuspecting juniper tree and mashed a few needles between forefinger and thumb, the taste of this gin is the first fraction of a second of the smell generated by the damaged needles – that initial burst of scent that quickly diminishes into something a bit more familiar and long-lasting. It is astounding, and it only gets better with the addition of a little water. However, at no point does the juniper overly dominate; it is held high by the supporting botanicals – the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants” springs to mind.

I think No.3 is what Oliver Cromwell 1599 is trying to be but fails at dismally. They are both very juniper led, but where Oliver Cromwell is a raw and brutal log of juniper, fashioned, if at all, into a battering ram, No.3 is a similar log carved into a complex, yet pleasing, sculpture of exquisite workmanship. Drinking it neat is almost epiphanic.

No.3 in a G&T is quite spectacular, but not as good as I imagined. While this may be the best G&T I have had (I foresee another gin-off coming) it doesn’t stand head and shoulders above other G&Ts like it does neat; maybe standing a clear forehead above its peers. The tonic water almost muffled No.3′s clarity of flavour and while the juniper and cardamom still shine through beautifully, it is not as bright and blinding as the raw spirit is. I am left wishing that I had tried these in the opposite order so my amazement of the neat gin didn’t inflate my expectations of the G&T. After finishing it, I had another glass of No.3 on the rocks.

The stated aim of No.3 was to produce the last word in gin for a martini, so I absolutely need to do a martini tasting. I don’t have any vermouth in at the moment though, but by Friday night, I should have a bottle of Lillet Blanc in my grubby mitts; I really enjoyed this in the 24 Martini I had last week and it was a toss-up between this and Noilly Pratt (I won’t drink it fast enough to justify buying both). I can imagine No. 3 making a truly spectacular martini – watch this space.

At over £30 a bottle this isn’t cheap gin, but anyone who appreciates gin in its less diluted forms should absolutely love No.3. Splash out and try it; drink it slower if price is an issue, get it in for Christmas or other special occasion, drop hints in the run-up to your birthday, sell some junk on ebay to raise the cash, just get some. Is it worth that 30-odd quid? Absolutely.

 

Gin in Camden

 - by Dug

Made in Camden and Sacred Gin present a brand new gin-tasting experience, Gin in Camden, on Friday 5 August.

Sacred Gin

Sacred Gin

This is exciting stuff, and given that I am missing the Juniper Society event on Oxley Gin this very evening, I might have to make the long and arduous trip to London for this.

Sacred Gin is one of two (to my knowledge) cold-distilled gins. This is achieved by distilling under reduced pressure, thereby reducing the boiling points of the liquids involved. I can’t find out much about the exact temperatures used, but Oxley is distilled at -5oc. This does all sorts of wonderful things to the flavours, but the short of it is that the flavours keep their freshness and stay as we expect them from fresh botanicals. This purports to give Sacred Gin a very clear, crisp, fresh flavour that is practically unmatched in the gin world for clarity and smoothness.

The different botanicals are also distilled separately and then blended to make the finished product; this means that each botanical is available as a separate spirit. On Friday 5 August, after sampling Sacred Gin, you will will have the opportunity to taste, identify and discuss individual components. You then get to make up your own gin, finishing the evening off with a G&T or a martini using your very own gin hand-mixed to your own recipe!

If this doesn’t excite you, then why are you reading this blog?

As for the venue, Made in Camden is attached to the Roundhouse Theatre; here is a little blurb…

Made in Camden is a neighbourhood restaurant, created with locals as much as audiences in mind and heavily steeped in local talent. Head Chef Josh Katz and Designer Michael Sodeau grew up in the area, while the bar is the only stockist of all of Camden Town Brewery’s beers. Situated at the front of the Roundhouse but with its own dedicated entrance, Made in Camden’s menu and drinks list has been devised to match the diversity and high quality of the work that appears on the stage next door. Head Chef Josh Katz has created a menu which echoes his prior experience at Ottolenghi, but treads its own distinctive path. Bountiful brunches, gorgeous cakes and tempting snacks supplement a vibrant lunch menu while dinner revolves around delectable and satisfying tasting plates. All profits from this neighbourhood restaurant are put back into The Roundhouse Trust, supporting its artistic activities and work with 11-25s.

I am going to see what I can do about being there. It sounds like a perfect night of education into the science of gin.

You can book here: http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/gin-in-camden

Salty Dog, Cocktail

 - by Dug

Spurred-on by my recent experiences with new gin cocktails at Graphic Bar (and partly by my wife mentioning just how many nearly-finished bottles of gin are on the kitchen side) I have been experimenting with new cocktails. This evening, it is the Salty Dog.

Salty Dog

Salty Dog

As with many cocktails, the exact quantities seem to vary by source. I did a  little searching around and struck a middle-ground. Here it is…

Salty Dog

  • 5oz pink grapefruit juice
  • 2oz gin
  • Salt (for rimming – yes, I chuckled at that too)
  • Ice

Method: Whap it all in a glass and stir.

Some people say to sprinkle the salt over the ice before mixing, some say to rim the glass with salt. I did a little of both, and not to be out-done, I used Maldon Sea Salt; I doubt it made much difference over Tesco table salt, but hey, the gin deserves the best.

Given that gin can be a very distinctive spirit, grapefruit a very powerful and zingy flavour, and salt very dominating, this turned out to be a surprisingly gentle drink. The grapefruit seems to tame the gin and the gin takes the zing out of the grapefruit. The salt then adds a different type of zing, which has a very short half-life in the mouth; as with any salt-rimmed glass drink, the initial hit is very salty but this soon fades under the gin-backed grapefruit.

I can imagine this being fantastic on a summer’s evening, sat outside in the fading sun. It was pretty good sat inside with the curtains drawn on the humid and rainy summer’s night.

Arsenic and Old Lace, Cocktail

 - by Dug

A few months ago, I saw a recipe for Arsenic and Old Lace over on on Cocktail Virgin. I was intrigued by the Creme de Violette and pastis combination. However, I didn’t really want to spend out on a bottle of each on the off-chance that it turned out to be ming in an glass.

Arsenic and Old Lace

Arsenic and Old Lace

So, during a recent visit to Graphic, I thought I would try it out with the safety-net of professional mixologist and minimal monetary investment.

Instead of going through the pain of asking for a cocktail the barman had never heard of and then jumping through the hoops of listing ingredients, I just loaded up the page from Cocktail Virgin on my phone and handed it over. It showed the following recipe…

Arsenic and Old Lace

  • 1 1/2oz gin
  • 1/2oz pastis
  • 1/2oz creme de violette
  • 1/4oz dry vermouth

Method: mix over ice, stir, strain and serve.

There were a few raised eyebrows (especially at the quantity of pastis) and another punter took some interest, but in short-order I was presented with a strangely purply-green drink with a slight haze to it. It reminded me very much of gemstone-quality tourmaline. The gin used was Beefeater 24 again.

The barman had a little taste, declared it okay, and expressed a preference for an Aviation (that was next on my list, but needing to catch the last train of the night, I didn’t get time).

In all fairness, the gin was a little lost, but the balance between the pastis and creme de violette was spot-on. It was like the liquid after-taste of parma violets and aniseed balls long after eating them; very gentle and neither flavour dominating the other.

This was very nice to try, but I probably wouldn’t go out and buy the ingredients just to replicate this at home. If I had the ingredients in though, I would certainly make it occasionally.

Earl Grey Martini, Cocktail

 - by Dug

Following on from the Beefeater 24 Martini, the second drink I had during my evening at Graphic was the Earl Grey Martini.

Earl Grey Martini

Earl Grey Martini

On paper, this ticked all the right boxes for me; I love Tanqueray No. 10, and I love Early Grey tea. I also love lemon, so all-in-all this was a must-try from Graphic’s cocktail menu.

I managed to order this one from my seat, so didn’t see it being made, but the ingredients were listed on the menu. A little internet searching bought me to the proportions (although sources vary).

Earl Grey Martini (or MarTEAni)

  • 50ml Earl Grey-infused Tanqueray 10
  • 25ml lemon juice
  • 25ml sugar syrup
  • 15ml egg white

Infusing Tanqueray No. 10 with Earl Grey

Take 1 bottle (75cl) of Tanqueray No. 10 and add 4 tablespoons of good quality Earl Grey tea. Leave for two hours at room temperature, then strain.

The resinous, almost-woody tastes of the chamomile in the T10 blend so well with the floral flavours of the bergamot and black tea. The entire mixture is very aromatic and exists very heavily in the nose. The lemon, something that is commonly taken in Earl Grey tea, underpins the whole mix with a citrus base that unifies and compliments the other flavours very well. The result is a very delicate and complex unity of floral and citrus notes that are a joy to drink.

The egg white adds a lot of body and texture; most spirit-based cocktails are very thin and cleansing – the egg white adds some “cling” to the mixture, coating the mouth and giving a much longer finish.

I think this works by completing a circle of flavour shifting with Lemon. Chamomile oil is very resinous and slightly spicy, as well as being slightly floral. Bergamot is very floral with only hints of its citrus nature. These two bridge to each other very well, but the missing element of citrus completes a circle of flavours that traditionally surround the juniper in gin.

I loved this cocktail; my only regret is that last night, I finished my Tanqueray No. 10.

 

 

 

Beefeater 24 Martini, Cocktail

 - by Dug

I have never really enjoyed a home made martini (probably due to a really poor choice of vermouth), so during my recent visit to Graphic I thought that this might be a good opportunity to try a “good” martini.

I managed to get over my initial sense of being overwhelmed by the choice of gin and not knowing where to start, by asking the barman for a martini “to his recommendation”. I couldn’t work out of he looked quite pleased with this, or whether he was reeling in shock from someone coming to this bar not knowing what they wanted, but in a flurry of obviously very practised activity he produced me a martini in a process that both impressed and made sense.

Little details like rubbing the twist of lemon peel around the glass stem (leaving my fingers smelling lemony after handling), around the rim of the class (increasing the lemony attack without putting too much in the drink itself) and squeezing the zest over the surface of the drink (again, increasing the nose and attack of the drink without making it a lemon-based cocktail) all left me pleased and amazed in equal measure; this was not only practised, but incredibly well thought out.

Beefeater 24 Martini

Beefeater 24 Martini

Anyway, I am prattling at length about the lemon, and haven’t told you what was being made. After being presented with my drink, he explained what went into it and his preference for a more classic martini. What he made was this…

24 Martini

  • 3 parts Beefeater 24
  • 1 part Lillet Blanc
  • A dash of orange bitters

(at least I thought he said three-to-one).

Initially, I was a little disappointed that he reached for the Beefeater 24. I had tried this at home and wasn’t overly impressed, but I had asked for his recommendation, so I wasn’t about to object; I am glad I didn’t.

The approach between glass and mouth was overwhelmingly lemon. I could see the lemon oil floating on the top and inhaling over the glass was a lemony experience in the extreme.

However, in the tasting, it was like shutting the door on a noisy outside world, the lemon faded away and a comforting and complex flavour flooded in. I was truly surprised. The flavours were subtle and delicate and the expected lemon-assault never materialised. There was also none of the harshness of the Beefeater 24 that I had experienced neat and in the G&T – it was a smooth drink and very pleasing.

I have found a “good” martini. Time to invest in some Lillet Blanc.

Graphic

 - by Dug

I have been wanting to visit Graphic for quite a while. It is claimed that Graphic has one of the most extensive collections of gin in the UK and is a veritable Mecca for the gin-drinkers of London.

Graphic Bar

Graphic

However, I don’t live in London and my trips there are usually hectic and short-lived but this week, I found myself in London of an evening, only two tube-stops away from Graphic and a hotel room booked for the night. The stars were aligned and I was damn-well going.

I kicked off the evening with a few G&Ts with some work colleagues. While their company was great, I could feel the pull of Graphic like some sort of hard-wired migration instinct; so I bade them farewell and headed north.

Like most London pubs in summer, there were more people outside on the pavement than inside. This turned out be be a bit of a blessing as I could fully marvel with uninterrupted view at the number of gins behind that bar. I had imagined maybe as many as 40, perhaps 50, gins; nothing prepared me for the 90-odd bottles of gin that Graphic had on display. It was intimidating, overwhelming and amazing in equal measure. I think “awestruck” is probably a fitting adjective.

The music, provided by a DJ, while driving, was not so intrusive that you couldn’t hold a conversation or make yourself heard at the bar. The clientèle was really quite mixed, and the atmosphere was pleasantly relaxed. The food was really good for “bar food” as well; the burger I had was cooked medium-rare (on request) and was rather very tasty.

Over the course of the evening, I had a few cocktails (although not as many as I wanted) over the course of the evening and all of them were pretty awesome. I will cover these individually and tag the posts under “Recipes”, but they were…

Needless to say, they were all very good.

I think the thing that really made it for me was the bar staff. They were obviously very practised and knew their stuff and I would have loved to spend more time plumbing that knowledge, but they had a fairly constant stream of customers and never really looked that interruptible.

If you like you gin, either neat, as part of a classic cocktail, or part of a slightly more outlandish drink, Graphic is the place to go. Due to the huge variety of gin behind that bar, there is little chance of ever getting bored with the place, for to do so, would mean you were bored with gin. Maybe as much as 70% of the gins behind that bar are unknown to my palette – to try each one neat and in a G&T would be a marathon unto itself, let alone sampling the rich depth of cocktails on offer.

Visiting Graphic should be on the list of things to achieve in life for any gin drinker.

Update (21/07/2011): I have been informed that there were 122 different gins behind the bar at Graphic, at the last count.

Caorunn Gin

 - by Dug

Last week, someone gave me a bottle of Caorunn gin. I have heard some good things about Caorunn and the gift of gin is always a joyous occasion, so it really made my week to open up that box and pull out (in a shower of green polystyrene packing chips) a rather spiffing bottle sloshing with the good stuff.

Caorrun gin is made from pure grain spirit in the Balmenach Distillery at the heart of Speyside. The distillery is traditionally a malt whisky distillery and Caorunn was conceived when Simon Buley, one of the distillers, toyed with the idea of creating a Scottish gin using local water and botanicals.

The botanicals themselves are vapour-infused in the “Berry Chamber”, a horizontal copper cylinder holding four trays on which the botanicals are spread. Caorunn gin uses six traditional gin botanicals and five “Celtic” botanicals; these are…

  • Juniper berries
  • Corriander seed
  • Lemon peel
  • Orange peel
  • Angelica root
  • Cassia bark
  • Rowan berries
  • Coul Blush apple
  • Heather
  • Dandelion leaf
  • Bog Myrtle

What quite makes these last five “Celtic” I don’t quite know; four are common across the UK and have been around long before, and in use long since, the Celts were around. The Coul Blush apple has its origins in 1827 and is about as far from the Celts and the steam locomotive. They might be trying to say that they are “Scottish”, but this ignores the fact that the Celts were everywhere in the UK, not just Scotland; the cynical part of me is screaming “marketing gimmick”.

Caorunn Gin

Caorunn Gin

Irrespective of whether this is just a marketing gimmick, Caorunn is fabulously presented in a wide-necked, five-sided bottle (representing those five Celtic botanical). The label is clean and minimal, with mildly pleasing designs that seem to fuse Celtic knot-work with art nouveau vine-work. There is also a bright red asterisk on the bottle (another five botanicals reference) that gives it a slightly soviet look – at first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking that Caorunn was actually a vodka.

The bottom of the bottle has a stubby five-pointed star within a more pointy five-pointed star (yes, we know there are five celtic botanicals) and the (five-pointed) asterisk is repeated on the top, being carved into the wooden top of the oversized cork stopper.

I was building the impression that five is fairly important to these guys, but I was left a little jaded after regarding the bottle for more than a few seconds.

Uncorking the bottle of Caorunn was slightly dissapointing. While the cork rewarded me with a deep and resonant pop, there was no associated squeak that I usually expect from a cork. I doubt many would care, but it detracted from the experience in my book.

The smell of the gin was rather pleasing. It was light on the juniper but has a slightly fruity and sweet smoothness to it. There was an underlying alcohol smell that is hard to get rid of, but it wasn’t obtrusive like it would be in a cheap gin.

Sampling Caorunn neat didn’t disappoint either. The flavours are very well balanced and while there is an alcohol taste there, it is not harsh at all – just a gentle reminder that you are drinking something that is 41.8% by volume. The gin is fairly sweet and full of very subtle flavours; there is definitely a spicy warmth to it and there are fruity undertones. The citrus is understated and the juniper is quite shy, but definitely there.

I tried a little experiment at this point and instead of adding a dash of cold water, I added a dash of hot water (from the kettle). This not only mobilised more of the flavours but gave it quite a heady fruity nose. All-in-all, this is quite a good sipping gin.

In a classic gin & tonic (Fever-Tree and a wedge of lime), it was a pleasant, but not overly distinctive drink. The delicate flavours are overpowered, to an extent, by the aggressive lime, but it still had unique character.

This is where the experimentation began.

The Caorrun bottle suggests making a G&T with a 50/50 mix of gin and tonic, which I dully tried. Egads, that was one strong G&T! I can’t personally recommend this – I was thinking that this might deliver the best of both worlds; the character of the gin and the crisp refreshing bite of the G&T. However, to my mouth, if just washed out the subtly of the gin and made a harshly alcoholic G&T – not good.

It also suggests adding a thin wedge of red apple to the G&T instead of the traditional lime. I was asked via twitter (by @TheGinisIn) if apple was the new cucumber, so was keen to try this. I made up a normal strength G&T (well, normal for my house: 50ml gin, 200ml tonic) and added a wedge of apple. This didn’t really impart much in the way of apple flavour, so I whipped it out and added five (yes, I know, five!) very thin slices (1 mm) of apple and stirred it with the knife. This produced a rather top-class gin and tonic that preserved (or replicated, or complimented, or something) some of the character of the neat gin.

I am not normally a great fan of strange fruit substitutions (I don’t put cucumber in my Hendrick’s gin, for example), however, the apple really makes the Caorunn come alive in tonic.

As a USP, or flavoured gin (see my rather ham-fisted attempt at gin classifications) Caorunn is pretty damn good. The flavours of its USP botanicals don’t dominate the drink like the chamomile in Tanqueray No. 10; it is a very complex and subtle gin and quite spectacularly good when nipped neat. Adding too many other flavours would see a lot of this subtlety washed away – it you do mix into cocktails, I would caution restraint – keep it simple.

Edit (02/08/2011): I would like to point out that this was a gift from a friend, not a gift from someone trying to promot the gin – hence the lack of the standard disclaimer.