When I bought my bottle of Oxley gin, I also bought a bottle of Finsbury London Dry Gin – well, it was on offer and it isn’t exactly expensive to start with.
The bottle is almost like a massive hip-flask; shallow from front-to-back and quite wide. With a yellow label slightly reminiscent of a Boddingtons badge (okay – its a slight stretch) it is certainly a bright and cheerful bottle.
It comes with a metal screw-cap and, like many gin bottles, has a nice heavy base.
Finsbury is a gin of mystery; it hasn’t a website and finding a list of botanicals that is more expansive than “secret recipe” is difficult. In fact, finding out anything about this gin, other than its price, is difficult in the extreme.
The aroma of Finsbury gin is fairly true to the London Dry style.
Sampled neat, Finsbury Gin is quite a sweet, juniper-lead gin with coriander shining to the fore. There is a lingering aftertaste that has echoes of play-doh. All-in-all though, it is fairly mediocre.
Mediocrity aside, Finsbury Gin is another story in a gin and tonic. With Fever-Tree tonic water it makes a very clean, fresh and simple gin and tonic. It has a pleasing bite and the juniper is not only at the core of this G&T, it gives it a very study backbone indeed.
This isn’t the best of the low-price-bracket gins, but it is far from the worst.
Image courtesy of Justus Bluemer on Flickr, under the Creative Commons License.
While the economy flounders, gin is enjoying a renaissance with new brands popping up nearly every week. Why is this?
The rise in the popularity of gin is inextricably linked to the cocktail revival and to understand that, we need to look at what has gone before. Both the UK and US have, in the last decade or so, explored good coffee, wine and beer – no longer satisfied with being told what to enjoy by unchanging and stagnant brands; the population has explored the heights of quality and settled into a much better-informed groove. We have taken control of our consumption in key lifestyle areas.
The same can be said for every aspect of life. Chip-board and melamine have been replaced by real wood, polyester and nylon have been replaced by cotton and silk, and we are exploring real food like it is going out of fashion. We have been taking control of our consumption and demanding better quality products.
Let’s face it though, good wine is a joy but even at the epiphanic heights of top-quality wine, it is just wine. There is variation but you are still drinking fermented grape juice – wine is wine, and it can be easy to get a little bored and jaded after a while. The same can be said for coffee; once you know what good coffee is, you know what to look for and you know what to expect. It is good wine, good coffee and good beer, but it is still just wine, coffee and beer.
Cocktails on the other hand, are very different. You can take a small number of good ingredients and embark on a voyage of discovery that sees you drinking something new and different with every refresh of the glass. 12 Bottle Bar is the epitome of this; with just twelve bottles (including bitters) they make hundreds of cocktails accessible to the masses without calling for weird and esoteric ingredients.
I think the cocktail revival is absolutely an expression of this exploration of quality and the rejection of the mundane. I think it’s also and expression of our embracing of novelty. The internet has driven a stream of discovery and novelty into the lives of millions and has connected people with similar interests across disparate locations. One person’s discovery is no longer limited to friends and family – it can be spread across the globe and in such an environment, quality thrives.
This is all very good, but what has this to do with gin saving distilleries?
Times are hard, the economy is in a shambles and consumer spending is slow. Bastions of the high street have gone under and swathes of small businesses have disappeared. It is only natural that some distilleries are feeling the pinch.
Now, it takes both supply and demand to fuel a successful market and it is a fair assumption that there is demand for gin with the cocktail revival in full-swing. The next piece of the puzzle is the supply; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist at a distillery to identify this demand, but unlike whisky that requires aging, gin is pretty-much ready to bottle and sell as it comes out of the still.
The vodka market is saturated and the increasing demand for gin, potential for instant revenue and the ability to produce a gin that differentiates itself from the competition makes it only sensible to look to gin production to prop-up short-falls in sales.
So while the blossoming of new gin brands is understandable from a demand perspective, it it also natural that the distilleries will turn to gin in order to remain solvent in these difficult times.
It is an interesting thought that the gin revival could be preserving traditional whisky production for future generations.
I thought I would add a little disclaimer to this post.
This is entirely based on my mental ponderings and is not founded on hard journalistic research or scientific survey. It was supposed to be posed as a question to provoke thought, rather than as fact, or a hypothesis to be explored rather than an authoritative statement; I’m not sure this came across too well in the above post.
I also don’t believe this hypothesis to true for every single case of a distillery branching-out and exploring new products. I think is could be true in some cases.
I have tried some brilliant gins recently and all the while, at the back of my mind, I have had this nagging thought that I should be trying some of the lesser known and more budget gins.
In a stroke of serendipitous timing, an opportunity presented itself recently when a fellow gin enthusiast asked if I would like a bottle of Ginebra San Miguel. “San Miguel do a gin?!”, I asked incredulously; apparently so – gin from the Philippines. I was a little trepid, but graciously accepted the kind offer.
Looking at the San Miguel website is an interesting experience. There is almost no information about this gin other than it being a “Dutch-type gin“, it’s “80-proof“, that it is “produced from selected spirits and botanical extracts” and the “predominant flavor comes from juniper berries“.
The site also makes the rather bold claim that Ginebra San Miguel is “acknowledged as the world’s number one gin” and “currently the largest-selling gin and the third largest distilled spirit in the world“.
Could this be a hidden gem of the Philippines?
The box arrived in the post and I took it home, along with a bottle of Oxley I ordered previously. The bottle was textured – little beaded lumps – and the colourful label, which insisted that is was for domestic sale only, was stuck-on wonky; good start.
Opening the bottle and giving it a good sniff sent my nose reeling; the aroma was of vodka with faint wafts of surgical spirit and methylated spirits. Acetone was also a contributing scent. Worryingly, there wasn’t the slightest hint of juniper.
Sampling neat translated all of the aromas of the aforementioned solvents into taste form. There was an underlying sweetness and a hint of juniper, but there was also a chemical twang that was hard to pin down – it reminded me of my days in the organic chemistry labs though. There is something hiding in all of this which might be considered citrus, lemon probably, but I wouldn’t like to say for sure.
Adding water didn’t help.
Adding tonic water drove off lots of solvent smells but it did help me pin-down that elusive taste, as it came off with the effervescence of the tonic – it was a ketone used in a type of glue used for sticking fletchings to arrows. Fancy that, another solvent. A little research reveals this to be methyl ethyl ketone (AKA: Butanone).
The G&T, with and without lime, and at varying concentrations was simply solvent-heavy tonic water. It is in no way pleasant and leaves me with the presentiment of a tragic hangover and a rather acrid chemical aftertaste.
I dread to think what a martini made with Ginebra San Miguel would taste like.
Maybe the kind soul that sent me this is actually trying to kill me by calling a lethal chemical concoction gin and posting it to me. I sincerely doubt it, but just to be sure, I have drafted a letter to be held by my solicitor and released in the case of my untimely demise with full details of who and how.
In some ways, I am grateful; this has given me a whole new perspective on gin. I may be slightly derisive of Gordon’s and Bombay Sapphire but Ginebra San Miguel has put it all into context. This gin is so bad, it will haunt my dreams.
I wonder if it cleans brass?
I first came across Oxley in Heathrow airport in September 2009. It was just launching in the UK and the first place it was available was Heathrow Terminal 3. I was about to embark on a business trip to Abu Dhabi and spent a good two or three hours milling around the terminal waiting for the flight. I was travelling with a colleague (the marvellous chap who introduced me to gin in the first place) and he practically dragged me to the Oxley stand demanding I try it.
It was being served neat to anyone wanting some and the gentleman serving gave a good spiel about the cold distillation process and how special it was. Trying it, I was blown away but the price-tag was steep. I was also about to enter the UAE and entering the country with a bottle of gin in my hand-luggage was a bit risky. Then we noticed that each bottle was numbered; my colleague found bottle number 69, much to his delight, and I found 75 (the year of my birth) – how could we resist? We bought a bottle each and ran the gauntlet of UAE customs, which wasn’t as bad as we thought – although it is illegal to buy booze in Abu Dhabi without a license, they actually sell the stuff in the arrivals terminal, and you are allowed to bring up to four “items” of alcohol into the Emirate.
I still have that bottle; I can’t bring myself to open the 75th production bottle of Oxley gin. They only produce 240 bottles per day, so this would have been made during the first day of commercial production. It will probably never be worth more than a normal bottle, but it is special in my mind.
Every now and then, I eye-up that bottle and ponder if I can bring myself to open it. To avoid temptation I treated myself last week and bought a bottle to drink. Happiness is owning two bottles of Oxley.
Anyway, boring anecdote aside, you are here for the gin, so let’s get on with it.
At anywhere north of £45 a bottle, this is a tremendously expensive gin. Saying that, it is a 1 litre bottle, so on the 75cl, it is comparable in price to something like No.3 Gin. So, a top-tier premium gin, but not beyond anything else on the market.
The bottle is something to behold. Its bottom is cradled in a galvanised tin cup. The stopper is a wooden-topped cork (well, plastic cork – a little soulless, but far better than foil). The top of the bottle is bound in a length of green round leather cord; attached to this is tab of green leather, embossed with the brand and the words “Dry Gin”. The label is simple but very elegant.
Oxley gin is cold distilled at low pressure. When I say cold, I mean cold; the macerated botanicals and spirit is distilled at -5oc – the vapours are then chilled to -100oc in order to get them to condense back into liquid form. This preserves the flavour of the fresh citrus peels that are used and keeps the juniper soft, generating less of the harsh pine notes that many people don’t like in gin.
As mentioned above, this process results in a production of only 240 bottles per day. Estimates place production at only 4000 to 5000 cases per year.
The botanical list isn’t easy to piece together, but of the 14, I have managed to put together the following 12…
- Juniper Berries
- Orange Peel
- Lemon Peel
- Grapefruit Peel
- Orris Root
- Liquorice Root
- Cassia Bark
- Vanilla Beans
- Grains of Paradise
Coriander Seed and Angelica Root are conspicuous by their absence, but the website mentions aniseed tastes, which suggests Star Anise. Cocoa is an unusual botanical for a gin and meadowsweet apparently works very well with the cold distillation process, lending the finished gin an almond flavour.
Uncorking was a little disappointing; plastic doesn’t squeak like cork, and the pop was more of a “phut”. Nevertheless, the wide-bore cork and metal-embossed wooden top was a pleasure to remove. Later, as more space was created in the bottle, the “pop” did develop, but it does seem that plastic corks don’t squeak.
The scent from the bottle-neck was of a quite citrus-led gin with a sound backing of juniper.
Trying Oxley neat is a privilege; its juniper contribution is solid but subtle at the same time. It’s like the juniper flavours build like any normal juniper-heavy gin, but fail to build all the way into that nose-resident pine tang; instead they remain rounded and warming. The spices and roots used add to this warm rounded mouth-feel and the citrus gives it a pleasing bite. Given that this is 47% ABV, the alcohol taste is well-restrained and compliments the tingle of the citrus very well. Similarly, the sweetness is also well-restrained and Oxley is a properly dry gin.
The suggested method of drinking it neat with a grapefruit zest twist was a step too far on the citrus-front for my tastes, but it works tremendously well with just two or three drops of cardamom bitters; it takes the warming spice of Oxley to a whole new level.
Overall, Oxley is a bright, clean gin that stands fabulously alone. The serving suggestion of drinking from a balloon glass works well to capture the rich aromas of this gin and really adds to the drinking experience.
In a gin & tonic, Oxley works very well and is absolutely spectacular with stronger mixing ratios. The rounded and balanced flavours hold their own against a tonic like Fever-Tree. Its tremendously crisp, clear and bright, but like No.3, it’s so good on its own, it’s almost a sacrilege to mix it with anything.
I also tried it with Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water, a wedge of lime and a dash of cardamom bitters and the resulting G&T was a roller-coaster assault of spice, floral and citrus notes; very nice, but so far removed from the original gin as to be almost a shame to mix.
Oxley gin also makes a fine, fine dry martini. I preferred it without any sort of garnish and very little vermouth.
So, is Oxley worth the price-tag? Most certainly, but it shouldn’t be squandered. I have experimented with about 25% of my open bottle and while there is an endless barrage of possibilities for that remaining 75%, I think I will be reserving it for sipping neat and little else.
When I was at university, the word “sloane” was a derogatory term for students from a privileged upbringing; where many of us were struggling to survive after drinking our student grants, a sloane would be driving around in their brand-new VW Polo and pondering which cocktail bar to paint red that night.
Anyway, irrelevant distractions about the prejudices of my student years aside, last week, I was contacted by people representing Sloane’s Gin. After a short and exciting conversation (well, exciting for me at least) a bottle of this curiously-named spirit was on its way in the post. As usual, the fact this is a gift will not influence my notes in any way.
Sloane’s gin had popped-up on my radar fairly recently; in March, it won the Best in Show Unaged White Spirit and Best Gin awards at the 2011 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It also recently appeared on the shelves on Sainsbury’s supermarkets across the UK – not bad for a new-to-market gin.
The gin is named after Sir Hans Sloane, a physician, scientist and avid collector who died in the 18th century; in his lifetime, he amassed a truly astounding collection, including plants, animals, antiquities and coins. Upon his death, he bequeathed this collection to the British nation and this formed the basis of the founding collection of the Bristish Museum. Large parts of the collection now reside at the Natural History Museum. Sloane is also credited with the invention of chocolate milk or drinking chocolate, adapting the Jamaican water-based recipe in order to make is less “nauseating”.
Anyway, enough of dead 18th Century scientists, back to the gin.
Sloane’s gin is produced by Dutch distillery Toorank, producer of a wealth of award-winning spirits and liqueurs. The individual botanicals are steeped in spirit for 24 hours before being distilled separately and then blended to make the finished product. This blend is the left to “rest” for at least a month to facilitate marrying of the flavours. Those botanicals are listed on the bottle in a little band around the bottom of the label; these are…
- Orris Root
- Coriander Seeds
- Vanilla Pod
- Cardamom Pods
- Liquorice Root
The citrus used is fresh whole fruit rather than dried peel and seems to be a slowly increasing trend in the world of quality new gins. Sacred and Leopold’s both use fresh fruit and Oxley uses fresh peel rather than dried.
The bottle is a curious shape; from the top, the bottle shoulders are round, but the sides both narrow and flare in different axes to an oval base. The result is a good fit in the hand.
The bottle-cap is metal foil, which is a bit of a let-down for a premium gin if I am honest, but while presentation counts for something, what counts is in the bottle.
The scent from the bottle-top is unmistakably gin, with a soft, sweet creaminess to it. The alcohol harshness is kept to a minimum.
Tasted neat, Sloane’s Gin is faithful to the smell with a creamy sweetness backing a good solid London Dry taste, so much so, that there are slight hints of cream soda lurking. It’s juniper-load is fairly middle-weight, with less pine notes than something like Sipsmith or Brecon Gin. It is a very well-balanced gin with the citrus and spice being quite subtle and light; if anything, it is the sweet, earthy roots that dominate. Sloane’s is very smooth though and stands well alone; rounded and gentle.
In a G&T (with Fever-Tree tonic and a wedge of lime) it is very serviceable, but a lot of the delicate notes are lost to the tonic. Trying it at a higher ratio of gin to tonic than my usual 1:4 works very well, with the gin taking a more dominant position in the finished drink. Fever-Tree Naturally Light Tonic Water works quite well too, being less overpowering than its full-fat cousin.
I think on the balance of things, Sloane’s Gin will make a great starting point for people looking to move away from vodka-gins like Bombay Sapphire and experiment with premium gins. It is a far-cry from the monsters of juniper like No. 3, but is it still a very high-quality unintimidating gin.
Sipsmith is still the G&T king in my book, but with Sloane’s being available in Sainsbury’s and at £23 a bottle, it is a few quid cheaper and easier to get hold of. This is certainly not going to be the last bottle of Sloane’s Gin I will drink.