I have been wanting to try Adnams First Rate Gin (or “Finest Cut First Rate Gin”, to give it its full and slightly cumbersome name) ever since trying Adnams Copperhouse Gin toward the end of last year. So, a few weeks ago, when Adnams advertised a period of free delivery, on Twitter (@Adnams) I caved-in and added another bottle to the collection.
I was a little disappointed that it didn’t come in the cardboard tube that it is often pictured with. I know that this makes no difference to what’s in the bottle but I like those little points of detail that make the packaging of a premium gin feel properly premium.
The bottle itself is the same heavy-bottomed, round-shouldered affair that Copperhouse (and many other gins) comes in. The label has the familiar deep blue and copperplate too, but it’s supplemented with the clean, crisp, sky-blue and nautical imagery of a mast and sail.
Adnams First Rate Gin uses a better quality of alcohol than its cheaper sibling and, as with all Adnams’ spirits, the alcohol is produced by Adnams. It also shares a core of botanicals with Copperhouse but there is a raft of additional botanicals to differentiate it.
Speaking of botanicals, these are…
- Juniper Berries
- Coriander Seed
- Orris Root
- Liquorice Root
- Angelica Root
- Sweet orange Peel
- Lemon Peel
- Cardamom Pod
- Cassia Bark
- Angelica Root
- Caraway Seed
- Fennel Seed
- Vanilla Pod
This is a “distilled gin”, not a London Dry, presumably because of the vanilla pod which I have heard cannot be distilled and requires the addition of a post-distillation infusion or essence.
The finished product is bottled at 48% and corked with a wide-bore squeaky cork.
Pouring a little into a glass and giving it a “good nosing” was an interesting experience. This is the first gin I have come across that smells of toffee – I am guessing this this is the vanilla. This in underpinned by juniper and it doesn’t smell like a 48% ABV gin.
Tasting First Rate neat reveals an incredibly complex flavour profile; rich and oily. The attack has a big ol’ juniper hit that is smoothed, even muted, by the vanilla toffee notes. It’s also somewhat prolonged and lingers a fair while before giving way to a short, sharp middle palete filled with prickly, peppery, herbal notes. There’s a heavy, complex aniseed finish which is probably a combination of liquorice, fennel and caraway. There’s also a long-lasting, stinging mouth-tingle in the after taste.
Mixing First Rate into a G&T (Fever-Tree, 3:1), the first thing I noticed was that it turned cloudy. This was no great surprise as really oily gins do tend to drop oil out of solution when diluted.
The tonic water really brings out the cool fennel and some stronger hints of the citrus, cinnamon (ok, cassia) & cardamom. The aniseed finish is tamed a lot and there is more of the fennel identifiable. While it is quite an intense G&T it still contrives to feel light and breezy in the mouth.
I suppose the name begs a question: if Good Ordinary Gin is good but ordinary, is Adnams First Rate Gin, first rate?
Well, it’s no No.3 and, as such, I wouldn’t go as far as calling it “first rate” but then, it isn’t in the same price-bracket either; at £26 a bottle, it’s significantly cheaper. It’s certainly a powerful, flavoursome gin with some significant departures from the classic style and it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. However, if you like the heavy, powerful, complex gins, then it’s certainly worth a look-in.
Many people have recommended that I try Gin Mare. This culminated in a three recommendations in one week followed by finding that Waitrose had it on sale with £6 off – it must have been providence.
Gin Mare is distilled in a former chapel in the Spanish fishing village of Vilanova i la Geltrú, which is located on the Costa Dourada in the province of Tarragona.
The bottle is a stout, tapered, round affair that is somewhat difficult to grip safely, especially with wet hands; it seems to want to just slip out. The blue/white colour scheme is supposed to represent the sea and the sky. The bottle-top is a tall, monolith-like, screw cap which has four ridges which represent the four Mediterranean botanicals; these really dig into the hand when you do the top a little too tight. All-in-all, while pretty, it isn’t the most ergonomic of bottles.
There is a Latin motto on Gin Mare’s bottle which reads ”Mundus appellatur caelum, terra et mare” and translates (according to Google Translate) as “the world is called heaven, earth, and the sea”. One little note of the pronunciation: it isn’t mare, as in a female horse or nightmare, it is “mar-ray”, as in the Latin for sea.
Gin Mare differentiates itself through the use of some unusual botanicals…
- Bitter Orange
- Sweet Orange
- Arbequina Olive
Look, no roots! I am struggling with this; I do wonder if I have missed a few as there is no mention of orris, angelica or liquorice. The roots are traditionally used as a fixative, to stabilise the flavour, and I wonder if this means that Gin Mare will lose flavour quickly in the glass, or even a half-empty bottle. However, at the risk of a little foreshadowing, I doubt it will hang around that long.
The three citrus botanicals are macerated together for a year before being distilled. Each of the other botanicals are distilled separately after being macerated for 36 hours. This is, in part, due to the varying batch-to-batch intensity of the olive distillate and allows these individual elements to be blended to make a consistent finished product, which is bottled at 42.7%.
Opening the bottle and giving it a good sniffing revealed a good backbone of juniper and some really herbal undertones. There was a late-arriving alcohol tingle in the nose as well.
Sampling neat gave a nice, sweet juniper attack which quickly gave way to a dry, savoury roller-coaster of mixed herbs. The finish is lingering and dry. Adding water didn’t really change this a great deal.
In a G&T, Gin Mare really shone. Mixing at 3:1 with Fever-Tree rewarded me with a glorious drink. It was crisp, dry fresh and mouthwatering. That inherent savouriness of the neat spirit is emphasised by the tonic water, becoming almost an umami-hit and those mixed herbs resolve clearly into thyme and rosemary. There is also a hint of that resinous smell of tomato plants, which could be a combination of basil and olive but I could just be projecting that. The finish lingers for ages and has a slight bitterness that I associate with eating olives. Others report that the taste of olive is fairly obvious but I didn’t really get that.
Gin Mare has a companion tonic called 1724 Tonic Water, so I hunted some down to see what it was like. The underlying flavours were very good – it seemed to bring out more of the herbal notes of the gin but there was an underlying taste of post-mix lemonade (which utterly ruined it for me) and the tonic was practically flat in comparison to the Fever-Tree. I was a little let-down by this, expecting, as I was, something a lot more special.
Overall, Gin Mare is a really good premium gin. Mind you, you do pay for it; at around £35 a bottle (give or take) it’s certainly a once-in-a-while treat. The savouriness makes the G&T a good tipple for dinner-time (unlike many gins) but it isn’t too savoury to be enjoyed at other times. This definitely makes it into my top-five list of non-classical gins.
One last note: to all those that demanded I try this, thank you.
The garnish seems to be so deeply ingrained in cocktail-culture that I have mostly taken it for granted. However, over the last few months, I have been increasingly neglecting this staple of the drinks-world; I just let the gin do the talking on a familiar canvas of tonic water. I have found myself becoming frustrated with the lime in my G&T and been finding that the garnish is masking the gin, rather than enhancing it. There are exceptions to this; Sipsmith being the obvious one that absolutely needs that little wedge of lime.
The more I discard the idea of the garnish, the more thought I have given it and this thinking has raised some unanswered questions. I have always maintained that admitting ignorance is a virtue and, to this end, I feel I have to throw these questions out there and ask for help in getting to the bottom of it all. However, I am struggling to compose any sort of structure around my thoughts, so I’m going to just spew some ideas onto the page and see where we get to, so I apologise in advance if this is a little less coherent than usual.
I can see that a garnish can add a layer of flavour to a drink, even texture and aroma. This can come in many guises and, in some drinks, I think it works very well. For now though, I am just going to focus on the humble Gin & Tonic as I think this is where most of my troubles are occurring.
There seems to be an increasing trend to add an existing botanical as the garnish of a G&T. Cucumber in Hendrick’s and Apple in Caoruun are a couple of such examples. However, if you add a slab of cucumber to a Hendrick’s G&T, how on earth are you meant to appreciate the cucumber in the actual spirit? Can the apple of Caoruun really be detectable and enjoyed when looked-for around slices of red apple floating around the top of a glass? Surely this just overrides the subtleties of a premium spirit.
In a similar vein, most gins contain some citrus botanicals, yet we often cram our G&T with slices of lemon or wedges of lime. Is there not enough citrus between the gin and the tonic? If not, why are there not more gins that are absolutely dripping with citrus?
It all just seems a little short-sighted and unimaginative to me.
Surely a better approach would be to add something that compliments the flavours that are already there. Maybe mint or fennel with the cucumber of Hendrick’s, maybe elderflower, ginger or clove with the apple of Caoruun, maybe basil or thyme with the fennel of Death’s Door?
Why stop there, though? Taking things a few steps further, there are many herbs and spices in the gin-spectrum that are are often coupled with meat on the plate. Game is a common choice with juniper and meat comes with its own gelatin. Would gellified drops of meat stock make a good compliment to a G&T? I’ve learned not to judge things without trying them so maybe, next time I do a Sunday roast, I should set aside some of the meat juices to see how it works with a herby gin. Duck with citrus? Pork with apple? Lamb with rosemary?
Madness? Probably. My thoughts on meat-based cocktail garnishes were had whilst eating an absolutely lovely pulled-pork after the navy-strength gin tasting I went to recently; I was a little tipsy at the time.
Potential lunacy side, an even better approach might just be to enjoy the product of a master distiller as simply as possible. A lot of time and effort goes into the creation of a new gin, in some cases years, and being able to fully appreciate that effort seems worthwhile to me. Certainly where a gin is more complex, with many subtleties and flavours, then leaving the garnish out allows you to enjoy the roller-coaster of flavours without hiding it under a blanket of [insert garnish of choice].
I think that gins with simpler flavour profiles and more classic gins are better able to withstand the addition of garnish but I need to be confident that I’m not hiding anything by sticking something else in there. I need to know that the drink will actually benefit from the addition. Most gin cocktails seem to rely less on the flavour of the gin and treat it like just another ingredient, rather than a showcase; in these cases, I don’t think the garnish is a bad thing – I am certainly not anti-garnish. The G&T just seems a bit of a different case to me.
Ultimately, everyone has their own preferences and tastes and these are just my ramblings on the subject; part of my ongoing journey of discovery. What are your thoughts?
Lime garnish: Dinner Series on Flickr
Star Anise: Dana Moos on Flickr