6 O’Clock gin came to my attention when I was looking for premium tonic waters other than Fever-Tree; it was the first time I had come across a gin with a companion tonic water. That was many months ago now and I have come close to buying 6 O’Clock on two separate occasions.
The second occasion was only a couple of weeks ago; I’ve been accumulating tonics for a tonic water tasting and actually ordered some 6 o’clock tonic water. I came pretty close to ordering the gin, but the postage on different tonics was racking-up, so I decided against it.
Then, a mere two weeks later, I noticed that Waitrose had added 6 o’clock to their range of gins and it took me about three seconds to cave-in and add it to my basket.
6 o’clock gin is the brain-child of Michael Kain, Director of Bramley & Gage (more renowned for their liqueurs than their gin). It was inspired by his Great Grandfather, Edward Kain, a Victorian engineer, inventor and gentleman. Edward’s motto was “balance, poise and precision” and he not only created many refinements of existing technologies but created blueprints for boilers and stills. Apparently, after retiring from the Merchant Navy, every day Edward would retire at 6 o’clock to his old armchair, with a G&T, to allow his mind to wander for an hour to mull-over inventions and innovations.
The first thing that struck me about the the bottle was the colour; it reminds me of blue ink cartridges I used to have at school for my fountain pen. It was like a giant ink cartridge sitting on the shelf.
The bottle is a tall, slim, heavy-bottomed affair. The label, for all its text, has pretty scant detail about the gin itself. It’s bottled at 43% and the bottle states that there are six botanicals as well as juniper (making seven); the bottle lists only three but, using the power of
Grayskull Google, I managed to unearth the following six…
- Orange peel
This leaves one unidentified mystery botanical.
It’s won a small suite of awards, including a Gold (best in class) at the 2011 IWSC and a silver in 2012.
The bottle is corked but, disappointingly, didn’t squeak. Uncorking and sniffing revealed a moderately juniper-forward aroma with a faint underlying sweet floral hint. The alcohol is pretty dominant though. The juniper is very fresh and green.
Tasting neat, 6 O’Clock starts with a soft, sweet juniper which evolves into a stinging bite of citrus and the harsher, turpentine qualities of juniper. There’s hints of spice and there’s the faintest hint of angelica (although I could be projecting that).
G&T (Fever-Tree, 3:1)
Next-up was mixing a G&T (Fever-Tree, 3:1). This was a clean, breezy G&T with plenty of fresh, green, vegetative juniper. The juniper is surprisingly forthright but not as dominating as something like Tanqueray or No.3; although there is a freshness to the juniper that is similar to that of No.3 gin. There is an orange citrus bite that has hints of marmalade about it and I’m not sure there isn’t lime in there too (in spite of the lack of garnish). Is there a hint of floral sweetness or am I imagining it because I am expecting elderflower?
There’s something missing in the middle-palate. It only lasts for a fraction of a second between the attack and the finish but for a brief flash, the G&T just tastes watery. This doesn’t really detract from the experience as the rest if very flavoursome; I just find it curious.
Overall, this is a very balanced G&T with juniper firmly to the fore but I’m a little disappointed that the elderflower isn’t more in evidence. It’s a proper summer’s-day G&T with plenty of flavour and character; very nice indeed.
Update: Mixing at slightly stronger ratios brings some angelica into greater prominence.
G&T (6 O’Clock Tonic Water, 3:1)
Lastly, I mixed-up a G&T with 6 O’Clock tonic water (3:1).
This was a vastly different beast; the tonic is a lot milder than Fever-Tree and the resultant G&T is gentler, clearer and breezier with a definite lemon and lime hit. 6 O’Clock tonic somehow manages to tame that clear, fresh juniper and bring it down to a much softer level. There’s the faintest suggestion of post-mix lemon & lime in there which stops me being completely at-ease with this G&T. I think this combo is a little too citrus and not enough quinine for my liking; the tonic seems to over-ride the gin somewhat but that could be because I am so conditioned to drinking Fever-Tree.
6 O’Clock Gin is priced anywhere between £20 and £26; at the cheaper-end of this bracket, this is a sterling gin and well worth the money. At the higher-end, it’s still pretty good and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
I say “Master of Malt Origin”, but their full title it “Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Cold Distilled Juniper” – grand but a little unwieldy for a title.
The story is a simple but sensible one. Ben Ellefsen, Sales Director of Master of Malt, had a notion that the origin of juniper in many gins played a smaller part in the botanical list than the origins of the other ingredients, in spite of it being the main ingredient. You can read the full account on the Master of Malt blog, here.
I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s all in that blog post but, in-short, Ben appealed to MoM blog readers for samples of Juniper from all over the world. After chasing down dozens of samples, around ten were selected as potential prospects and, as far as I know, four initial samples were selected for maceration and cold-distillation in a rotary vacuum still. Another three were added later to make seven.
This range of single estate origin juniper distillates are now available from Master of Malt for the somewhat princely sum of £34.95 per bottle. Each is bottled at 46% ABV and comes with a small vial of other gin botanical distillates so you can convert the bottle into a fully-fledged gin with a complex suite of botanicals. The full range can be found here.
A little while ago, a small box arrived at my door containing little sample bottles of four of these distillates. Tonight I tried them.
Each one comes in wax-sealed 30ml sample bottle. The wax is slightly rubbery and plasticy; an odd texture and not at all what I was expecting. Still, it sheared nicely when I applied brute force and unscrewed the cap with the wax still on.
In preparation for this little voyage of discovery, I had a G&T with a fairly simple gin and then cleansed my palate with unadulterated tonic water. I opened a new pack of shot glasses that we have had kicking around for an age and sat down with my notepad, far away from distractions like the TV, cats and my wife.
I then, excitedly, poured and sampled.
First-up was from Arezzo, Italy.
Nose: On the nose this distillate was soft and slightly creamy with a gentle resinous pine freshness with generic but gentle woody undertones.
Taste: In the mouth it had a sweet, creamy building attack. The middle-to-end palate has a nice bite of juniper but still remains soft and warming with a slight soapiness to it.
This was certainly the gentlest and smoothest of the four and would make a great Scottish-style gin.
Nose: The Valbonian distillate was the mildest on the nose and the juniper notes were definitely harsher and raspy, but subdued.
Taste: This was a work of contradictions to me; it was definitely the mildest of the four in flavour but it was also the harshest – it caught the back of the throat with spicy pepper/chili heat that lingered. The sweetness of the attack is very short-lived and it quickly gives-way to biting ferocity.
Meppel, The Netherlands
There’s a pleasing symmetry here in that the juniper for this origin distillate came from The Netherlands, the birthplace of gin. I like symmetry (on a tangent, why is the word symmetry not palindromic?).
Nose: Sniffing this one rewarded the nose with a gentle earthiness and a deep, rich pine resin.
Taste: There is a characteristic sweet, creamy attack with a great underpinning warmth. This slowly gives way to a building crescendo of tart, biting juniper pine notes. After peaking, this slowly trails off into a long peppery finish that tingles and burns on the tongue for a long, long time.
This would make a staggering backbone to a big-juniper, forthright gin.
Veliki Preslav, Bulgaria
Nose: The aroma of this distillate was very fresh and turpentine-like. There’s a vegetative quality to it that is hard to pin down to specific plants – just a greenness, maybe cut grass (from a lawn with plenty of dandelions and other weeds).
Taste: This is a fresh juniper – it reminded me of the freshness of No.3 Gin. It’s a big, big juniper. It was the most alcoholic tasting of the four (odd seeing that they are all the same strength) and the sweetness of the attack was slight but it sustained throughout. There was a prickly, almost stabbing mouth-tingle at the end.
In all, very fresh and clean.
Thoughts and conclusions
These are all very different; they are all Juniperus communis and it’s only the soil and climate that differs – and what a difference that makes.
Some distilleries make a lot of the fact that they travel the World looking for the best juniper and I have always wondered how much of this was just marketing hype. However, these four juniper distillates have such different characters and qualities and it’s no wonder that gin can vary so much even when there is little difference in the botanicals.
This has been a real eye-opener; a true education and a privilege.
If I were to pick a favourite, I think it would have to be the Arezzo from Italy; I love the gentle smoothness of it, but Meppel is a very close second. However, without trying each one, made-up with its other botanicals to make a full-blown gin, it’s going to be difficult to make a concrete choice.
There are three that I have yet to try, so watch this space – I may be adding to this in the coming weeks/months.
Finally, a map
For the academically interested (or, like me, the geographically retarded) below is a map with markers of the general locations of each juniper. I was struck by the latitudinal similarity of three of these but I suspect this is as much coincidence as anything significant. Saying that, Juniper likes well-drained, mountainous terrain and there is a lot of that in South-Europe.
I have been thinking about attending a Gin & Jazz evening at The InterContinental, on Park Lane, ever since hearing about it. What’s not to like about that combination? Gin & Jazz happens on the 3rd Thursday of every month and features a jazz band, an elegant setting and a range of 35 gins to choose from. So, rounding-up three friends that I hadn’t seen for over a year, I booked a table.
We were greeted at the door by a lady in ’20s period dress (pictured at the bottom of this page) and shown to our table. Complimentary drinks and nibbles were brought, along with drinks menus.
We started off on the “Mayfair Hop” (pictured right), a new creation developed in tandem between the Arch Bar and Martin Miller’s Gin. It’s a twist on the French 75 and, if you’re interested, the recipe is as follows…
- 40ml Martin Miller’s Gin
- 10 leaves of mint
- 10ml gum syrup
- 20ml Martini Bianco
It’s like a mild French 75 with a strong hints of mojito about it.
We then moved on to martinis; lots of them, and they were big and cold.
I say “lots” but there were three, all were dry and each was very different. The first was made with Gin Mare (garnished with a couple of tiny olives), the second was made with No.3 (lemon twist) and the third was made with Monkey 47 (raspberries and blackberry).
Trying each of these in quick succession was a tour-de-force and really showcased the qualities and differences of each gin.
We finished-up with an aviation. Now, I have been wanting to try an aviation for a long time, but the opportunity has been elusive, so I was please to finally get around to it. I wasn’t disappointed and this might be the trigger I need to finally buy a bottle of creme de violette.
All of this imbibing was backed by music from The Shirt Tail Stompers. Now, I don’t know a great deal about Jazz but I know what I like when I hear it. The music was good – it was a good balance between gentle and energetic, not being too insistent to be annoying, but not soporific enough to drive everyone to sleep. Specifically, the music wasn’t too loud to preclude conversation, which was good as we caught-up on a year’s worth of gossip.
There was also some good banter between the band and the crowd, and the trumpeter and clarinetist did a little parade around the room during one of the final numbers. We also had the afore-mentioned lady, in period dress, dancing during the latter half of the evening.
The table service was good and the nibbles kept coming, which was fortunate as some of us didn’t have a great deal to eat before arriving; not a good idea if you are planning to sink three martinis and other miscellaneous cocktails. There were some particularly delicious-sounding sharing platters but we didn’t get around to ordering any of those.
Considering that entry is free, this was a brilliant evening; great cocktails and great music made a fabulous backdrop to a really good evening. One word of warning though, while entry doesn’t cost, booking is advisable as it does fill up.