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.
Also in attendance were fellow gin bloggers, Gin Monkey & The Gin Blog, the Master Distiller of Few Spirits, Paul Hletko, Kirsty Chant of Chant Communications and people from Imbibe, The Whiskey Exchange, Ginuine Spirits, Boutique Brands and many more (who I apologise for omitting).
Quite frankly, I was a little overwhelmed.
Anyway, enough of the people, we’re all more interested in the gin.
This was a blind tasting. The gins were decanted into identical brown bottles, numbered one through six. We were asked to not discuss among ourselves which gins we thought were which, in order to avoid influencing each other’s perceptions. I had only tried one navy strength gin before, so I wouldn’t have been doing much in the way of guessing – this is the amazing part of this evening; last year, you would have been hard-pressed to find more than one navy-strength gin to try (Plymouth, of course).
1) Few Standard Issue Gin
This gin had a really sweet, pungent nose (I could smell it before the bottle even got to me), very grainy – almost malted. There were hints of anise/fennel and a slightly fishy odour.
In the mouth, it was intense, rich and oily. The juniper was slightly rough and there was discernible coriander. It was a sweet, rooty gin and the intensity made it hard to pick out individual components. It finished with a lingering dry burn.
Post-tasting experimentation: The addition of tonic water resulted in a cloudy G&T. I am guessing that the tonic knocked a load of oil out of solution. This was a really potent tipple that can stand mixing at weaker ratios (4:1, possibly even 5:1).
2) Plymouth Navy Strength Gin
On the nose, the alcohol was dominant with undertones of pine, lemon and coriander.
In the mouth, Plymouth had a smooth, sweet attack. The sweetness rides through the whole experience only fading at the dry, biting after-taste with warming citrus. Orris and liquorice were quite noticeable.
This was a very traditional gin with no real stand-out botanicals – it was a very well-balanced gin.
In some ways, this blew me away as, previously, I have been underwhelmed by Plymouth. I certainly need to revisit this gin.
3) Perry’s Tot Gin
The nose was clean and balanced; very balanced indeed.
This was quite a mild gin with a sweet attack. There were hints of pine and coriander but the main element was lemon. The finish was really interesting; while the attack and mid-pallet was mild and somewhat classic, the finish was pretty intense and complex with a peppery/spicy, herbal roller-coaster. I am not sure there wasn’t some sort of berry fruit in the tail, but I may have been imagining it.
This is definitely a gin I want to sample in greater depth and at my leisure.
4) Master of Malt’s Bathtub Gin, Navy Strength
This gin was yellow, suggesting either barrel-aged or a bathtub gin.
Pow, Cinnamon! This was another gin I could smell before the bottle reached me and what I could smell was cinnamon.
In the mouth, the cinnamon was really dominant and it reminded me of winter mixture (if you know what that is, then you are showing your age). There was definitely cardamom and liquorice in there too. This was another fairly sweet gin.
Post-tasting experimentation: I tried this with apple juice and it was like drinking apple pie from a glass and pleased me no-end.
5) Hayman’s Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin
This gin had a nose full of creamy juniper.
In the mouth, it was a very traditional gin; sweet, earthy roots and lemony citrus, lots of sweet liquorice. It had quite a potent after-bite.
Adding some water really killed this gin dead – turned it flat and lifeless. This makes me wonder how it would mix with something like tonic water; would this kill it too?
I mistook this for Plymouth.
6) Leopold’s Navy Strength American Gin
On the nose, this gin had hints of orris and angelica and a soapy hit of bergamot. The alcohol smell was very well contained – probably the most well contained of the night.
In the mouth, this was a really very floral gin with the parma violet of orris being very forward. There are hints of geranium and spicy coriander. The bergamot from the nose bridges the floral and the citrus well. Several people mentioned rose, but I couldn’t find it.
On the night, I rated Leopold’s the highest. I really like a floral gin with backbone and this really did it for me, although I can see it not being everyone’s cup of tea.
I need to get myself a bottle of this.
Some of these gins really masked their high alcohol content well, others less so. The spectrum of flavours was also a great surprise – I thought that there would be a certain level of conformity but distilleries have really gone out there and thrust a stake in the ground to mark out their territory in the Navy Strength game.
Many thanks to David for organising this and inviting me; it was a blast.
On Wednesday of this week, Gordon’s unveiled a limited edition range of bottles designed by Conran at an event in the vault of One Marylebone. I don’t manage to make it to many industry events due to my living so far from London, so I was pleased as punch when, with just one day’s notice, I was invited and discovered I could actually attend.
The Vault was lit with green up-lights, giving everything an air of Stephen King’s Tommy Knockers. I discovered, after the event, that it was a bit of a star-studded evening but being a bit culturally retarded, they mostly passed me by; personally, I was more interested in the G&T served with with Bottle Green Elderflower Cordial (garnished with cucumber, strawberry, lemon and mint – very tasty). Two celebs I did recognise were Emilia Fox and Philip Glenister, the stars of the recent Gordon’s ads. Sir Terence Conran was also in attendance.
The bottles were revealed with a rather dramatic countdown and the dropping of curtains to reveal ten decorated alcoves around the room. Each bottle was exhibited in its own display which showcased the design concept. The designs themselves were printed on fabric which was hand-stitched into a snug bottle-covering (including the cap) which softens the otherwise hard-lines of the traditional glass bottle.
As long as the formatting holds, either side of this paragraph are a couple of examples of what these designs look like. However, instead of posting ten pictures of dubious quality and then tediously banging-on about each one, I would recommend having a look at the Conran Blog and the Gordon’s site to check-out the official pictures and information. There is also a Q&A session about the project, with Sir Terence, here.
The displays were all very different and fun, but there were two that really stood out for me. Bottle 6’s alcove was hung with canvasses with the outline of the bottle design printed on them – paints and brushes were provided and people were encouraged to paint on the canvasses. Inevitably, someone painted something quite crude on one of them, but otherwise, good clean fun was had by all. The other was Bottle 10’s alcove, which contained raised beds that were planted-up with various herbs and decorated with green vegetables; the smell in there was incredible, with mint, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, earth, leeks and much more mingling to create a really heady atmosphere.
Only ten sets of these bottles will be sold, exclusively through Selfridges, and will retail at a tremendous £400 per bottle (£4000 for the full set). Each bottle is numbered and signed by Sir Terence.
It must be said, hefting a £400 bottle of gin did give me a slightly giddy feeling, as well as a slight burning unease at the nagging thought of dropping and breaking it.
Given that, underneath, this is a standard bottle of Gordon’s (I didn’t pick apart one of the coverings to see if there was a normal label underneath), you will be paying somewhere in the region of an additional £385 for a designer cover and an autograph, so this will probably only be a temptation for the most serious collector – although, not as extreme as the Bombay Sapphire Revelation.
However, if you are hankering for some Gordon’s gin with a designer label but cannot afford splashing-out £400, these designs will be available on (much less) limited editions of the usual Gordon’s paper label, priced at £14.99, from the normal retail outlets.
The idea of coupling Gordon’s with the much-beloved Ten Green Bottles song is a great one – tradition marrying tradition. For fans of British design talent, the prints and the Conran name will be a draw and if nothing else, it is all a fun bit of publicity for an otherwise iconic and ubiquitous gin brand.
The atmosphere of the event was great. The green-lit vault, the people, the chatter and the free-flowing drinks (even the pipes and air-con ducts snaking around the ceiling) all contrived to make it feel like something you see in the movies, in some exclusive, glamorous, underground party venue.
As a complete tangent, there were small samples of juniper and coriander on one of the bars at the venue and, in a flash of slightly drunken genius, I garnished an otherwise straight G&T with a few crushed berries and seeds. While I had to constantly spit bits of grit back into the glass, this made for a heavily flavour-fortified G&T. Maybe worth experimenting with a bouquet garni as a garnish, instead of the usual lime.
On Friday the 5th August, I had the pleasure and privilge of attending the Gin in Camden event hosted by Ian Hart, co-founder of Sacred Spirits. It being near my Mother’s birthday, I dragged her along too, as she is also a great appreciator of gin.
On arrival we were greeted with the site of Ian chilling martini glasses with liqud nitrogen. Shortly after, we were presented with a dry martini comprising of Sacred Gin and home-made vermouth (not yet on sale). I tried some of the neat Sacred Gin as well, but my palette was already swimming with martini, so other than it being very obviously smooth and warming, I wasn’t best placed to think about it in any depth.
A short amount of mingling and some rather tasty nibbles later, we were seated at tables and the fun began.
Ian obviously has an incredible passion for creating gin and this comes across in the slightly nervous, yet terribly enthusiastic presentation of each botanical. Individual botanicals in Sacred gin are distilled separately and these distilates are then blended to create Sacred Gin; the theory being that certain elements of the chemical makeup of each flavour can inhibit, or absorb, elements of other flavours. By distilling the botanicals separately, there is no interference between them and the whole flavour of each can shine through unadultered.
Also, Sacred Gin is distilled under partial vaccum and only heated to 35-40OC; this prevents the botanicals from cooking and preserves the flavours as we would expect from raw ingredients. The is epsecially true of citrus flavours which can develop a “marmalady” flavour though heating.
Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. Below is a list of the individual distilates sampled and my notes on each.
The very foundation of gin and the flavour that everyone recognises as gin. Or do they? Apparently, much of what people assume to be juniper is a combination of flavours from other botanicals. It turns out I am no different.
Juniper on its own was pine-fresh and slightly soapy in taste. Very nice, but a far cry from what I assumed it to be. It was very recognisable as the core of gin, but it really bought home how important the other botanicals are.
I expected this to taste, well, like citrus I suppose. Again I was wrong; it was nothing like I expected. There were hints of what you might expect when sniffing and orange or a lemon, but the overall taste was a warm and slightly spicy flavour with quite sweet overtones. I quickly realised that this is one of those components I had assumed was all part of the juniper.
This was a very subtle distilate with sweet, slightly earthy qualities. There was a vague hint of crystalised angelica but a stronger hint of something akin to sasparilla.
According to Ian, this is one othe stand-out flavours of Gordon’s gin. Drinking this was like inhaling from a freshly opened bag of coriander seed; it captures the essesnce of the whole spice perfectly. Spicy and refreshing with strong hints or orange and a vague aftertaste of liquorice or aniseed.
Green Cardmom Pods
With my experimentations into cardamom bitters recently, I was looking forward to this and it didn’t disapoint. Like coriander, the cardamom distilate prefectly captured the essence of the whole spice – a truly divine drink that I would consider drinking neat.
Apparently used extensively in Old Tom gins, this botanical adds sweetness the the overall gin, and like all roots, provides and earthy fixative quality. Ian mentioned that some people find this licorice sweet and others don’t; well, I fell into the “don’t camp”. Tasting it was like the very first whiff of licorice after biting on a licorice root, before your saliva has got into it and worked out the bulk of the flavour. It has a faint reminicence of Baileys about it – not what I was expecting.
I love pink grapefruit and this distilate didn’t deliver to my expectations (which isn’t to say my expectations weren’t utterly wrong).
The distillate had a faint scent of grapefruit about it but the taste was very neutral. It left my tongue tingling, just like eating grapefruit, but the flavour was very, very mild and had a harsh quality to it.
Another root, I was expecting “earthy”, but beyond this, had little expectation. Ian said that it reminds him of Parma Violets, but I could detect nothing along those lines. Its aroma reminded me a little of methylated spirit and the flavour was slippery and indistinct – it was a definite and recognisable component of gin, but I can’t really describe it in words.
Star anise is a great flavour, but a very powerful one. We were warned, that if we were going to use this in our final blended gin, that only a drop of two were needed otherwise it runs the risk of completely overpowering the other flavours.
This distilate just sits in the mouth screaming “STAR ANISE” at top volume and the echoes of it still reverberate long after swallowing. I would consider buying this as a stand-alone drink.
Another spice, I was expecting this to be more like the coriander and cardamom – i.e., a pure rendition of the whole spice. I was surprised by its subtlty and delicacy. It had a slightly vegetative flavour and was surprisingly sweet.
Like nutmeg, this was another whole spice that didn’t taste as expected.It was nothing like the cassia bark I use in cookery, but was a very mild, sweet and creamy flavour with a slight peppery quality. Ian was surprised by this as his perception of this distillate is that it is exactly like the whole spice; now, maybe my tastebuds had been deadened to the specifics of this distillate by the barrage of flavours leading to this point, but there was something amiss.
One of the things that became obvious during this whole distillate tasting experience was the wildly differing taste perceptions of everyone around the room. Each distillate bought out a barrage of differing, and often conflicting, opinion from the attendees.
Now that we had tasted the individual distillates, it was time to start mixing them to produce our own concoctions.
I like gins with a hefty load of juniper, so the starting point was a big pile of Juniper distillate. Then citrus; I went with the mixed citrus rather than the pink grapefruit.
This made what was obviously the foundation of gin. It was simple and fresh but lacked the complexity and smoothed roundness that one expects from a gin.
Adding Orris & Angelica grounded the gin with a greater depth of earthy flavours and rounded the gin out a bit.
Adding a little dash of Cardamom freshened the gin, lifting the flavours with bright notes.
Next came Cassia, which added a warm, spicy note and calmed the gin down a little.
A little dash of Licorice sweetened the gin and smoothed it some more. This was a surprise as I didn’t find the licorice to be sweet on its own.
The neat gin was getting quite sweet and earthy at this point; still very nice but it needed a little pick-up, so I dropped a little more citrus into the mix, which lifted the fresher elements, particularly the cardamom.
I was very happy with the end-result of this mixing experiment and drinking this neat was a pleasure. But it was now time to add some Fever-Tree tonic water.
We were supplied with Fever-Tree Naturally Light tonic water, which has a subtler flavour then the normal variety, and has less inherent sweetness. This should allow more of the gin to shine through in the finished G&T, but the result was that the gin was a bit lost in the final drink.
Time to remedy this – I added another slug of juniper; this brought the gin into the fore of the drink and lifted it, making it sweeter (another surprise) and fresher.
We then, on Ian’s recommendation, floated a little Cardamom on the surface of the G&T. This filled the nose with cardamom on approach and gave an initial cardamom-heavy blast, much like adding some Cardamom and Saffron bitters to a G&T, but it only lasted for a few sips. This gave the drink layers (like an onion, or parfait – everybody love parfait) and an interesting depth.
All-in-all, this was a fantastic experience. I learned a lot about the various botanical flavours and how they combine in the finished product. To recreate this kind of experience at home would cost a small fortune though, as we tried each of the eleven botanicals that make up Sacred’s Open Sauce ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ gin making kits. At £87.50 per kit though, this would set you back a whopping £175. Many of the individual distillates would last an age, but the juniper would probably need replacing several times before you finish any other bottle.
I wanted to buy a bottle of Sacred Gin on the night, to take home to sample at my leisure, but there weren’t any; a missed opportunity in my opinion, but there may have been licensing issues that prevented this.
If this sort of experience gets repeated, either at Made in Camden or elsewhere, I would heartily recommend it. It was very educational and gave me a very different perspective on gin. A great night.
Made in Camden and Sacred Gin present a brand new gin-tasting experience, Gin in Camden, on Friday 5 August.
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